Hungarian food 101
Hungarian food today is a reflection of Hungary's continental climate (cold winters, hot summers), the countryside fare, and the influences of neighboring countries and ethnic minorities. For example, while Hungarians have been eating a form of goulash for hundreds of years, dishes like stuffed peppers, schnitzel, and cholent have gradually seeped into the mainstream thanks to Ottoman, Austrian, and Jewish influences, respectively.
Hungarian food improved considerably in the 15th century during the reign of renaissance king Matthias: Through his Naples-born wife, Beatrice, he hired Italian chefs who introduced new ingredients, and cooking techniques like pasta-making.
While the ensuing occupation by Ottoman Turkey ended Hungary's independence for nearly two centuries, it also brought forth important culinary innovations — stuffed vegetables, many sweets and desserts, and coffee appeared in this time. This was also when New World produces like corn, potato, beans, squash, tomato, and paprika arrived in Hungary. In fact, paprika (capsicum) went on to revolutionize Hungarian cooking after local farmers cultivated a host of subspecies ranging from sweet to scorching hot.
Meanwhile, French cooking techniques began to spread into the households of the aristocracy and later the whole country, taming the somewhat crude and spicy Hungarian peasant fare (for example roux replaced bread as a thickener). This yielded a more refined yet still distinct cooking style that's considered the basis of modern Hungarian food.
Given the small size of Hungary, regional differences today are scant. One notable exception is Transylvania, part of Romania today but with a sizeable Hungarian community. There, instead of paprika, herbs like tarragon, thyme, rosemary, summer savory, and juniper have remained essential seasonings along with corn-based dishes like polenta. Also, excellent sheep's milk cheeses are made there.
Lunch in Hungary usually begins with a soup. Unike in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, few soups have a characteristically sour taste. At the top of the soup hierarchy sits "húsleves," literally meat soup, usually made from beef or poultry. No wedding reception is complete without it. The everyday soup of choice is usually determined by the season: There might be a hearty bean soup studded with smoked pork knuckles in the cold months and a light cherry or apricot soup in the summer.
Hungary's climate is suitable to cool and warm-season vegetable crops alike, so there's both things like cabbage, carrots, beets, and cauliflower, but also tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, and summer squash. Rather than simply reducing them to boiled or steamed side dishes, seasonal vegetable stews called főzelék often appear as main courses. Usually a late-summer dish, equally good is lecsó, the local ratatouille. Before vegetables became available year-round, most people got their vitamins and carbs in the form of sauerkraut and potatoes in the winter months.
The concept of a salad course doesn't exist in Hungary. Instead, people accompany their main courses by a small plate of vegetables, usually shredded cabbage, cucumbers, beets, or tomatoes. This is also the case during the winter months, with the only difference that they typically eat them pickled (savanyúság).
Meat is fundamental to Hungarian food. Options span from poultry to beef and to a lesser extent game and game birds, but pork is most prevalent. Pork turns up in myriad permutations. A paprika-laced roast sausage paired with mustard and a slice of crusty bread is a popular everyday meal, but higher-end restaurants also serve mangalitsa, the curly-haired breed of heritage pork known for its flavor-rich marbled meat. Historically, lard was the most common cooking fat, but it's now eclipsed by vegetable oils (onions sautéed in lard and strewn with paprika is the foundation of many Hungarian dishes, including the goulash, paprikash, and pörkölt).
For centuries, preserved meats and cold cuts have provided vital sustenance to locals, especially farmers and laborers. The three main categories are szalonna, kolbász, and hurka, all of them traditionally made during the annual winter pig slaughter. The premium téliszalámi, a smoked, fermented, and aged sausage laced with herbs, is rightfully regarded as a national treasure.
Hungary is a landlocked country. This doesn't mean you can't find a decent grilled shrimp cocktail these days, but freshwater fish like carp (ponty), catfish (harcsa), and, less commonly, trout (pisztráng) and pike-perch (fogas) are likely fresher. Sadly, long gone are the days when beluga sturgeons were swarming in the Danube. And while fish isn't the strongest suit of Hungarian food, the local fish soup — fisherman's broth or halászlé — is worth trying.
