Hungarian food culture is easily recognized by a few key ingredients that pop up in every restaurant menu without fail, like your favorite characters in a TV show. The main one is without a doubt, paprika, a staple spice for so many Hungarian foods. Sour cream is another popular addition to many Hungarian dishes, and you’ll get to know red peppers, tomatoes, and the plethora of different types of sausage well as well.
Even if you’re not a big foody, exploring a country’s national cuisine is always a good way of getting to know its history and culture too. Hungary can be found in Central Europe, a landlocked country, but with borders with 6 other countries (Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, and Serbia). So it goes without saying that Hungarian foods have been influenced by its culinary neighbors too.
There are too many Hungarian national foods to mention here, ranging from tasty savory meals to delicious desserts. Here are just 20 different foods in Hungary to dip your toe into for now.
- Hungarian food you have to try
Hungarian food you have to try
1. Paprikás Csirke
You’d be hard pushed to find a Hungarian restaurant that doesn’t offer this dish on the menu. Paprikás Csirke (Chicken Paprikash) is a delicious creamy chicken cooked in a paprika sauce. It’s often served with pasta or Hungarian dumplings, with a dollop of sour cream.
This is a classic dish, and a must-try if you’re visiting the country. Beware though, it can get pretty spicy!
There’s also a popular alternative version to the traditional paprika chicken, using catfish instead as the main meat. This is called Harcsapaprikás.
Goulash might be the first thing to jump to your mind when you think of famous Hungarian food, and rightly so. In Hungary, it’s known as Gulyás, named after the original herdsmen who would make it back in the 9th century. It would have been prepared in a kettle over an open fire, and in some authentic places, this traditional method is still used.
Goulash is a hearty stew made traditionally with beef (but sometimes pork, veal, or even chicken is used). Paprika is once again a key ingredient, along with vegetables and other spices.
As well as the Hungarian beef stew version, there are loads of delicious goulash variations to be sampled throughout the country. Some are more like soups than stews, some are full of healthy vegetables, some are served with little egg noodles called “csipetke”.
Hungary’s not known for its fish, unsurprisingly, as it’s a completely landlocked country. However, it does have some major rivers and lakes providing some great freshwater fish. The main river in Hungary is the Danube which is the second-longest river in Europe.
Fisherman’s soup (known as Halászlé) is another staple of traditional Hungarian food. This dish really showcases some of the beautiful freshwater fish that come from the Danube, such as carp, catfish, pike, perch, and sometimes trout. It is one of the spiciest things you can try in Hungary!
Traditionally, the fish soup is prepared in a similar way to goulash, in a big kettle over an open fire. Back in the day, this would have been done on the riverbanks themselves, while the fish was super fresh.
A rich broth is prepared out of the river fish heads, skin, bones, and other trimmings which are stewed for a couple of hours before being strained. Thicker cuts of fish are added along with vegetables and the all-important hot paprika, which is once again a star in this recipe for fisherman’s soup.
Fisherman’s soup is often eaten as a Hungarian Christmas food, usually served up on Christmas Eve with white wine. A real winter warmer!
If you’ve ever traveled to this part of the world you’ll have come across a particular beverage that can’t help but make an impact! Pálinka is known far and wide as Hungary’s very own spirit – a strong fruit brandy that has a distinctive flavor.
The drink comes in different kinds depending on the region and fruit used – plum, pear, apricot, cherry, grape are all examples. It’s an EU-protected product now in Hungary. Normally, it’s either consumed before a meal or after eating to help with digestion. There are hundreds of pálinkas you can try.
Lángos is a comfort street food from Hungary that is universally popular. It’s been nicknamed Hungary’s version of pizza because its base is made of flour, water, milk, yeast, and salt. However, this dough is then deep-fried and served with various yummy toppings.
Traditional Lángos is topped with sour cream, garlic oil, and grated cheese – which melts and creates a gooey center. However, this deep-fried flatbread can be made with many variations of toppings, such as sausage, ham, eggplant, or mushroom.
Its name comes from the Hungarian word for ‘flame’ because in ancient times it would have been a flatbread baked over an open flame. Budapest is full of wonderful food markets where you can get hold of Lángos to try, or find it on the menu at restaurants alongside so many other tasty Hungarian meals.
