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 some 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.
The culinary high point of medieval Hungary was the 15th-century reign of renaissance king Matthias. Through his Naples-born wife, Beatrice, Matthias hired skilled foreign chefs who whipped up elaborate feasts in the royal palace that could rival those taking place in Italy at the time.
While the occupation by Ottoman Turkey ended Hungary's independence for nearly two centuries, it also brought forth important culinary innovations — stuffed vegetables, some dessert dishes, and coffee appeared in this time. This was also when New World produces like beans, squash, corn, potato, tomato, and paprika first arrived in Hungary. In fact, paprika (capsicum) went on to revolutionize Hungarian food after local farmers cultivated a host of subspecies ranging from sweet to scorching hot.
Meanwhile, the delicate 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 are scant. One notable exception is Transylvania, part of Romania today but with a sizable Hungarian community. There, instead of paprika, herbs and spices like ginger, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, summer savory, and juniper have remained essential seasonings. Transylvania is also known for its corn-based dishes like polenta and sheep's milk cheese.
Lunch in Hungary usually begins with a soup. Unike in many Eastern European countries, few soups have a characteristically sour taste. At the top of the soup hierarchy sits the flavorful "húsleves," literally meat soup, usually made from long-simmered 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 (Jókai bableves) in the cold months, and a light fruit soup in the summer.
Hungary's climate is suitable to cool and warm-season vegetable crops alike, so there's both things like carrots, beets, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, but also tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, and summer squash. Rather than reducing them to boiled or steamed side dishes, seasonal vegetable stews thickened with sour cream (főzelék) often appear as a main course. Before vegetables became available year-round, most people got their vitamins and carbs in the form of sauerkraut and potatoes in the cold months.
The concept of a salad course doesn't exist in Hungary. Instead, people accompany their main course by a small plate of seasoned vegetables, usually shredded cabbage, cucumbers, beets, or tomatoes. This is also the case during the winter, except they eat them pickled (savanyúság).
Meat is fundamental to Hungarian food. The options span poultry, beef, and to a lesser extent game and game birds, but pork is most prevalent. Pork turns up in myriad forms. 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 roasted mangalitsa, the curly-haired breed of heritage pork known for its flavor-rich marbled meat. Historically, lard was the main cooking fat but it's now eclipsed by vegetable oils.
Before the use of refrigerators, the main source of protein in people's diet came from preserved meats which are still popular in Hungary. Szalonna and kolbász are the two main categories, both 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.
Noodles are central to Hungarian food. They appear in many soups, but more interestingly, there's a whole category of sweet (!) pasta dishes: regular noodles coated in ground poppy seeds (mákos tészta) or ground walnuts (diós tészta) and powdered sugar. People usually eat them as a second course after a hefty soup.
Also notable are the countless dessert dishes that originated in Austria Hungary and are still widespread across the successor states. Examples include the kaiserschmarrn (császármorzsa), the jam-filled potato dumplings (szilvásgombóc), the poppy seeds bread pudding (mákos guba), and the sugary yeast rolls (aranygaluska). As with sweet pastas, they're served warm and usually eaten in place of a main course. The most common dessert in Hungary is palacsinta, a crepe-like unyeasted pancake rolled with fruit jam, túró, or cinnamon sugar.
Like Austria, Hungary is a cake-superpower. Many of the traditional cakes feature ground poppy seeds, ground walnuts, and chestnut paste, sometimes entirely replacing wheat flour. Note that restaurants in Hungary don't serve cakes; 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 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 (tejföl) 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 (túrós batyu) and savory (túrós csusza) 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 top 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.
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The 76 Essential Hungarian Dishes
Dear reader, before you start questioning 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 a standard in Austria as did the Wiener schnitzel in Hungary. If anything, this is a beautiful cultural exchange through food, enriching the cuisine of 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 - Túrós batyu: Like in Italy, France, and Scandinavia, many people in Hungary start their days with a morning pastry instead of a full breakfast dish. The stuffing of túró, a snow-white fresh curd cheese, lends a beguiling sweet-tart flavor to this palm-sized breakfast snack that's available in almost any bakery.