Surprisingly, noodles are central to Hungarian food. They appear in many soups and main dishes and there's a whole category of sweet pasta dishes (tésztaétel): regular noodles topped with ingredients like toasted semolina and apricot jam (grízes tészta) or ground poppy seeds and powdered sugar (mákos tészta). People usually eat them as a second course after a hefty soup. The most common everyday dessert is palacsinta, the local crêpe rolled with jam or cinnamon sugar.
Similar to Austria, Hungary is a cake-superpower. Many of the traditional cakes feature ground poppy seeds and walnuts as pastry fillings. Note that restaurants in Hungary don't serve cakes and instead you'll have to visit a specialized pastry shop (cukrászda) to try a classic Dobos or Esterházy torte.
Hungarian cheeses don't exactly set the world on fire, in part because unlike in places like France and Switzerland, there's little available mountain pasture in the country for cows to graze on (Hungary's per capita milk consumption is also one of the lowest in the EU). But sour cream appears in many foods. With a hint of tartness, it lends a pleasant kick and a creamy consistency to dishes. Also popular is túró, a snow-white, fresh, unripened curd cheese similar to cottage cheese. Túró is highly versatile, appearing in both sweet and savory classics, and also in Hungary's iconic candy bar, the Túró Rudi.
Historically, Hungary has been a wine-drinking rather than a beer-drinking country, with Tokaj in the northeast being the leading wine region. The communist era (1947-1989) did no favors to the reputation of Hungarian wines, but today a new generation of ambitious winemakers are committed to putting the country back on the radar of oenophiles.
The 69 Essential Hungarian Dishes
Dear reader, before you start to question the origins of the below dishes, bear in mind that regional foods influence one another in all parts of the world. For example, the goulash soup has become as much part of Austrian cuisine as the Wiener schnitzel seeped into Hungarian households. If anything, this is a beautiful cultural exchange through food, enriching both countries.
In Budapest, you'll find many of the below dishes in traditional Hungarian restaurants, and also in étkezdes, which are cheap, unfussy, lunch-only restaurants. Note that some of the items are seasonal, such as the wintry cabbage rolls, so they may not be served year-round.
#1 - Chocolate bun (kakaós csiga): As in Italy, Scandinavia, and France, many people in Hungary start their days with a morning pastry instead of a full breakfast dish. If you have a sweet tooth, you'll find this rich chocolate bun shaped in a spiral to be a real treat, especially if you eat it while still warm. My favorite in Budapest: Pékműhely 2.
#2 - Túrós batyu: Apart from the kakaós csiga, above, túrós batyu is Hungary's other beloved morning pastry. The stuffing of túró, a snow-white fresh curd cheese, lends a beguiling sweet-tart flavor to this palm-sized breakfast snack. My favorite in Budapest: At any bakery.
#3 - Lángos: Many Hungarians associate these deep-fried, circular doughs with summer vacations spent at Lake Balaton, but thankfully lángos is available year-round. At its best, the crispy, golden crust yields to a steaming, doughy inside. For the most memorable experience, head to a Budapest market hall and get the classic version topped with sour cream and grated cheese. My favorites in Budapest: JóKrisz Lángos Sütöde.
#4 - Liptauer (körözött): Named after the curd cheese of Liptov, in today's Slovakia, Liptauer is a popular spread throughout the countries of the former Austro Hungarian Empire. The orange-hued mixture consists of sheep's milk curd cheese (juhtúró), butter, paprika, chopped onions, and caraway seeds. Hungarian people usually slather körözött on bread and pair it with cold beer. My favorite in Budapest: You can buy ready-made körözött sold in small ramekins at Boci Tejbolt inside the Klauzál Market Hall.