6. Töltött Káposzta
Stuffed cabbage is a typical Hungarian food. You’ll find it on the festive menu at Christmas or Easter.
To make Töltött Káposzta, blanched cabbage leaves are stuffed with rice and ground pork and plenty of seasoning, then either baked or steamed, often in a thick tomato and paprika sauce. It’s often cooked with layers of sauerkraut in between the cabbage bundles.
These delicious stuffed cabbage rolls are usually served with a dollop of yogurt, and a lemon and garlic vinaigrette. It can be found on most menus in Hungary.
A variant of this popular Hungarian food is stuffed peppers (known as Töltött Paprika) which are prepared in a similar way, filled with meat and rice and other vegetables (a meat-free version is often made for vegetarians).
7. Rántott Sajt
This next dish is bound to get your mouth watering. Rántott Sajt is, simply put, fried cheese. This Hungarian dish is a common main course at most restaurants, and is served with a salad and fries, and maybe some mayonnaise, tartar, or sour cream.
It’s not hard to see why this dish goes down so well! A thick chunk of cheese is bread-crumbed and fried to create a melt-in-the-middle but crusty nugget of goodness. Maybe not one to eat every day but a scrummy treat.
8. Rakott Krumpli
If you’re familiar with potato dauphinoise, you might like this. Rakott Krumpli is basically a layering of sliced potatoes with a creamy egg sauce. The twist is the layers of bacon and sausage which make this hearty comfort food even more indulgent.
In yesteryear, this would have originally been Hungarian peasant food, but like many of the best dishes, it has become a major part of the national menu for all to enjoy.
9. Gundel Palacsinta
Some of the best Hungarian traditional food is served for dessert, and palacsinta is no different. It consists essentially of glorified pancakes!
These pancakes are thin and crêpe-like, with a delicious filling of crushed walnuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, rum, and raisins – or any combination of these. These are then drizzled with warm chocolate sauce.
Normally the pancakes are folded or rolled, and often they are flambéed. The recipe supposedly originates with Károly Gundel who was a famous restaurateur in Hungary, but there’s a bit of controversy over where it might have come from originally.
10. Hortobágyi Palacsinta
While we’re on the subject of pancakes, they don’t just come in the form of Hungarian desserts. In fact, one of the most mouthwatering Hungarian food dishes is Hortobágyi palacsinta, a savory pancake dish.
The pancakes are stuffed with meat, paprika, and onions, and then baked along with a thick spiced sauce made from sour cream and flour. The end result is a bubbly baked pancake dish full of flavor.
This is another paprika-centered stew dish that is a big part of Hungarian food culture. The name Pörkölt comes from the word for ‘roasted’ because the stew is traditionally cooked in a pot over an open fire.
Pörkölt is very similar in method and ingredients to Goulash but differs in a few key ways and shouldn’t be mixed up! While Goulash includes meat on the bone, Pörkölt uses boneless pieces of meat and is more like a ragù. Other ingredients include Hungarian sweet paprika, garlic, tomatoes, onion, butter, and more.
Hungarian yellow wax peppers are an important part of Pörkölt, they are a good mid-point between the sweet red pepper and the bitter green. The dish is often served with Nokedli – Hungarian noodles.
The ingredients can vary from place to place and one popular spicy variation is made with tripe! This is called Pacalpörkölt. There’s also a pork liver version (sertésmáj pörkölt), a chicken liver version (csirkemáj pörkölt), and one called kakashere pörkölt, made with the testicles of a rooster!
12. Paprikás krumpli
Another stew (but based around potatoes this time) is Paprikás krumpli. As the name suggests, this is another example of a paprika-centric dish, made from potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, paprika and sometimes sausages.
It’s traditionally a rural food of Hungary that used to be cooked by shepherds in a simple way, served with a chunk of fresh bread and pickles. To a certain extent, it’s remained a dish of the countryside, and you probably won’t find it in urban restaurants.
Something that Hungarian cuisine is known for is the invention and popularity of fruit soup. Fruit soup can be made from any fruit (and is known as Gyümölcsleves), but by far the most common is sour cherry soup – which translates as Meggleves.
