Taste Hungarian cuisine

Hungarian cuisine – what to taste in Budapest

Hungarian cuisine is world-famous for a reason! Let me prove it!

The best way to explore Budapest is by following your stomach! 🙂  Eating utilizes all five senses that is why exploring a travel destination by eating the local food is so powerful.

Even the faint aroma of a dish you tried can instantly take you back to the moment you experienced it.

Food has the ability to shape your journey and define your memories. 

In this blog post I will heap you with drool-worthy photos of Hungarian cuisine to make you intentionally add food tasting to your Budapest travel because I believe it will greatly enrich your experience.

Food and restaurants in Budapest are usually very affordable for most tourists.

Hungarian food is amazing and Hungary is heaven for people who really love food.

Traditional cuisine is passed down from one generation to the next. It also operates as an expression of cultural identity.

As the world becomes more globalized, it is easier to access cuisines from different cultures.

We should become more informed about other cultures by trying their foods – food is a great unifier across cultures. 😊 

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Table of Contents

Hungarian cuisine - fusion of east and west

The Hungarian cuisine has a good reputation abroad.

It has a good reason: even the simplest dishes burst with flavor.

The Goulash, the stuffed cabbage, the pancakes, the paprika chicken with sour cream, the noodles with cabbage, roasted paprika potatoes, with cottage cheese are world-famous dishes.

The Hungarian specialities are prepared with paprika, which gives a pleasant taste to the food.

Hungarian people are fond of different soups: the typical Hungarian meal usually contains soup. We take great pride in fish dishes, the Hungarian fish soup is a substantial meal itself.

How history influenced Hungarian cuisine

Hungary’s national dish, a meat stew called goulash, can be traced to our ancestors’ eating habits. They traveled with dried meat that they cooked with onions, and water could be added to make a stew.

During the reign of King Matthias in the 15th century cooking was raised to a fine art. Queen Beatrice had a big role in this progression as she brought Italian cooking to Hungary.

In the 16th century the Turks invaded Hungary and they brought their cooking style with them. This is how spicy paprika, Hungary’s “red gold” arrived to Hungary.

The Habsburg monarchy during the 17th century influenced Hungarian eating habits, too. During this period Hungary became famous for its pastries and cakes.

Hungary has also been influenced by Jewish food, in dishes like sólet (cholent), matzo balls, and goose soup.

Hungarian food has ‘lightened up’ during the past years, offering the same wonderfully earthy and spicy tastes but in less calorific dishes.

Hungarian paprika

What to eat in Budapest

Today the smell of sizzling paprika and onions in (goose, pork, or duck) lard is something that we instantaneously recognize. This flavor bomb is the base of many Hungarian iconic dishes like

  • pörkölt“: a stew, made from any kind of meat
  • veal, chicken or even mushroom “paprikás” (with sour cream)
  • lecsó” stewed tomatoes and peppers (something like French ratatouille)

Though plenty of dishes contain paprika, Hungarian food is typically not hot, because we use sweet paprika.

Gulyás (paprika-rich soup made with cubes of beef and potatoes) is perhaps the most iconic Hungarian dish. It is simple and complex at the same time. Literally means “herdsmen”.

Hungarian Soups

Soup is an important part of Hungarian cuisine.

One of our favorite soups is “húsleves” (pictured; a rich soup made with meat, marrow bones and root vegetables).

If the soup is made with beef, sometimes the meat itself is not eaten with the soup, but separately, after the soup.

If served this way, we eat the beef with mustard and horseradish with white bread.

It’s a classic.

Other important soups that should not be missed are Halászlé (fisherman’s soup)

Jókai-bableves (pictured above: bean and smoked meat soup usually with sour cream) 

Gyümölcsleves (sweet, cold fruit soup):

Role of meat in Hungarian cuisine

Hungarian cooking is meat-centric. There’s an abundance of pork, goose, duck, beef and fish.

The most widely used meat is pork.

Not a single part of the pig is wasted: intestines are stuffed with meat to make kolbász (sausages), chunks of pig fat is used to make töpörtyű or “crackling”:

“Kocsonya” is a “pork jelly”, made with pig’s feet, ears and snouts. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? 🙂 

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Fish is usually served sightly breaded with bread, mustard or potato salad or as halászlé.

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Fruits and vegetables in Hungarian cuisine

The Hungarian soil is rich, the seasonal local fruits and vegetables are delicious.

Fruit is cooked to make jams or distilled to make pálinka (especially plum and apricot).

We really love pickled and fermented vegetables, “savanyúság“, as we call it.

Savanyú káposzta” (sauerkraut) and “kovászos uborka” (fermented cucumbers) are among our favorites. On hot summer days we even drink the chilled juice of the pickle mixed with sparkling water.