#5 - Cured sausage (kolbász): In the Hungarian countryside, people have traditionally prepared kolbász during the winter pig slaughter. Kolbász consists of a paste of meat, fat, and a paprika-heavy spice blend. The mixture is stuffed into a tubular casing — usually using the pig’s intestine — and then smoked and dried. Sliced kolbász is highly versatile, appearing in many Hungarian classics, for example layered potatoes (rakott krumpli), and also as sandwich toppings.
#6 - Szalámi (salami): Traditional salami is a relatively recent type of preserved sausage in Hungary, dating back to the 19th century. Compared to kolbász, above, szalámi is thicker and usually made without paprika, hence the absence of an orange-red hue to it. It’s also aged for longer so it commands a higher price tag. A premium category is téliszalámi, recognizable by a white protective mold that grows on its surface during drying. Two historic companies, Pick and Herz, are still the main producers. Sliced szalámi works both as a snack and as a sandwich topping.
#7 - Szalonna: “Szalonna” is an umbrella term in Hungary for all cuts of preserved pork that come from right under the animal’s skin, be it fatback, pork belly, or jawl. Most szalonna is salted and smoked, but treatments vary by region. To this day, szalonna is a cherished, energy-rich sustenance across Hungary. People either cook szalonna into dishes for a flavor boost, or eat it simply with bread and vegetables.
#8 - Bread smeared with lard (zsíroskenyér): A flavor-rich Hungarian bar snack, zsíroskenyér is an open-faced sandwich smeared with lard (pork fat) and sprinkled with rings of onion and a hint of paprika. Conveniently, it pairs well with draft beer and is also wallet friendly. A few places also serve a VIP version made with Mangalitsa lard. My favorite in Budapest: When the hunger for zsíroskenyér arises, I usually go to Grinzingi, an old-school, unfussy neighborhood joint in downtown Budapest.
#9 - Fried fatback (töpörtyű & pörc): Morsels of fatback fried to a golden, crispy brown may not be for the faint of heart, but they're a delicious snack. You can eat them as they come or with some red onions and a fresh slice of bread. Most butcher shops in Hungary make them from both pork and goose fat (schmaltz). Pörc is a similar product, using pork belly instead of fatback (think chicharrón).
#10 - Goulash soup: The symbol of Hungarian food — a paprika-laced soup packed with cubes of tender beef, potatoes, and pinched noodles — needs little introduction. Once the nourishment of shepherds, today the goulash is a staple across households in Hungary. Use the tableside hot paprika paste to adjust the spice level to your taste. My favorite in Budapest: At these restaurants.
#11 - Beef consommé (marhahúsleves): Húsleves is a signature of Sunday family meals across Hungary, usually served from a large soup tureen for the whole table, similar to a pot-au-feu. The steaming and fragrant broth packs cuts of soft beef, root vegetables, and angel hair pasta. It's often paired with bone marrow and toast on the side.
#12 - Újházi chicken soup: A staple of Hungarian wedding receptions, the Újházi is a flavor-rich chicken soup made with a mountain of vegetables — most of all: carrots, green peas, and mushrooms — and noodles. The soup acquired its moniker from Ede Újházi, a 19th-century Hungarian actor and a Rabelaisian figure who provided instructions to the kitchen staff of Wampetics restaurant (the predecessor of the renowned Gundel) on how to make it. The original recipe used capon instead of chicken.
#13 - Fisherman's soup (halászlé): Hungary's take on the bouillabaisse has myriad regional permutations, most notably those in the riverfront cities of Baja and Szeged. The crimson-hued broth is bolstered with paprika and comes laced with a variety of fish. The classic version features tender, oily carp fillets. Traditionally, halászlé is part of the Christmas-Eve dinner in Hungarian families.
#14 - Jókai bean soup (Jókai bableves): A classic winter soup named after the celebrated Hungarian writer, Mór Jókai. The main components are smoked pork knuckles, crispy sausage, pinto beans, and root vegetables. The soup is usually thickened with roux and sour cream. Note that your most productive hours will not be after eating this.
