Though this country may be but little, their food is fierce…
Lángos (fried dough)
What it is: A plate-sized sheet of fried dough that is usually smothered with sour cream and cheese. Other possible toppings include garlic sauce or ketchup. This may remind some people of Indian fry bread.
What it is: Known to most as “goulash,” this popular soup is a Hungarian original. It contains chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables, plus plenty of paprika and spices. Why it’s awesome: Originally made by cattle herdsman, gulyás is pure comfort food: hearty, homey, and hot.
What it is: The Hungarian version of crépes. Popular types include “Hortobágyi,” filled with ground meat, fried onion, and topped with a sour cream/paprika sauce, and “Gundel,” filled with ground walnuts, raisins, and rum and topped with dark chocolate sauce. Yep. Why it’s awesome: Slightly thicker than its French counterpart, palacsinta is less prone to tear when containing richer fillings (see above).
Pörkölt (meat stew)
What it is: A pastoral stew made of meat (often beef or chicken gizzards), tomato, paprika, and onions, usually served with a side of Hungarian noodles called “nokedli.” Why it’s awesome: Pörkölt is often cooked outside, over fire in a “bogrács,” which is a traditional —and heavy— Hungarian metal pot. Throw in a few friends, a loaf of great bread, and some wine, and it’s the anchor for one great garden party.
Gesztenyepüré (chestnut purée)
What it is: A purée of chestnuts, sugar, and rum, usually served with whipped cream. Why it’s awesome: This sweet, creamy dessert proves that chestnuts are for much more than just roasting.
Halászlé (fisherman’s soup)
What it is: A traditional Hungarian soup of paprika-spiced broth and thick cuts of river fish. Why it’s awesome: Though it may look fairly simple, fisherman’s soup is traditionally made outside, over a fire, through a several-hour process that includes preparing a fish broth from scratch. Plus, the fish is usually locally-sourced from the Tisza and Danube rivers.
Kürtőskalács (chimney cake)
What it is: A Transylvanian sweet spiral pull-apart bread that is baked rotisserie-style outdoors over charcoal. Why it’s awesome: Often rolled in cinammon, sugar, cocao, nuts, or coconut flakes, chimney cake is hot, fresh, sweet deliciousness. It’s the only type of downward spiral you’d never want to end.
Dobostorta (Dobos cake)
What it is: A chocolate buttercream-layered sponge cake, topped with crystallized caramel and covered on the edges with nuts. Why it’s awesome: The namesake creation of Hungarian confectioner József Dobos, dobostorta is a true Hungarian original and remains enormously popular in confectionaries around the country.
Töltöt Káposzta (stuffed cabbage)
What it is: Large leaves of cabbage, stuffed with meat and rice, which are cooked and then smothered with sour cream. Why it’s awesome: It’s straight up Hungarian comfort food. Plus, the cabbage in Hungary is often pickled, offering a deliciously tangy component to this rich, savory dish.
Megyleves (sour cherry soup)
What it is: A chilled, sweet soup made of sour cherries, sour cream, and sugar. Why it’s awesome: Though you might be tempted to eat it as dessert, megyleves is a great meal in its own right—fresh, tart, creamy, and an awesome alternative to standard meat-and-starch fare.
Rétes (Hungarian streudel)
What it is: A streudel-like log of pastry, stuffed to the max with fillings such as apple, cherry, or poppyseed and topped with powdered sugar. Why it’s awesome: There’s no skimping on ingredients here. One thick slice of good rétes and a cup of Hungarian coffee and you’re set for at least an afternoon.
Tokaji Aszú (Aszu wine from Tokaj)
What it is: Sweet, dessert wine from Hungary’s famous wine region (and World Heritage Site), Tokaj. Why it’s awesome: While it is only one of several types of wine produced in Tokaj, aszú remains unique as its penultimate variation, “Aszú Eszencia,” is one of the sweetest and most exclusive wines in the world.
Paprikás Csirke (chicken paprikash)
What it is: Perhaps one of Hungary’s most recognizable dishes (thank you, When Harry Met Sally ), paprikás csirke is chicken in a creamy, paprika sauce, often served with (surprise!) sour cream. Why it’s awesome: It’s hot, spicy, meaty goodness, and is generally accompanied by a delicious side of dumplings or pasta.
Töltött Paprika (stuffed pepper)
What it is: Whole peppers stuffed with rice, meat, and vegetables and baked. Why it’s awesome: Hollowed-out peppers actually make surprisingly sturdy containers for yummy fillings. Plus, who doesn’t love being able to eat EVERY part of their meal? Waste not, want not.