“Főzelék” – vegetable stew

We love our “főzelék”, this cheap, hot, creamy dish. It can be made with potatoes, peas, lentils, spinach, cabbage, etc. Főzelék is often served with eggs, frankfurter sausages or meatloaf.

Hungarian cuisine - what to taste in Budapest

Lángos

Lángos is a deep-fried dough originally topped only with watery garlic sauce or sour cream and cheese but nowadays it is served with almost any kind of topping (sausages or even pörkölt). 

I would not advise to try the sweet ones (with Nutella with strawberries or with jam?!) they are absolutely not authentic, they have no reason to exist at all, and are only made for tourists. I don’t know a single Hungarian person who have already tasted these assassins of Hungarian cuisine.

I recommend these ones: Tejföl (sour cream) and cheese and with sausage and onion (“parasztos”). 

Where to eat the best lángos in Budapest?

Try lángos at the retro stall. It is right at Arany János metro station. Eat it while its fresh and hot. After you’ve drowned it in sour cream, of course.

Two lángos on a plate

Tócsni

Tócsni is the ‘Hungarian hashbrown’ that is made with cheap ingredients that were available during times when people had to be creative: potatoes, flour, eggs.

Today tócsni is the food your mom makes when the fridge is empty and you don’t have enough ingredients for a whole meal. Or at the end of the month when you run out from your salary.

Gulyás

The big one, everyone knows about: chunks of beef and vegetables cooked together with paprika

Where to eat the best gulyás in Budapest?

Pörkölt

Pörkölt nokedlivel” – meat stew made with tomato and onions, served with Hungarian noodles called nakedly

Where to eat the best pörkölt in Budapest?

“Marhapörkölt”: slow-cooked beef stew served with dumpling, or túróscsusza (cooked pasta with Hungarian cottage cheese and fried bacon )

Gulyás and pörkölt are often mistaken with each other. While the gulyás is a dense soup with vegetables – paprika, onions and soup vegetables like carrots and it has tiny noodles served in it, served with bread, pörkölt is a stew, made without soup vegetables, it is more dense and served with a bit bigger sized noodles, pasta, rice or bread on it’s side (and with pickles). Both are perfect comfort foods that can be served with sour cream and hot paprika pasta.

Töltött káposzta

Töltött káposzta” – large cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice, topped with sour cream. The cabbage in Hungary is often pickled as well, and it makes the flavor pop.

Where to eat the best stuffed cabbage in Budapest?

Sausages

Sausages – we have all sorts of sausages, each one is juicy and packed with flavors.

Where to eat the best sausages in Budapest?

Buy some at the markets or try them at Belvárosi Disznótoros (17. Károlyi street, 1053 Budapest).

Hungarian sausages

Halászlé

Halászlé is a thick red-colored soup made of river fish and lots of paprika

Where to eat the best fish soup in Budapest?

Chicken paprikash

“Csirke paprikás” (chicken paprikash) – chicken cooked in a thick sauce made with paprika and sour cream. It is a perfect comfort food. 

Where to eat the best chicken paprikash in Budapest?

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Csirkepaprikás galuskával. #csirkepaprikás #galuska 😊👐

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Hortobágy pancake

“Hortobágyi palacsinta” – meat-filled pancake with sour cream

hortobagyi pancake

Schnitzel

“Rántott hús” – breaded and fried slice of pork or chicken. 

Usually it is served with potatoes and pickles or salads.

Where to eat the best schnitzel in Budapest?

ROSENSTEIN Restaurant

Buja Disznók (Hold street market, 13. Hold street)

Fricska Gastropub

Steak with onions

“Hagymás rostélyos” – grilled meat served with a huge amount of deep-fried onion

Brassói pork

“Brassói aprópecsenye” – cubes of pork with cubes of potato made with garlic. Preferably a LOT of garlic:

Bread with lard

“Zsíros kenyér” (also called zsíros döfi) – bread covered in lard served with paprika and onion slices

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Hungarian cottage cheese

“Körözött” – the Hungarian spread made of túró (cottage cheese) and spices like paprika, black pepper, cumin and chopped onions

Layered potatoes

Rakott krumpli” – casserole-type dish made with layered sliced potatoes, eggs, sour cream and sausage. Try it with sauerkraut or cucumber salad.

Where to eat the best layered potatoes in Budapest? 

Hungarian Sour Cream

“Tejföl” – sour cream

As you can see from the listing above, tejföl plays a big role in Hungarian gastronomy. It has a unique taste and consistence. In supermarkets usually two types of tejföl are sold: with 12% and 20% fat. The fattier it is, the better. Dunk fresh, white bread into it.

If we do not have much food at home, bread and a touch of sour cream will do.

Hungarian paprika sauces

“Erős Pista” and “Édes Anna” – ground paprika sauce Pista is hot, Anna is sweet.