#15 - Palóc soup: This sturdy soup is similar to a goulash, but green beans and sour cream add a layer of savory depth to it. Restaurateur János Gundel, father of Károly Gundel, created this soup in 1892 as a birthday present to his regular patron, Kálmán Mikszáth, a prominent Hungarian writer. Mikszáth wrote many novels about the Palóc people, hence the soup's moniker. The original recipe calls for mutton, but most places make it with beef or pork these days.
#16 - Sauerkraut soup (korhelyleves): Hungarians traditionally eat this soup as a hangover cure after a nocturnal debauch in the small hours of a cold winter morning. Bright tasting sauerkraut, slices of smoked or boiled sausage, and a thick broth laden with fat and sour cream are meant to soothe the stomach and mitigate the headache.
#17 - Lebbencs soup: This potato and noodles-laden soup harkens back to the countryside folks of eastern Hungary, around the town of Debrecen, who often ate it. The soup starts with melting down a small slab of pork fatback into lard and crispy cracklings, to which come the potatoes and noodles. Lebbencs is the name of the paper-thin sheet of dough that they'd dry and then chip off bits from into dishes.
#18 - Cold sour-cherry soup (hideg meggyleves): You’re unlikely to find this beloved summer treat outside of Hungary. The key is fresh, pitted cherries here that are transformed — using water, sour cream, and sugar — into a deliciously creamy, sweet-sour chilled soup.
#19 - Foie gras (libamáj): Usually associated with French food, few people know that Hungary is the world's second largest producer of foie gras. Most fine dining restaurants serve this delicacy as an appetizer with a side of fruit jam to match the rich flavor and buttery texture of the fattened duck liver (traditionally, foie gras pairs with a glass of golden Tokaji aszú wine). Though not cheap, foie gras in Budapest is more affordable than in most places around the world.
#20 - Green pea stew (zöldborsó főzelék): Be it cabbage, lentil, potato, beans, spinach, squash, or green peas, Hungary’s love affair with vegetable stews (főzelék) has produced many lip-smacking dishes. Főzelék stands on its own as a main course paired simply with a thick slice of crusty bread, although toppings often include a sunny-side up egg, meatball, pörkölt, or sausage. My favorite in Budapest: Öcsi Étkezde.
#21 - Summer squash stew with dill (tökfőzelék): Hungary’s main vegetable stew draws both avid admirers and detractors. Whatever side you take, let's agree that a chilled and light version during the warmer months, thickened with sour cream, is tough to beat.
#22 - Lecsó: Made from bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and a sprinkle of paprika, the best time for this Hungarian ratatouille is the late summer, when vegetables are ripest and most flavorful. Lecsó is even better when boosted with a fried egg and thin slices of crispy sausage.
#23 - Layered potato casserole (rakott krumpli): Similar to a potatoes au gratin, but Hungarians layer this dish with sour cream, slices of hard-boiled eggs, and crisped-up paprika sausage. The sum of the parts is light and creamy, with a gooey topping of melted cheese. Rakott krumpli is best when served with a side of pickled vegetables. My favorite in Budapest: Stand25 Bisztró.
#24 - Beef stew (marha pörkölt): Pörkölt and paprikash (see next entry) are the ancestors of the goulash soup. They originated among shepherds in the Hungarian Plain, Alföld, who stewed meat in a cauldron over open fire. Pörkölt is dry-stewed and usually made with beef or pork (less commonly venison or mutton). The traditional side dish to both pörkölt and paprikash is either egg dumplings (galuska) or egg "barley" (tarhonya). My favorite in Budapest: Menza.
#25 - Chicken paprikash: Paprikash is very similar to a pörkölt, above, but here the meat is usually gently steam-cooked, using more liquid than with a pörkölt. Also, paprikash is finished with sour cream and usually made with chicken or veal, rather than beef.