#2 - Chocolate bun (kakaós csiga): Apart from the túrós batyu, above, kakaós csiga is the other beloved morning pastry in Hungary. 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.
#3 - Plum jam (szilvalekvár): Be it a simple topping to a toasted bread, a rich garnish to foie gras, or a filling of palacsinta, fruit preserves appear in countless Hungarian dishes. The varieties are endless — peach, raspberry, strawberry, sour cherry, etc. — but it's the plum jam (szilvalekvár) that goes back furthest. Before sugar became cheap and widespread in the 19th century, people made szilvalekvár without it, laboriously stirring the bits of fruit for 12-14 hours into a gel over fire.
#4 - Lángos: Many Hungarians associate this disc of deep-fried bread dough with summer vacations spent at Lake Balaton, but thankfully lángos is available year-round. At its best, the crispy, golden crust yields to a soft and steaming inside (historically, lángos was a byproduct of bread baking at home). For the most memorable experience, try one rubbed with garlic and topped with sour cream and grated cheese. My favorites in Budapest: JóKrisz Lángos Sütöde.
#5 - Liptauer (körözött): Named after the curd cheese of Liptov, in today's Slovakia, Liptauer is a spread eaten across 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. 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.
#6 - Cured sausage (kolbász): Cured meats are dear to the hearts of Hungarian people and perhaps none more so than kolbász, which they traditionally prepared 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. My favorite in Budapest: Most butcher shops in the Great Market Hall sell it. Feel free to ask for a sample first.
#7 - 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, aged longer, and usually made without paprika, hence the absence of an orange-red hue to it. 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. My favorite in Budapest: Most higher-end grocery stores sell it.
#8 - Szalonna: “Szalonna” is an umbrella term 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 it into dishes for a flavor boost or simply eat it as is with a slice of bread and vegetables. My favorite in Budapest: Most butcher shops in the Great Market Hall sell it. Feel free to ask for a sample first.
#9 - Bread smeared with lard (zsíroskenyér): A flavor-rich bar snack in Hungary, zsíroskenyér is an open-faced sandwich slathered with lard (pork fat) and sprinkled with rings of onion and a hint of paprika. Conveniently, zsíroskenyér 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: Grinzingi, an old-school, unfussy neighborhood joint in downtown Budapest.
#10 - Fried fatback (töpörtyű & pörc): Morsels of fatback fried to a golden, crispy brown may not be for the faint of heart but they're delicious. Most butcher shops in Hungary make them from both pork and goose fat (schmaltz). Nibble at töpörtyű as they come or grab some red onions and a fresh slice of bread to pair. Pörc is a similar product, using pork belly instead of fatback (think chicharrón).
#11 - Beef consommé (marhahúsleves): Húsleves is a signature dish 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 slices of tender beef, root vegetables, and noodles. It's often paired with bone marrow and toast on the side.
#12 - Goulash soup: Once the nourishment of shepherds, this quintessential Hungarian dish consists of a paprika-laced broth piled generously with cubes of tender beef, potatoes, and pinched noodles (the goulash soup is actually a 19th-century derivative of the pörkölt — see #26 below). Use the tableside hot paprika paste to adjust the spice level to your taste. My favorite in Budapest: At these restaurants.
#13 - Újházi chicken soup: A classic of Hungarian wedding receptions, the Újházi is a flavor-rich chicken soup stacked with a mountain of vegetables — most of all: carrots, green peas, and mushrooms — and noodles. The soup traces its moniker to Ede Újházi, a 19th-century Hungarian actor and a Rabelaisian figure who had the kitchen staff of Wampetics restaurant (the predecessor of the renowned Gundel) make it for him. The original recipe used capon instead of chicken.
#14 - Fisherman's soup (halászlé): Hungary's take on the bouillabaisse has myriad regional permutations, most notably the fish soups originating in the riverfront cities of Baja and Szeged. Paprika and a range of small fish bolster the crimson-hued broth, which is anchored by tender, oily carp fillets. Traditionally, halászlé is part of the Christmas-Eve dinner in Hungarian families.
