(Warning: this post may induce grumbling stomachs, drooling, or the urge to immediately go out and buy a large serving of the nearest comfort food.)
One thing I knew about Hungary before arriving was the fact that Hungary has good food. Every single person I know, either from Hungary or who has visited here, gave me a list of foods that I should immediately try upon my arrival. Needless to say, I left the US with quite a list, about 30 different meals/candies/drinks/condiments/etc, of things to taste. After having been here a little over a month, I can tell you that, yes, they were correct: the food is spectacular. I have made a serious dent in that list, and below I will recount some of my personal favorites:
1) Túró Rudi: Though “túró” is translated into English as “cottage cheese,” don’t let that turn you off. It is this sweet, refrigerated white, almost yogurt-y stuff that is indescribably delicious and covered in chocolate, of course. Especially after you have been sitting in an economics class for 3 hours, one of these delightful treats can cheer you up. Some profit minded individual placed a túró rudi vending machine on the third floor of the university, conveniently where are my classes are located. I have to control the urge daily to not buy out the whole machine.
2) Medve: Named after the Hungarian word “bear” this spreadable cheese condiment was recommended multiple times with good reason. Regardless of the flavor (tomato, olive, chive, etc), Medve is a perfect breakfast when spread on some toast or an apple or pear.
3) Hortobágyi palacsinta: This dish was actually the first thing I ate upon my entry to Hungary. It is a savory Hungarian pancake (see: thin, succulent crepe) filled with meat or mushrooms and doused in paprika sauce with a dollop of tejföl, otherwise known as sour cream. The Central Market, conveniently located right next to my university, sells a variety of palacsinta (crepes) for about 600 forints, less than 5 dollars. Once again, it is difficult not to find oneself buying some everyday.
4) Pick salami: Usually I am not a fan of salami and this one does not come cheap. First of all, you have to speak Hungarian to get it. This can run smoothly or become absolutely embarrassing in a matter of moments. One of my friends accidentally bought a kilo of this pricy salami and practically got laughed out of the market. It is worth it though. I have only bought about 10 dekas, and I intend on buying more.
5) Zsír: Caution, this may be gross. Zsír AKA pig fat AKA lard is delicious. Don’t get me wrong, I was afraid to try it. Simply the word “lard” is more than a little disconcerting. I didn’t even have the courage to buy it myself. It was served at a Hungarian-American dinner night at my dorm. Of course, you don’t just eat straight lard. You spread it on bread, like butter, add some raw purple onions and a dash a paprika. At first bite, I thought I had died and gone to taste heaven. It was wonderful.
6) Körözött: Another bread spread. Basically ewe túró (remember, the cottage cheese stuff), raw yellow onions, paprika, and butter. Put that on some bread, and you are good to go. It’s awesome.
7) Csirkepaprikás: Also known as chicken paprikash, this is probably one of the more well known Hungarian foods in the United States. It is beautifully cooked chicken slathered in sweet paprika sauce and served with little “dumplings” or nokedli, in Hungarian, similar to German spatzle. This is a safe meal, since it is always tasty. Perhaps not as adventuresome as lard, but pretty darn perfect.
8) Hideg meggyleves: Chilled cherry soup. Similar to the cold innards of a cherry pie. Can’t go wrong with some meggyleves. It is really easy to make as well. I recommend doing this one pronto.
9) So, I suddenly realized that about half the foods I have tried are desserts. They all deserve a mention: dobos torta, kremes, rose hip jam with crepes, linzer torta, birsalma saijt, and csöröge. I sincerely recommend googling and dreaming about these desserts. If I write anymore about them now, I might just have to buy all of them. I may or may not be drooling at the moment. Best to move on.
10) Pogácsa: Oh, the bread. These are little bites of buttery bread. They come in a variety of flavors including: potato, pumpkin seed, cheese, pepper, onion, and poppy seed. I have been known to buy a bag and have that for dinner. Aside from the butter content, this is probably one of the more healthy indulgences that I have cultivated over the last few weeks.
11) Tokaji and Palinka: The alcohols of Hungary. In the words of my Hungarian professor, tokaji is a “light dessert wine” and palinka is a “sometimes harsh” traditional fruit brandy. You cannot go to Hungary without having both of these drinks forced on you at some point. I am not much of a wine connoisseur, but tokaji is quite tasty, and palinka is the perfect way to warm up in the evenings.
12) Gulyásleves: Also known as goulash, this dish is the reason I was inspired to write this post and share the delicacies of Hungary with you. Last night, my Hungarian class led by Mária, our fearless Hungarian professor and mother of “three meat eating sons” (her words, not mine), had a goulash party. Though it took up 5 hours to boil the heavy soup (Thank you for the lovely stove tops, Földes Ferenc Dormitory!), it was worth the wait (and of course, we filled that waiting time by gorging on crepes with homemade apricot jam and Nutella). Goulash is a thick meaty stew that also includes a variety of vegetables and spices. Eaten with buttery bread, it is the perfect supper on a cold evening. All I can say is that when I finally fell asleep last night at about midnight (we finished cooking at about 11), I had a happy and very full stomach.