#26 - Csikós tokány: Tokány is a category of stew dishes similar to pörkölt and paprikás, above, but usually prepared with less paprika than those two. Historically, tokány was most common in Transylvania, and the name itself comes from the Romanian word for ragout. You can recognize a tokány by the thin, elongated shape of the bits of meat. Smoked szalonna and sour cream give a distinct taste to csikós tokány, which can be made with any meat you like.
#27 - Stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta): In the Middle Ages, sauerkraut with meat was regarded as the national dish of Hungary. When the Ottomans ruled the country, the Turkish practice of stuffing meat into fruit and vegetable leaves started to spread and hence the cabbage rolls appeared across Eastern Europe. A bed of sauerkraut and a generous dollop of sour cream topping set apart the local version. Töltött káposzta is a treasured winter staple and an obligatory food at wedding receptions in Hungary. My favorite in Budapest: Rosenstein Vendéglő.
#28 - Stuffed peppers (töltött paprika): Another dish adopted during the country’s occupation by Ottoman Turkey in the 16-17th centuries, Hungary’s take on the stuffed peppers comes filled with a mixture of ground pork, rice, and a spice blend. A bed of subtly sweet tomato sauce and a side of boiled potatoes are part of the charm.
#29 - Székelykáposzta / Székelygulyás: A Budapest restaurant invented this hefty dish in 1846 using leftover pork stew (pörkölt) layered with sauerkraut. It quickly became a hit and spread across Hungary. Despite what many people think, székelykáposzta has nothing to do with Transylvania; székely people do live in Transylvania, but the dish’s moniker actually refers to József Székely, the person who first ordered it.
#30 - Schnitzel (rántott hús): This Italian-Austrian breaded veal cutlet has made its way deep into Hungarian kitchens, being a staple dish of Sunday family meals. When done right, a tender and juicy meat hides behind the thin, crispy exterior. While the original recipe calls for veal escalopes, Budapest restaurants often serve it with pork loin, chicken breast, or a ham-and-cheese filling (cordon bleu). My favorite in Budapest: Buja Disznó(k) and Café Kör.
#31 - Mangalitsa pork chop: Similar to the black-hoofed Iberico, the Hungarian Mangalitsa is a treasured breed of heritage pig, known for its richly marbled meat and curly "fleece." Michelin-starred restaurants around the world regularly serve Mangalitsa, but on their home turf in Hungary you'll be able to feast on this porcine delicay at relatively wallet-friendly prices. My favorite in Budapest: HILDA.
#32 - Vadas: Vadas is a catch-all phrase for dishes prepared with an orange-hued, sweet-tart vegetable sauce made from root vegetables and spiked with mustard, lemon, and a little sugar. Restaurants usually pair it with slow-cooked beef (vadas marha) and bread dumplings. My favorite in Budapest: Földes Józsi Vendéglője.
#33 - Cholent (sólet): First introduced by Hungary's Jewish community, this traditional Sabbath dish has since spread into the mainstream. Many cholent variations exist, but in Budapest it usually consists of slow-cooked beans and pearl barley topped with sliced brisket or goose leg. Jewish-style restaurants usually serve it on Fridays and Saturdays. My favorite in Budapest: A Séf utcája (on Fridays).
#34 - Pork rice pilaf (bácskai rizses hús): Evolved from the Serbian casserole called djuvec, this is a rice pilaf studded with bits of stewed pork. Tossing leftover pörkölt with bell peppers, tomatoes, and a creamy rice cooked in a rich broth is another way to think of it. The dish, which is eaten as a main course, isn’t complete without a side of pickles.
#35 - Paprika potatoes (paprikás krumpli): Yes, it's considered a low-brow food, but don’t look down your nose at this paprika-potato combo that has nourished generations of Hungarians across school cafeterias and eateries. The simple ingredients belie the dish’s nicely layered flavor, which is usually boosted with sliced frankfurters and a side of pickles.