#15 - Jókai bean soup (Jókai bableves): This heavy winter soup is named after the beloved Hungarian writer, Mór Jókai. The main components are smoked pork knuckles, crispy sausages, pinto beans, root vegetables, and pinched noodles. The soup is usually thickened with roux and sour cream. Words of advice: your most productive hours will not commence after polishing off a bowl of this.
#16 - Palóc soup: This sturdy mutton soup layered with potatoes, green beans, and sour cream is the creation of restaurateur János Gundel, father of the famous Károly Gundel. He made the soup as a birthday present in 1892 to his regular patron, Kálmán Mikszáth, a celebrated novelist and politician. Mikszáth wrote about the Palóc people in northeast Hungary, hence the soup's moniker. The original recipe calls for mutton, but most places make it with beef or pork these days.
#17 - Sauerkraut soup (korhelyleves): Hungarians traditionally eat this winter soup as a hangover cure following a nocturnal debauch. Bright-tasting sauerkraut, sliced sausages, and a thick broth laden with sour cream are meant to soothe the stomach and mitigate the headache.
#18 - Lebbencs soup: This potato and noodles soup harks back to the countryside folks of eastern Hungary who lived in and around Debrecen. The soup starts with melting a small slab of pork fatback into lard and crispy cracklings into which land the other ingredients. Lebbencs is the name of the paper-thin sheet of dough they'd roll, dry, and chip off bits from into the soup.
#19 - Pork bone soup (orjaleves): This dish dates back to the annual pig slaughter festivities in the Hungarian countryside where lunch would begin with orjaleves. But there’s good reason to whip up this stupendous bone soup even if you’re a city dweller. Part of the enjoyment is locating and savoring the tender bits of hidden meat left attached to the pork neck bone (feel free to attack it with your hands).
#20 - Cold sour-cherry soup (hideg meggyleves): You’re unlikely to find this beloved summer treat outside of Hungary. The key is fresh, pitted sour cherries that are transformed — using water, sour cream, and sugar — into a deliciously silky, sweet-tart chilled soup.
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#21 - Foie gras (libamáj): Usually associated with French fare, few people know that Hungary is the world's second biggest 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.
#22 - Green pea stew (zöldborsó főzelék): Be it potato, kohlrabi, cabbage, spinach, lentil, beans, green peas, or squash, Hungary’s love affair with vegetable stews (főzelék) is seemingly endless. Főzelék can stand on its own as a main course paired simply with a thick slice of crusty bread — historically eaten on days of abstinence — but toppings often include a sunny-side up egg, a meatball, pörkölt, or sausage. My favorite in Budapest: Öcsi Étkezde.
#23 - Summer squash stew with dill (tökfőzelék): One of Hungary’s most commonly eaten vegetable stews draws both avid admirers and detractors. Whatever side you take, a chilled version during the summer heat, thickened only with sour cream, is worth at least a try.
#24 - Cabbage stew in tomato sauce (paradicsomos káposzta): No summary of Hungarian food is complete without a cabbage stew; this one calls for fresh cabbage but also works with sauerkraut. The tomato sauce lends an impressive red hue to the dish, while the mild sweetness comes from a seasoning of sugar. Generally, a side of braised pork ribs is served on top.
#25 - Lecsó: Made from bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and a sprinkle of paprika, the best time for this Hungarian ratatouille is the late summer when these vegetables are ripest and most flavorful. Lecsó is even better when boosted with a fried egg and thin slices of crispy sausage.
#26 - Layered potato casserole (rakott krumpli): Hungary's take on the potato gratin features slices of hard-boiled eggs, crisped-up paprika sausage, and a topping of melted cheese and sour cream. The sum of the parts is light and creamy and delicious. And also refreshing when served with a side of pickled vegetables. My favorite in Budapest: Stand25 Bisztró.
#27 - Beef stew (marha pörkölt): Pörkölt and paprikash (the next entry) are the ancestor dishes of the goulash soup. They originated among shepherds in the Hungarian Plain, Alföld, who stewed bits of meat in a cauldron over open fire (the paprika seasoning appeared in the 18th century). The traditional sides to both of them are egg dumplings (galuska) or egg "barley" (tarhonya). Pörkölt is dry-stewed and usually made with beef or pork. My favorite in Budapest: Menza.