Túrós Csusza (cheese noodles)
What it is: Flat, wide noodles mixed with Hungarian túró cheese (think: a cross between cottage cheese and ricotta) and often topped with pieces of fatty bacon called “szalona.” Why it’s awesome: Do you like noodles? Do you like cheese? Well, there you go. If you’re a carnivore, the szalona is a pretty nice bonus.
Kifli (crescent bread)
What it is: A crescent-shaped bread, often eaten simply with butter or sliced in half and topped with cheese, meat, and/or peppers for a sandwich. Why it’s awesome: Though it may resemble a croissant, kifli is actually made using traditional yeast dough, making it a more dense and satisfying snack.
What they are: Small, bite-sized biscuits, dense and doughy in the center and often topped with cheese. Why they are awesome: Usually one of the first things to be served at dinner parties and get-togethers, pogácsa are a delicious and simple snack food of which it is impossible to eat just one.h
Körözött (cheese spread)
What it is: A spread made of túró cheese, spices (often paprika), and vegetables. It can be used with practically anything you want. Why it’s awesome: It’s like the hummus of Hungary.
Bejgli (spiral strudel)
What it is: A spiral-shaped log roll containing a sweet walnut or poppyseed filling. Why it’s awesome: Traditionally served at Christmas, bejgli is the perfect treat to cozy up share with friends and family.
Madártej (bird’s milk)
What it is: Though birds can actually produce milk ( seriously ), madártej is not a product of our feathered friends, but rather a dessert of fluffy meringue floating on vanilla custard. Why it’s awesome: The texture of meringue combined with sweet, creamy custard is, to put it lightly, da bomb.
Flodni (layered pastry)
What it is: A Hungarian-Jewish pastry, traditionally made of four layers: walnut, apple, poppyseed, and jam. Why it’s awesome: Why choose a filling when you can have them all in one dessert?!
Rántott Sajt (fried cheese)
What it is: Fried cheese. Why it’s awesome: FRIED. CHEESE.
Túrógomboc (sweet cheese dumplings)
What it is: Orbs of sweetened túró cheese boiled, rolled in toasted bread crumbs, and generally served with vanilla sauce or sour cream and sugar. Why it’s awesome: Túrógomboc are incredibly filling, which can easily mean DESSERT FOR DINNER!
Túró Rudi (sweet cheese-filled chocolate bar)
What it is: A dark chocolate bar filled with sweetened túró cheese, available flavored or with jam-fillings as well. Why it’s awesome: The name of the most popular brand of túró rudi in Hungary, “Pöttyos,” translates to “dotty” and is wrapped in adorable polka-dot paper.
Rakott Krumpli (layered potatoes)
What it is: A baked casserole-type dish made of layers of sliced potatoes, eggs, sausage, sour cream, and cheese. Why it’s awesome: It’s like the best parts of dinner and the best parts of breakfast came together and had a beautiful casserole baby.
Szilvásgombóc (plum dumplings)
What it is: Dumplings filled with plums, rolled in breadcrumbs, and topped with powdered sugar. Why it’s awesome: The dumpling component of szilvásgomboc is made with potatoes, giving it a thick, gnocchi-like texture.
Somloi Galuska (Somloi trifle)
What it is: A dessert made of three different types of sponge cake (plain, walnut, and chocolate), raisins, and walnuts, drizzled with dark chocolate rum sauce and topped with whipped cream. Why it’s awesome: Much chocolate.
Kakaos Csiga (chocolate snail)
What it is: A breakfast-type pastry of spiral-shaped dough swirled with chocolate. Why it’s awesome: It’s like a cinnamon roll, but chocolate. And better.
Hurka & Kolbász (sausages)
What they are: Both Hungarian sausages that come in a variety of meat types and flavors, hurka is generally boiled and kolbász is generally smoked. Why they are awesome: While both can easily, and tastily, be eaten alone or simply with a kifli and peppers, hurka and kolbász are also present in many more complicated Hungarian dishes, making them incredibly versatile meats.
Lecsó (vegetable stew)
What it is: A paprika vegetable stew of onions, tomatoes, and peppers, with variations including sausage and egg. Why it’s awesome: Hearty and relatively healthy compared to most Hungarian fare, lecsó is simple in preparation yet rich in flavor.
Szaloncukor (parlour candy)
What it is: A chocolate Christmas candy, filled with flavored jelly or marzipan. Why it’s awesome: Szaloncukor is often hung on Hungarian Christmas trees. Let me repeat: Candy. On trees. Dreams do come true!
What it is: Small, dumpling-like noodles, usually served as a side dish to accompany stews and meats. Why it’s awesome: The texture of a thick, dense, delicious pasta on the scale of rice. Pure genius.
And, finally: Paprika.
What it is: Hungarian red pepper, ground into powder or pulverized into paste. Why it’s awesome: It makes any food better. It’s the best spice ever.