#36 - Lungs with bread dumplings (szalontüdő/savanyútüdő): Also popular in the Czech Republic and Austria, this plate of cooked veal lungs — the traditional recipe calls for veal but in Budapest it’s often made with beef or pork — is best when served with a creamy and bright tasting sauce tinged with lemon juice and a couple of bread dumplings on the side.
#37 - Hungarian tripe stew (pacal pörkölt): As in Italy and France, tripe in Hungary has long been considered a poor man’s food but it can be wonderfully delicious when cooked to tender submission with a bit of bite left to it. In Hungary, naturally, the julienned strips of beef tripe arrive in a red-hued paprika and onion-laced sauce and a side of boiled potatoes.
#38 - Goose giblets porridge (ludaskása): This is one of Hungary's oldest dishes, although in the days of yore it was often made from millet porridge instead of rice. Today, it's best known as an economical dish consisting of leftover goose giblets, bits of goose back, and wing meat that are cooked into a bed of al dente rice mixed with root vegetables. Ludaskása used to be popular among both the Christian and the Jewish residents of Budapest around the turn of the 20th century.
#39 - Roasted sausages (sütőkolbász & hurka): Be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, roasted sausages are a popular comfort food in Hungary among blue-collar and white-collar people alike. A generous dollop of mustard, pickled vegetables, and a thick slice of crusty bread are all you need for this pretense-free meal. Kolbász is a meat sausage with paprika-forward spices while hurka is stuffed with a paste of cooked offal and rice. My favorite in Budapest: These sausage shops.
#40 - Cucumber salad (uborkasaláta): As mentioned in the intro, fresh vegetables are usually served as a side dish in Hungary instead of as a separate salad course. One of the most common options is a cucumber salad, thinly sliced and spiked with salt, vinegar, and a blob of sour cream. It goes down especially well with a chicken paprikash, pörkölt, or schnitzel.
#41 - Pickled vegetables (savanyúság): For a country with a relatively long winter like Hungary, pickled vegetables (savanyúság) provide essential nutrients during the barren months of the year. The savanyúság options are endless: from pickles, to cabbage, to peppers, to beets, to onions, to garlic, to you-name-it. Most savanyúság is made in a vinegar brine that's often spiked with sugar to balance out the acidity (except for pickles and sauerkraut, which are lacto-fermented).
#42 - Cottage cheese noodles (túrós csusza): A medieval Hungarian dish, this plate of baked egg noodles comes smothered in sour cream, túró, and sprinkles of crispy pork cracklings. Hungarians often eat it as a second course after a fisherman's soup. Don’t ask me why, but some people swap the bacon for powdered sugar and turn this into a sweet dessert.
#43 - Cabbage noodles (káposztás cvekedli / kocka): This is one of those dishes that’s more than the sum of its parts: Shredded cabbage, which has been sautéed with lard and sugar, coats square-shaped bits of slippery pasta. A hint of ground peppercorns gives it a little kick, and some restaurants will also top it with roast pork.
#44 - Poppy-seeds noodles (mákos tészta): Recipe collections from the 16th century already include this easy-to-whip-up noodle dish blanketed in ground poppy seeds and powdered sugar. Hungarians usually eat after a hearty soup. Thanks to the trace amounts of opiates, exasperated parents would serve this to soothe their unruly children and help them fall asleep.
#45 - Semolina noodles (grízes tészta): Another unfancy but inventive hot noodle dish in which toasted semolina flour is drizzled over egg pasta. What helps win over the hearts of many people about this one is the generous dollop of apricot jam topping. My favorite in Budapest? Kádár étkezde.
#46 - Walnut noodles (diós tészta): The third member of the trio of sweet noodle dishes in Hungary (see above the other two). A Hungarian recipe book from the 1600s already lists this dish as an option for meat-free days. The broad and flat egg pasta noodles are first slicked with butter, then showered in a blend of ground walnuts and powdered sugar.
