Amaan Akhtar tells us all about his foodie experience in Budapest, and shares plenty of pictures to get your mouth watering. Hopefully his cultural experience will inspire you to travel and try new things, too!
A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and I went on a trip to Budapest in Hungary. We took it as an opportunity to have a foodie experience and try many of the traditional dishes over those few days! As a note: due to dietary requirements, I was unable to try the meat-based dishes and instead my girlfriend reviewed them.
Hungarian Stews & Soups:
This was the very first dish that we had in Budapest. It is a stew (traditionally made with chicken), where Hungarian paprika is the star of the show: the spice brings a full-bodied, fruity flavour which enhances the creamy sauce that the meat/vegetable stew is bathed in. The dish is traditionally served with dumpling-style egg noodles (nokedli).
While my girlfriend tried the chicken variation, later in our trip I found a vegetarian-style paprikash that tasted incredible! The Hungarian paprika certainly complements and enriches the dish.
Another rustic stew/soup made with meat (usually beef) and vegetables, and seasoned with paprika. Again, the paprika really brings out the vibrant flavours of the stew and perfectly complements the tender meat in the dish.
My girlfriend described it as a heart-warming and nourishing meal that brings you comfort on a cold day.
While it may seem that Hungarian food (especially this particular dish) is not vegetarian-friendly, there are certainly some great options out there. It is just a matter of searching for restaurants that cater to this requirement. For instance, while my girlfriend tucked into the goulash, I savoured the nourishing taste of a beetroot stew with sour cream and horseradish (Céklapörkölt tormás tejföllel). It was simply divine!
Fisherman’s Soup (Halászlé)
As you’ll notice quickly, Hungarian Paprika is a popular spice used in many of the Hungarian stew and soup dishes. And this is no exception: a hot, spicy paprika-based river fish soup that is prepared with generous amounts of hot paprika and carp or mixed river fish.
Arguably one of Hungary’s most famous dishes, this soup is traditionally served at Christmas, and was originally made by fishermen along the river Danube and Tisza.
Hungarian Breads & Pastries:
Over the few days that we stayed in Budapest, we made a visit to the local bakery near us every morning. It was a great way to start the day with an assortment of breads and pastries that would keep us full during the early morning hours as we toured the city’s sights. Here are some of the ones we tried:
Hungarian pastries differ from those found in the UK as they tend to taste more “bread-like” than their British counterparts. This is because they use enriched dough rather than actual flaky pastry to make them. For example, Kifli may resemble a French croissant, however it is denser since it is made from traditional yeast dough. The one we tried had a chocolate filling inside that was very similar to brioche, but less buttery.
Hungarian Street Food:
Fried Dough (Lángos)
Budapest has a lot of cuisine to offer, including street food such as Lángos. Put simply, this is a deep fried flatbread topped with sour cream and grated cheese. And it is simply incredible. The name derives from the cooking method used to make this flatbread: the dough was traditionally baked in front of a brick oven close to the flames. Nowadays, it is commonly fried in oil.
While this dish may sound greasy and fattening, in reality it has a crisp bite and a softer, wholesome bread taste that can be closely described as a savoury donut. And the addition of the sour cream and cheese makes this a wonderful treat after a day of exploring. Depending on where you go for this treat, there are several different toppings available to choose from. We loved it so much that we went back for another two before we left!
Chimney Cake (Kürtőskalács)
Another Hungarian street food that I highly recommend, if you ever visit Budapest!
This is essentially a cylindrical cake with a hollow centre, where the strip of sweet yeast dough is wrapped around a spit, rolled in granulated sugar, and barbecued on the grill. This gives the dough’s crust a crisp surface due to the caramelisation of sugar during the cooking process. It can be served plain like this, or with additional toppings such as cinnamon, cocoa powder, or ground walnuts.
Since it is normally eaten by tearing off the warm strips of cake by hand, it is a perfect snack on the go.
Somloi Trifle (Somlói Galuska)
When we first arrived in Budapest, my girlfriend raved on about the delicious Hungarian cakes that we “just have to try”. And rightly so, as each cake was a unique experience for the palate. The first one we shared was a plate of Somloi goluska: a cake trifle that has 3 distinctive layers of sponge cake (chocolate, vanilla, and ground walnut) with pastry cream, raisins, and walnuts intermixed throughout. This is then topped with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. It was delightful!
This one we picked up at our local grocery store. It is a honey flavoured cake with semolina cream and apricot jam, which is topped with a layer of chocolate.
This dessert is actually a good representation of typical Hungarian cakes that are commonly made from kneaded dough and cooked filling. They can be found in most stores and bakeries.
Dobos Cake (Dobostorta) and other Hungarian Cakes
Ah Dobostorta… The most highly anticipated and elusive item on our foodie tour. This famous Hungarian sponge cake consists of seven layers filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with a caramel shard. The sides of the cake are often coated with ground hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, or almonds. The layered pastry is named after its inventor, Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos who designed the cake so it would remain fresh when being shipped throughout Europe.
Because we had arrived in Budapest during a national holiday, it was very difficult to find a slice of this cake – we spent each day looking for it, but they had all been sold out in the local cafes and bakeries. However, we eventually found one last slice at a hotel café and savoured the rich, delicious chocolatey taste of this dessert.
But we did discover some other cakes on the way! During our search for the Dobos cake, we stumbled upon some great-tasting, distinctive ones: a walnut & caramel brittle cheesecake, a chocolate crepe-layered cake and a poppy seed marble-style cake (pictured below).
While this may not be an exhaustive list, we managed to sample a good amount of the traditional Hungarian food (while still getting all the sightseeing done) during those 3 days. If there’s one thing to take away from this, it is this: continue (or consider starting) experimenting with food and taste the diverse range of cuisine out there, while you explore different parts of the world. By simply immersing yourself in a country’s food culture, you also get a rich taste of their history and traditions. And that is something worth revelling in.
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