Gastronomy

On any visit to Hungary, the rich food and drink will definitely make an impression. While traditional goulash soup and Paprika are the most famous dishes, there are a huge range of other delights waiting to be discovered, using ingredients such as fresh river fish, spicy Hungarian Paprika and even a unique variety of onion. Modern restaurants developing new recipes and variants of traditional dishes are also appearing as the heavy traditional cuisine constantly evolves. Excellent local wines accompany most meals, and in the wine producing areas around Lake Balaton and in the northern towns of Eger and Tokaj, you can look forward to tasting some world-class vintages. You will doubtless be invited to drink a small aperitif of strong Hungarian Pálinka before meals. Hungarian cakes and desserts are exquisite and make a great accompaniment to a cup of coffee in a fancy coffee shop, or the perfectly end to a wonderful meal to remember!

The country's cuisine is a rich blend of Europe, Middle-eastern and Asian food. The French lend their influence with goose liver pate, while the seven-layer Dobos cake can rival Austria's famed Sachertorte for sickly sweet extravagance. Food here is abundant and affordable -- a nightmare for weight-watchers, a dream for true foodies.

 

Goulash

Goulash -- is it a soup? Is it a stew? Hungary's national dish (pronounced "gooyash," by the way) is a cross between the two, a steaming bowl of slow-cooked beef, carrots, onions and loads of Hungary's trademark paprika to give it a good kick. It's hard to find a restaurant that doesn't serve it -- from the humblest café to the grandest establishments.

 

Lángos

The Hungarians' favorite street food certainly hits the spot on a chilly morning when you're desperate for a quick bite before lunch. It's simple: a deep-fried flatbread topped with sour cream and grated cheese -- sometimes with a bit of garlic just to annoy the person next to you.

 

Paprika chicken

Those sweet red peppers that are such a staple of Hungarian cooking really shine in this popular stew also known as chicken paprikash. Powdered paprika goes into the dish too, along with onions, garlic, tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream. Served with egg dumplings called nokedli (like the Austrian spätzle), it's comfort food that's hard to beat.

 

Hortobagyi meat pancakes

Hungarians adore their palacsinta -- pancakes that are more like French crêpes than the thicker American ones you douse with maple syrup. This savoury version is just as decadent: a rich stew of minced veal or chicken tucked inside the pancakes and smothered with a sour cream and paprika sauce.

 

Goose liver pâté

It's not just the French who like goose liver; the Hungarians are right behind them in their love for this buttery delicacy.

 

Cold sour cherry soup

More refreshing than it looks - promise. While a lot of Hungarian dishes are perfect for cold days, chilled sour cherry soup is just the thing for warm summer evenings. Fresh sour cherries combine with sour cream and sugar in this refreshing classic.

 

Tihanyi pike perch

Lake Balaton is Hungary's playground, where everyone flocks to laze in thermal springs and feast on the lake's plump pike perch. You can have this succulent fish roasted, grilled or prepared Tihanyi style: made into a terrine with cream, white wine, spinach and dill.

 

Stuffed cabbage leaves

You won't go far in Central and Eastern Europe without coming across cabbage rolls, and Hungary is no exception. Here they're called töltött káposzta: pork mince stuffed into cabbage leaves with -- you guessed it -- lots of paprika. It's best with sour cream on top, in true Hungarian style, along with sauerkraut and chunks of smoked pork.

 

Kürtőskalács (chimney cake)

Best before ... you help yourself to another. "Chimney cake" is made by wrapping pastry around a cylinder to bake over the last of the embers in an open fire. The pastry is also often coated in lots of sugar so the lovely sticky caramel coating can hold on to the extra flavours dusted on top -- anything from cinnamon to cocoa to chopped walnuts.

 

Dobos cake

Seven layers -- yes, seven -- of moist sponge cake sandwiched with chocolate buttercream. Then, before things get too gooey, there's a thin layer of caramel on top to give it a lovely crunch. We have 19th-century Hungarian confectioner József Dobos to thank for this heavenly creation which has become a staple in Hungarian coffeehouses.

 

Eszterházy torta

A cake fit for a prince -- Prince Eszterházy, to be precise. The Hungarian royal's name lives on in one of Europe's most famous cakes: Five layers of almond meringue and buttercream with elegant swirls on top.

 

Somlói sponge cake

Not one but three types of sponge cake -- vanilla, chocolate and walnut -- go into this luscious dessert. But it doesn't stop there: Fresh whipped cream, chocolate sauce and pungent rum bring the three cakes together to form an exquisite dessert.

(More: Guide to Hungary's signature dishes)