They go into everything – everything.

Hungarian hot paprika

The most iconic Hungarian sweets

We have great baking traditions, delicious sweets and lovely patisseries, confectioneries and traditional late 19th – early 20th century cafes.

We often use poppy seeds, chestnuts, apricots, plums, walnuts, whipped cream and túró (curd cheese) in our deserts.

Chocolate covered cottage cheese: Túró Rudi

“Túró Rudi” – a must try!

With Túró Rudi no day is bad day.

This sweet, curd filled, chocolate coated treat can be bought in each and every supermarket.

The original is coated with dark chocolate, and is not filled with anything. This is the best, in our opinion.

The red dots on its paper make this treat impossible to miss.

túró rudi

Dobos cake

“Dobos torta” – cholocate sponge cake made with butter cream, topped with a thin caramel layer:

Where to eat the best Dobos cake in Budapest?

Gerbaud right in the middle of downtown Budapest (this place is rather expensive, so if you are on budget buy the cakes to take away, you can find a comfortable bench on the Danube promenade with gorgeous panorama 😉 )

Ruszvurm

Somlói sponge cake

Somlói galuska” – chunks of sponge cake served with dark chocolate sauce, raisins, rum (or rum aroma), walnuts and whipped cream on top. Best to try in Gundel restaurant, where it was originally created, or in New York Café – one of the most beautiful cafés in the world. 

Where to eat the best somlói sponge cake in Budapest?

Rákóczi cake

“Rákóczi túrós”: sweet pastry with cottage cheese and apricot jam

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Sweet cottage cheese dumplings

“Túrógombóc” – sweet dumplings made of cottage cheese served with sour cream sweetened with powdered sugar:

Krémes cake

Krémes“: thick custard between thin layers of pastry (give it a try in Ruswurm):

Aranygaluska: dough with custard

“Aranygaluska” – balls of dough with butter, sugar, crushed walnuts baked golden and served with vanilla custard

Beigli, the Christmas favorite

“Bejgli” – poppy seed or walnut roll (popular at Christmas)

Where to eat the best beigli in Budapest?

Strudel

“Rétes” – strudel shaped pastry filled with fruit or sweetened cottage cheese, poppy seeds, or even with cooked cabbage with black pepper.

Where to eat the best strudels in Budapest?

Try it in the Great Market Hall or at Budavári Rétesvár in the Castle District

strudel Great Market Hall

Doughnuts

“Fánk” – Hungarian doughnut usually served with apricot jam

Poppy seed dessert

“Mákos guba”: bread based poppy seed dessert served with vanilla custard 

Where to eat the best mákos guba in Budapest?

Chimney cake

“Kürtöskalács” – sweet, cylindrical spiral shaped dough, baked over charcoal, coated with sugar, cocoa, nuts, cinnamon, coconut or even with dried raspberry (its not authentic, but very delicious, our new favorite)

Where to eat the best chimney cake in Budapest?

Molnár Kürtöskalács right in the heart of downtown Budapest

Chimney cake Budapest

Gerbaud cake

“Gerbaud slice” – zserbó szelet: pastry filled with apricot jam, walnuts, topped with chocolate icing

Where to eat the best gerbaud cake in Budapest?

In Gerbaud, of course! 😊 

Túrós táska

“Túrós táska” – pastry filled with curd cheese. It is sold everywhere: supermarkets, pasty shops and coffee shops. 

Chocolate snail

“Kakaós csiga” – chocolate roll or “chocolate snail” as we call them are very popular sweets. They also can be bought on almost every corner and supermarket. And yes, they are so delicious that we had forgotten to take a photo before we started to eat them. 🙂 

kakaós csiga chocolate snail

Humgarian Christmas Candy

“Szaloncukor” – Christmas candy with various filling, covered with chocolate. It is hung on the Christmas trees.

Gundel pancake

Chocolate, walnut, rum, raisins and heavy cream in perfect fusion. 

Where to eat the best Gundel pancake in Budapest?

“Gundel pancake” – Recommended to give it a try at the fancy Gundel restaurant with a glass of sweet Tokaj wine

Extra tip: be sure you try some of Hungarian cuisine’s matches made in heaven such as:

  • sweet Tokaji Aszú with goose liver
  • Kékfrankos with pörkölt (goulash);
  • bone-dry white Furmint with fish

I recommend tasting as many flavors as you possibly can.

Try them in restaurants, markets, food stalls, Christmas or Spring markets – doesn’t matter, just eat a lot while you are here. You will not regret. 🙂

It is really fun to try some of the traditional dishes and I always love seeing tourists enjoying the Hungarian flavors. It always tears me up with Hungarian pride.

You can start your diet later at home. 🙂 

Please share this post with your friends! 😊 

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