#47 - Cottage cheese dumplings (túrógombóc): You’re unlikely to find sweet-tart cottage cheese dumplings outside of Hungary. They're boiled, then coated in fried breadcrumbs and finished with sour cream and powdered sugar. Go figure. They’re light and tasty.
#48 - Vargabéles: Originating in Transylvania, this strudel-cake encloses fresh túró (cottage cheese) layered with noodles, raisins, and a sprinkle of vanilla sugar. Restaurants serve a generously portioned cube-shaped slice as a second course after soup.
#49 - Yeast rolls (aranygaluska): Sweet yeast rolls are common across Central Europe, but these feather-light baked buns coated in melted butter, ground walnuts, and sugar are distinctly Hungarian and impossible to stop eating. Each bit comes showered in vanilla custard.
#50 - Kaiserschmarrn (császármorzsa): Named after “the Kaiser,” Habsburg emperor Franz Joseph, this shredded crepe sprinkled with powdered sugar and raisins is another adored dessert across the former Austria-Hungary. In Hungary, people make it with semolina instead of regular wheat flour and bathe the plate in fruit preserves.
#51 - Plum dumplings (szilvásgombóc): When George Lang, the legendary Hungarian-American restaurateur, was asked what his last meal would be, plum dumplings were one of the dishes he mentioned. These boiled, potato-dough dumplings, which originate in Austria-Hungary, are especially rewarding in the early fall when plums are at the height of the season.
#52 - Jam-filled dumplings (derelye or barátfüle): A filling of plum jam (szilvalekvár) or sweet cottage cheese (túró) can really crank up this ravioli-like noodle dish. The dumplings are rolled in breadcrumbs and sprinkled with powdered sugar. People often make derelye with potato dough as a byproduct of the plum dumplings, above.
#53 - Poppy-seeds dumplings (mákos nudli): Yes, potato dumplings are endlessly versatile. Instead of a filling, these diamond-shaped noodles come with a drizzle of sugared poppy seeds (or ground walnuts). As with its two sister dishes, above, people usually eat mákos nudli as a main course after a hefy soup.
#54 - Rice pudding souffle (rizsfelfújt or rízskoch): A staple in canteens and cafeterias across Hungary, this rice pudding souffle is strewn with raisins, flavored with lemon zest, and then baked to a golden brown. People usually finish it with powdered sugar and apricot preserves.
#55 - Crepes (palacsinta): Wonderfully thin pancakes rolled with a sweet filling — apricot jam, sugary cottage cheese (túró), or, more recently, Nutella — are Hungary’s most popular dessert. For a local experience, try palacsinta at a food stall inside a market hall. My favorite in Budapest: Marika Lángos Sütője.
#56 - Gundel palacsinta: This is a gussied-up fried palacsinta bathed in chocolate cream. The rum-infused filling includes ground walnuts, candied orange, and raisins. There are various origin stories, but most likely it was Ilona Matzner, wife of the celebrated Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, who introduced this pancake to Károly Gundel, who later perfected it at his renowned Budapest restaurant.
#57 - Poppy seeds bread pudding (mákos guba): It’s hard to think of a more rewarding depository for leftover, stale bread rolls than this classic Hungarian poppy seeds bread pudding. Bolstered with milk and a finished with a creamy vanilla sauce, they transform into a moist, deeply satisfying baked dessert dish. My favorite in Budapest: Kiosk Pest.
#58 - Semolina milk pudding (tejbegríz): For many Hungarian people, a hot plate of semolina flour cooked in milk and sugar is the quintessential comfort food, evoking fond childhood memories. Growing up, I used to eat it at least once a week, sprinkled with cocoa powder or cinnamon (a similar dish, tejberízs, swaps the semolina flour for rice).