#28 - 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.
#29 - Csikós tokány: Tokány is a stew dish similar to pörkölt and paprikás, above, but usually prepared with less paprika than those two. Historically, tokány was 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 meat pieces. Smoked szalonna and sour cream give a distinct taste to the csikós tokány, which can be made with any meat you like.
#30 - Catfish paprikash (harcsapaprikás): Like Hungarian shepherds, the local fishermen also fell for the beguiling pungency of paprika when this spice spread across the country in the 18th century; soon their fish-heavy dishes were suffused with the crimson shade of capsicum. Today, this fish stew is typically made with catfish and served with a side of túrós csusza (see #46 below), ensuring a regret-inducing level of calorie intake.
#31 - Stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta): In medieval Hungary, meat with a side of sauerkraut was a national dish but during the Ottoman occupation of the country the Turkish practice of stuffing meat into vegetable leaves was adopted, and hence the cabbage rolls appeared. A bed of sauerkraut and a generous dollop of sour cream topping set apart the local version from the regional varieties. Töltött káposzta is a treasured winter staple and an obligatory course at Hungarian wedding receptions. My favorite in Budapest: Rosenstein Vendéglő.
#32 - Layered cabbage (kolozsvári rakott káposzta): This hearty cabbage dish is designed to enliven the gloomy winter evenings. The ingredients have evolved over the decades but the foundation consists of sauerkraut layered with rice, smoked sausages, and sour cream; gluttons should consider adding slices of hard-boiled eggs and szalonna. It's one of those foods that tastes even better when reheated the next day.
#33 - Stuffed peppers (töltött paprika): Similar to stuffed cabbage, above, the origin of stuffed peppers dates back to the Ottoman era. In Hungary, the paprika is filled with a mixture of ground pork, onions, and rice, and usually served on a bed of subtly sweet tomato sauce with a side of boiled potatoes.
#34 - Székelykáposzta / Székelygulyás: A Budapest restaurant invented this hefty dish in 1846 using leftover pork stew (pörkölt) and sauerkraut. The mixture quickly became a hit and spread across Hungary. Despite what many people think, székelykáposzta has nothing to do with Transylvania; while székely people do live in Transylvania, the dish’s moniker actually refers to József Székely, the person who first ordered it.
#35 - Schnitzel (rántott hús): This Italian-Austrian breaded veal cutlet has made its way deep into Hungarian kitchens, being a popular dish of Sunday family meals. When done right, a tender and juicy meat hides behind the thin, crispy crust. 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.
#36 - 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 serve Mangalitsa, but on the home turf in Hungary you'll be able to feast on this porcine delicay at relatively wallet-friendly prices.
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#37 - Vadas: Vadas is a catch-all phrase for dishes prepared with an orange-hued, sweet-tart sauce made from pureed root vegetables and spiked with mustard, lemon, and a little sugar. Though originally referred to game meat ("vad" translates to game), restaurants usually serve it with slow-cooked beef (vadas marha). The classic pairing calls for bread dumplings on the side.
#38 - Cholent (sólet): First introduced in Hungary by the local Jewish community, this traditional medieval Sabbath dish has since spread into the mainstream. Many cholent variations exist, in Budapest the base usually consists of slow-cooked beans and pearl barley. Toppings include sliced brisket, goose leg, and eggs. Many Jewish-style restaurants serve it on Fridays and Saturdays. My favorite in Budapest: A Séf utcája (on Fridays).
#39 - Pork rice pilaf (bácskai rizses hús): Evolved from the djuvec, a casserole popular in Serbia, Hungary's southern neighbor, this is a rice pilaf studded with bits of stewed pork. Another way to think of it: toss your leftover paprika-laced pörkölt with bell peppers, tomatoes, and rice, and let the flavors meld. The dish, which is eaten as a main course, isn’t complete without a side of pickles.