Although you may expect this to be a dessert dish, it’s often served as an appetizer, in the place of a normal savory soup.
The soup is made from whole fresh sour cherries (complete with their stones), sugar, and sour cream, and it’s served chilled. It’s most popular in summer as a refreshing starter, but there are forms of this soup made in the winter from more wintry fruits.
Hungary is well known all over the world for its sausages, and they have had a place in most Hungarian kitchens for hundreds of years. There are so many different types of cooked sausage (known as Kolbász) that you can taste in Hungary, depending on the breed of pig, the ingredients, whether they are smoked or not, or what herbs are added. They can be eaten as cold meats, in a salad, or cooked up in a stew.
There really are so many different types of sausage, often coming from different regions. To give you an idea of a few, there’s Gyulai (from the town of Gyula) which is a slow-cooked beech-wood-smoked pork sausage, a spicier version called Csabai, Csemege kolbász which is milder smoked sausage, Cserkész kolbász which is often made with beef… the list goes on.
Keep your eye out too for meat dishes made from Mangalica. Mangalica is a pig breed specifically reared in Hungary and known to be one of the world’s fattiest breeds!
If you’re a vegetarian and you’ve been reading this list in dismay, here’s an option for you! Lecsó is a vegetable stew made with tomatoes, peppers, and onions (and paprika of course!). It varies from region to region and is quite similar to France’s beloved dish of ratatouille.
There is also the option of adding meat to this, but it is one of the few vegetable-based dishes you’ll find at restaurants so it is absolutely worth a try. It’s normally served with sour cream and bread.
Főzelék is a tricky one to explain as it sits on the fence between being a stew or a soup! This Hungarian soup is another dish that rarely puts a spotlight on vegetables rather than meat. It centers around potatoes, lentils, peas, beans, cabbage, and carrots.
It’s been eaten in Hungary since the 16th century and remains a staple dish for Hungarians, and is often served as a side dish to meat at Christmas. You can find this traditional Hungarian vegetable stew at special ‘Fözelék bars’ and it’s a nice and healthy national dish of Hungary.
17. Somlói galuska
Sponge cake! Somlói galuska is a classic Hungarian dessert that you must try. The sponge cake is like a trifle in that it is created by layer upon layer of sponge, whipped cream, raisins, walnuts and chocolate buttercream or sauce. Despite now being an iconic national food, Hungary only invented this sponge cake in 1958 at the time of the World Expo, but it’s been one of the most popular foods in Hungary ever since.
This sweet Hungarian dish has been nicknamed ‘Hungary’s favorite cake’, and was first prepared by a master confectioner called Béla Szőcs, who kept the original recipe for Somlói galuska close to his heart. However, the basic structure of sponge, chocolate, and whipped cream has remained the same.
18. Túrós Csusza
Túrós Csusza is basically a cheesy pasta meal with bacon. It’s a cheap and cheerful food in Hungary, normally made with roughly torn flat egg pasta. The sauce is made from cottage cheese, often mixed together with sour cream to give it a velvety smooth texture. Crispy fatty bacon chunks are mixed in too.
The very fact that it’s so simple makes Túrós Csusza a great Hungarian dish to adapt, so you might come across a few different variations. One variation is a sweet version called Túrós Tészta – bacon is swapped out and powdered sugar is added to the cottage cheese and cream. You might also see it made with different types of pasta too.
Another of the traditional Hungarian foods that can be incorporated into sweet or savory dishes is Túrógombóc, which are Hungary’s beloved dumplings. They’re cooked from túró cheese, semolina, and eggs, molded into balls, bread-crumbed, and then fried. They can be served as part of the main course, or dished up for dessert along with fruit, powdered sugar, and sour cream.
Kürtőskalács is a sweet street food that you won’t be able to resist. It’s a kind of sweetbread that translates literally as ‘chimney cake’, because of its unusual shape. The sweet Hungarian pastry dough is curled around a baking spit in the shape of a cone, and roasted over hot coals to toast the exterior.
This is then sprinkled with granulated sugar and goes all caramelized and delicious. It is served with all sorts of treats, from cinnamon to coconut, to almonds, to vanilla custard, and more.
Hopefully, this smattering of Hungarian dishes will give you a taster for what you can expect from a trip to Hungary.
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