I thoroughly believe that to really get a taste of a country, you have to do exactly that. When I think of the great cuisines of the world, I initially think of Italian, French and Indian. Last summer I took a trip to Budapest, and the food was just as surprising as it was delicious. The cuisine is a delectable combination of Germanic, Italian, and Slavic elements, with an underlying current of ancient Asiatic influences.
In a spice, Hungarian cuisine is all about Paprika, or as the Hungarians call it, ‘Red Gold’. Paprika or Piros Arany is the essential part of Hungarian cooking, the dominant taste in most dishes, and coincidentally my favourite spice. In Hungary, they take pride in their Paprika and there are many different varieties; hot, smoked and sweet.
Paprika is the main component in the Gulyás, which is the name of a popular Hungarian meaty stew with seasonal vegetables. Stews and soups are a staple of Hungarian cuisine; this dates to when fishermen and cattle herdsman would cook this comfort stew over an open fire in order to keep warm.
I first sampled this hearty meal in the chaotic Great Market Hall in the centre of the city. It is a restored neo-Gothic hall with vast ceilings and an even vaster plethora of gorgeous food on offer. It is a foodie’s heaven. The hall is full of fresh organic vegetables and fruit, cured meats, Hungarian delicacies and spices, and of course Paprika.
Upstairs there are small food vendors offering traditional Hungarian cuisine like Gulyás and Lángos. Lángos is a savoury snack; a sheet of fried dough usually topped with a generous amount of cheese and sour cream with the option of other toppings, either meat or vegetarian.
Hungarian street food also caters to the sweet-tooths among us. The Austrian influence on the cuisine was clear as the strudel was very popular, this sweet pastry dish dates to prior the dissolution of the Austria-Hungarian empire. I am more of a savoury lover but I took a particular liking to Kürtoskalács (or chimney cakes). They are a hot, sweet spiralled pull apart bread that is baked rotisserie style giving it those delicious smokey crispy bits. The bread is often flavoured with coconut flakes, orange, chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, peanut butter or nuts.
If you have taken a liking to the Hungarian cuisine but can’t afford a plane ticket, here is a recipe; tried and tested by yours truly. For the vegetarian/vegan alternative, I loved swapping the beef for a can of mixed beans (Cannellini, butter beans, kidney beans) or just simply add more vegetables. Add vegetable stock in place of beef. Serves 4 or a very hungry 2.
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced.
2 Garlic cloves,crushed. But 2/3 tbsp of very lazy chopped garlic will work just as well.
500g of stewing diced beef.
1 can of Chopped Tomatoes
2 tbsp of Tomato puree
1 beef stock cube.
2/3 tbsp of smoked Paprika
4 Large Maris piper potatoes, chopped and peeled.
4 Medium Carrots, chopped and peeled.
300ml of cold water.
2 bay leaves.
Salt/ Pepper to taste.
To be a little bit extra:
100ml of white wine.
Sour cream/ natural yoghurt to serve as a topping.
Swap the potatoes for sweet potatoes.
The plan of action:
- First fry some diced onions and chopped garlic in an oiled saucepan or casserole dish for around 5 minutes until you see a colour change.
- Up the heat and add the beef (you don’t need an expensive cut) and brown it off. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper.
- Now add the chopped tomatoes, 2 tbsp of tomato puree, the beef stock cube, a generous amount of smoked Paprika, and around 300ml of cold water and stir. If you are feeling fancy, add around 100ml of white wine.
- Add in your vegetables, this is at your discretion, red bell peppers and sweet potato also work great but simple chopped carrots and potatoes are perfect. Lower the heat, add a bay leaf and leave to cook until tender.
- Enjoy! Add fresh parsley and sour crème, or yoghurt as an extra topping.
Images and featured image by Elle Magill