#40 - Paprika potatoes (paprikás krumpli): Considered to be 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 nicely layered flavor of the dish, which is usually boosted with sliced frankfurters and a side of pickles.
#41 - 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 tastiest when served with a creamy and bright-tasting sauce tinged with lemon juice and a couple of bread dumplings on the side.
#42 - 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 sauce and with a side of boiled potatoes.
#43 - Goose giblets porridge (ludaskása): One of Hungary's oldest dishes, although in the days of yore the ludaskása was often made with millet porridge instead of rice. It consists of leftover goose giblets and bits of goose back that are cooked into a bed of al dente rice mixed with root vegetables. Ludaskása is an economical dish that was highly popular among both the Christian and the Jewish residents of Budapest around the turn of the 20th century.
#44 - Roasted sausages (sütőkolbász & hurka): Be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, roasted sausage is an adored comfort food in Hungary. 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.
#45 - 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. Cucumber salad — thinly sliced and spiked with salt, vinegar, and a blob of sour cream — is especially popular. Your chicken paprikash, pörkölt, and schnitzel will appreciate a plate of uborkasaláta by their sides.
#46 - 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 spiked with sugar to balance out the acidity, except for pickles and sauerkraut, which are usually fermented.
#47 - Cottage cheese noodles (túrós csusza): A medieval Hungarian dish consisting of baked egg noodles smothered in sour cream and túró and sprinkled with crispy pork cracklings. Hungarians often eat it as a second course after a fisherman's soup. Some people swap the bacon for powdered sugar and turn this into a sweet dessert.
#48 - Cabbage noodles (káposztás cvekedli / kocka): This is one of those dishes that are more than the sum of their parts, which in this case are just cabbage and noodles. Shredded cabbage is first sautéed in a generous amount of lard and sugar so as to coat every inch of the square-shaped bits of slippery pasta. A hint of ground peppercorns imparts a little kick, and some people will also top the káposztás cvekedli with roast pork.
#49 - Egg dumplings (tojásos nokedli / galuska): The tojásos nokedli is proof that spätzle-like dumplings can play more than just a supporting role on a plate. Using a strainer board or a knife, all you need to do is shave coarse bits of runny dough into a pot of boiling water (scoop them out when they appear on the surface a few minutes later). The key to this dish is the just-beaten eggs folded into and glued to the dumplings. As well as a side of fresh, sweet-sour lettuce.
#50 - 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 used to eat it on days of abstinence. Thanks to the trace amounts of opiates, exasperated parents would serve this to soothe their unruly children and help them fall asleep.
#51 - Semolina noodles (grízes tészta): Another unfancy but inventive sweet noodle dish, the grízes tészta is generously layered with toasted semolina. What helps win over the hearts of people about this one is the generous dollop of peach jam topping.
#52 - Walnut noodles (diós tészta): This is the third member of the trio of sweet pasta dishes in Hungary (see the other two above). The broad and flat egg noodles are first slicked with butter, then showered in a blend of ground walnuts and powdered sugar. Simple and delicious.
#53 - Cottage cheese dumplings (túrógombóc): These widely admired sweet-tart túró dumplings are boiled, then coated in fried breadcrumbs and finished with sour cream and powdered sugar. Go figure. They’re light and tasty.
#54 - 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 slice as a second course after soup.
#55 - Yeast rolls (aranygaluska): Sweet yeast rolls are common across Central Europe; in Hungary, they usually appear as these feather-light baked buns coated in melted butter, ground walnuts, and sugar. Aranygaluska is impossible to stop eating, especially if you drown each bit in vanilla custard.
#56 - Kaiserschmarrn (császármorzsa): Named after “the Kaiser,” Habsburg emperor Franz Joseph, this shredded pancake sprinkled with powdered sugar and raisins is another adored dessert across the former Austria-Hungary (the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald called the dish simply "formidable"). In Hungary, people make it with semolina instead of regular wheat flour and bathe the plate in fruit preserves.
#57 - 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 light, potato-dough dumplings, which originate in Austria-Hungary, are especially rewarding in the early fall when plums are at the height of the season.