#59 - Strudel (rétes): Strudels evolved from the baklava, which Hungarians adopted when Ottoman Turkey ruled the country in the 16-17th centuries. Later, strudels spread across the whole Austro Hungarian Empire. What makes them unique in Hungary is the sheer variety of fillings, both sweet and savory. Have you had more than enough apple strudels in Vienna? No problem, try one with cottage cheese (túró), cabbage, or poppy seeds in Budapest. My favorite in Budapest: Strudel House and Strudel Hugó.
#60 - Bejgli: During Christmas, no Hungarian dining table is complete without these sweet rolls filled with finely ground poppy seeds and walnuts. People usually place them on a plate side by side because there's a folk belief that the poppy seeds bring prosperity and the walnuts keep trouble away. Bejgli is a staple across countries in Central Europe.
#61 - Chimney cake (kürtőskalács): Feel free to just tear into this aromatic Transylvanian chimney cake flaunting a caramelized crust and a chewy, soft interior. Traditionally, as seen above, kürtőskalács is made by wrapping the dough around a baking spit and cooked over charcoal. My favorite in Budapest: plenty of kürtőskalács vendors exist in Budapest's downtown, for example Molnár's, but only Vitéz Kürtős by the Budapest Zoo makes them over charcoal.
#62 - Doughnut (fánk): You might know it as krapfen, Berliner, bombolone, sufganiyah, or jelly doughnut — fánk is the Hungarian version of this centuries-old deep-fried pastry traditionally eaten in the days of Carnival. Besides jam, fánks also come with a chocolate or a vanilla custard filling and a sprinkle of powdered sugar atop. Most bakeries and grocery stores in Hungary serve them year-round.
#63 - Dobos torte: Created by local confectioner József C. Dobos in 1884, this popular Hungarian sponge cake sports layers of chocolate butter cream. After pathetic attempts by competitors to replicate his concoction, Dobos decided to make the recipe public and, still today, you'll find Dobos torte in most Budapest pastry shops. The cake's signature feature is the shiny, brittle caramel topping. Here you can read about other classic Hungarian cakes and pastries. My favorite in Budapest: Auguszt Buda.
#64 - Esterházy torte: Named after a Hungarian royal family, the Esterházy torte is one of the most well-known in and outside the country. It comprises alternating layers of ground walnuts (or almonds) and rum-inflected buttercream with a white fondant coating. Interestingly, it contains no flour. At its best, the Esterházy torte is rich, but not cloying.
#65 - Krémes: Similar to a Napolean pastry, krémes is a cherished custard slice across Central Europe with each country flaunting a slightly different version. In Hungary, apart from regular krémes — vanilla custard enclosed by puff pastry — there's also "francia krémes," which comes with an extra layer of whipped cream and a caramel glaze on top. My favorite in Budapest: Ruszwurm.
#66 - Gerbeaud slice: This bite-sized cake, created by the historic Café Gerbeaud, is a staple of all pastry shops in Hungary. Under a chocolate glaze lie layers of a sweet dough alternating with a filling made from ground walnuts and apricot jam.
#67 - Flódni: This rich cake layered with plum jam, apple, ground walnuts, and ground poppy seeds originates from Hungary's Jewish community. Traditionally, people ate it for the Jewish holiday of Purim, but today flódni is a cherished treat and widely available across Budapest pastry shops.
#68 - Somlói galuska: Despite being a relatively recent invention, dating back to the 1950s, the somlói galuska is a beloved dessert dish across Hungary. It consists of a rum-infused sponge cake soaked in vanilla custard, chocolate cream, and whipped cream, with a sprinkling of walnuts and raisins. Apart from pastry shops, restaurants also serve it. My favorite in Budapest: At these pastry shops.
#69 - Pogácsa: These soft and savory snacks, which are also popular across the Balkans and Turkey, fall somewhere between a scone and a biscuit. They come in different sizes and varieties: In Budapest, you’ll see many of them topped with melted cheese and filled with pork cracklings (töpörtyűs) or cottage cheese (túrós). Both bakeries and pastry shops sell pogácsa, but those often can’t hold a candle to a fresh homemade version.
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