#58 - Jam-filled dumplings (derelye / barátfüle): A filling of plum jam (szilvalekvár) or sweet cottage cheese (túró) can really crank up these ravioli-like dessert dumplings, which are rolled in breadcrumbs and sprinkled with powdered sugar. People often make derelye with potato dough as a byproduct of the plum dumplings, above.
#59 - Poppy-seeds dumplings (mákos nudli): Yes, potato dumplings are endlessly versatile. Instead of a filling, these diamond-shaped noodles come with a dusting 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.
#60 - Rice pudding souffle (rizsfelfújt / rízskoch): A staple in canteens and cafeterias across Hungary, this rice pudding souffle is dotted with raisins, flavored with lemon zest, and baked to a golden brown. People usually finish it with powdered sugar and peach preserves.
#61 - Poppy seeds bread pudding (mákos guba / bobajka): It’s hard to think of a more rewarding depository for leftover, stale bread rolls than this classic poppy seeds bread pudding. Bolstered with milk and finished with a creamy vanilla sauce, the tired breads transform into a moist, deeply satisfying baked dessert dish. (Pictured above is a new-wave mákos guba.) My favorite in Budapest: Kiosk.
#62 - Máglyarakás: Similar to the mákos guba, above, the máglyarakás is a wonderful transfiguration of stale bread into a rich dessert dish. Here, layers of rum-laced apples, raisins, and fruit preserves bolster the milk-soaked base, and the bonus is the soft meringue on top.
#63 - Semolina milk pudding (tejbegríz): For many Hungarian people, a 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 sugar (a similar dish, tejberízs, swaps the semolina for rice).
#64 - Crepes (palacsinta): No doubt, the number one dessert food in Hungary is palacsinta, wonderfully thin, unyeasted pancakes. They're usually rolled with peach jam, sugary cottage cheese (túró), Nutella, or sweetened lemon juice. Palacsinta is easy to whip up so nothing should stop you from giving it a try at home.
#65 - Gundel palacsinta: This gussied-up fried palacsinta bathed in chocolate cream has a filling of rum-laced ground walnuts with 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.
#66 - Pogácsa: These soft snacks are among the most traditional — dating back to medieval Hungary — and widespread across the country. They come in different sizes and varieties: you'll find pogácsa topped with melted cheese, dotted with pork cracklings (töpörtyűs), and filled with cottage cheese (túrós). Both bakeries and pastry shops sell pogácsa, but those often can’t hold a candle to a fresh homemade version.
#67 - Strudel (rétes): Strudels evolved from the baklava, which Hungarians took from Ottoman Turkey when it 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.
#68 - 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.
#69 - Chimney cake (kürtőskalács): Feel free to just tear into this aromatic Transylvanian chimney cake flaunting a caramelized crust and a chewy, soft interior. Kürtőskalács is prepared by wrapping the dough around a baking spit and then cooking it over charcoal (as seen above). Traditionally, people made it for family celebrations. 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.
#70 - 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 fruit jam, fánks also come with a chocolate or a vanilla custard filling. Most bakeries and grocery stores in Hungary serve them year-round.
#71 - Dobos torte: It was confectioner József C. Dobos who created in the 1880s this famous sponge cake layered with chocolate butter cream. The Dobos torte's signature feature is the shiny, brittle caramel topping. After pathetic attempts by competitors to replicate his concoction, Dobos made the recipe public and, still today, you'll find Dobos torte in most Budapest pastry shops. Here you can read about other classic Hungarian cakes and pastries. My favorite in Budapest: Auguszt Buda.
#72 - Esterházy torte: Named after a Hungarian royal dynasty, 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-laced buttercream with a white fondant coating. Interestingly, the cake contains no flour. At its best, the Esterházy torte is rich, but not cloying.
#73 - 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.
#74 - Flódni: This rich cake layered with plum jam, apple, ground walnuts, and ground poppy seeds originates in 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.
#75 - Gerbeaud slice: Created at the historic Café Gerbeaud, this bite-sized cake is a staple of all pastry shops in Hungary. Under a chocolate glaze lie layers of a sweet dough alternating with a filling of ground walnuts and apricot jam.
#76 - 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.