The Best of what Hungarian Gastronomy Has to Offer

Publicated on: June 14, 2013

The Hungarian Program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is all about participation and hands on experiences. What better and, crucially, more fun way to learn about a new culture than through its food? We give all visitors a delicious taste of the best of what Hungarian gastronomy has to offer.

The Hungarian food court called Budapest Bistro

Our chef has put together a menu to represent not only such classics of Hungarian gastronomy as Goulash, but also to shed light on the regional diversity of Hungarian food and the cuisine of minorities living in Hungary. The Hungarian food court called Budapest Bistro will give you a choice of six main courses and a dessert.

• Cholent with Duck Leg

• Chicken Paprika

• Beef Goulash

• Shashlik with Lecsó

• Shopska Salad

• Kolbász — Hungarian Sausage

• Almás Rétes — Apple Strudel with Vanilla Ice Cream

Cholent with Duck Leg
From northeastern Hungary’s Jewish community—crispy duck, scented with rosemary and thyme, served over white beans and barley and with a seeded roll. It was the religious prescriptions observed by the Jewish communities of Central Europe that made the cholent what it is today. In many areas, it has been prepared as the quintessential Sabbath meal for generations, being tailored to the requirements of observing the Sabbath. Since work – including the starting of fires – is prohibited on Saturdays, for centuries the solution has been to start cooking the dish before sundown on Friday, in a stove or oven, over reduced heat. Traditionally, ingredients have included beans, eggs, onions, oil and, in some areas of Hungary, paprika powder. Its many recipes reference various cuts of meat, but goose and duck parts are the most common choice. The version presented at the festival is prepared with a generous portion of succulent duck leg, and includes pearl barley mixed in with the beans.

Chicken Paprika
A popular Sunday dish in Hungarian households around the world—boneless chicken in a sauce made of sour cream and paprika, served over pasta and with a seeded roll. The dish has been prepared across the peasant population of the Great Plains in Hungary since the 19th century. Today, it is counted among the few universally acknowledged national dishes, with its popularity steady since city dwellers started preparing it in the early 20th century, as well. As far as its ingredients and mode of preparations go, the chicken paprika is as Hungarian as it gets. If features a list of characteristically Magyar ingredients, including paprika powder, red onions, garlic, sour cream, tomato and wax peppers, which all lend their flavor to the chicken parts they cook with. Various (or all) parts of a chicken can be used to prepare the dish, which are traditionally seared over bacon fat, and are cooked with generous amounts of onion, pepper and salt, apart from the paprika. The dish is traditionally kept over low heat for an extended period of time, giving the water time to evaporate and the gravy to become thick. The version presented at the Festival foregoes bacon, but the long cooking time for the stock is preserved from the traditional recipe for maximum flavor.

Beef Goulash
A spicy dish from the cauldrons of shepherds—beef cubes slowly simmered with paprika, served with garden vegetables and a seeded roll. Goulash - the original version, made as a thick soup - became a popular dish first among the herdsmen of the Hungarian Great Plains. Herdsmen lived far away from towns and villages, and prepared their meals for themselves, using a single pot: a metal cauldron. The Goulash, prepared in a cauldron, is a quintessential Hungarian specialty, which can almost be considered a national symbol. It is, strictly speaking, not a paprika or a stew, but the preparation method is not dissimilar. In the case of the goulash, meat and onions are boiled and simmered in water for a long period of time, as various vegetables (roots, potato, a wax pepper) and tomato are added. The dish usually includes garlic, as well.

Shashlik with Lecsó
A taste of eastern Hungarian summers—chicken kabob served over a sauce of tomatoes and peppers. Lecsó originally hails from the Balkans, but became a staple in Hungarian gastronomy a long time ago. It has a similar position in Roma (Gipsy) cooking, where versions with and without potato exist alike. All lecsó are basically a vegetable ragout created around a tomato and wax pepper stew. A very traditional version is made over a base of sautéed onions, by adding two parts tomatos and four parts white or Hungarian wax peppers. Often it would be made over bacon dripping, the version presented at the festival, however, is a lighter one. Shashlik is a staple of Southern Slav cooking and South Eastern European marketplaces and public events. A rich variation of meats and vegetables can be combined to yield a shashlik, a meat skewer with a richer vegetable component than usual. At the Festival, visitors can sample a chicken shashlik made using marinated, spicy and paprika-infused pieces.

Shopska Salad
A crisp salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and feta cheese, tossed in a light lemon dressing. A staple of Bulgarian kitchen, it owes its name to the Shop area not far from the capital Sofia. It is made with chopped peppers which may be roasted or raw, tomatoes, cucumber, onion , parsley, sheep cheese, oil and wine vinegar, which are mixed and tossed to make a fresh summer dish. It was migrants from Bulgaria who introduced to Hungary the custom of eating greens and vegetables in a raw form as a salad. They arrived in the 19th century and while their numbers were not huge, their impact was: Hungarians have them to thank for the vegetable gardens that many are proud owners of.

Kolbász — Hungarian Sausage
Handmade sausage from pork, with a touch of caraway, served in a roll with horseradish and mustard. Hungarian sausage is made by filling pork intestines with ground pork and bacon, and adding ground red paprika and a score of other herbs and spices. It is made to last: the traditional methods of preservation included curing and smoking. While sausage is eaten almost everywhere, the version native to Hungary is deeply embedded to local culture and differs from other variants. Traditionally, a pork would be slaughtered in the winter in every peasant family, and much of the sausage would be smoked - to preserve it well into the summer. Another portion was eaten fresh, baked or grilled, and it is this version that became a staple of markets and festivals in Hungary. Taking our cue from the festival environment, the freshly made, grilled version is presented to guests here, as well.

Almás Rétes — Apple Strudel with Vanilla Ice Cream
A classic dessert made of apples in a crisp pastry. The origins of the strudel - rétes in Hungarian - date back to the 16th century. Its inspiration was the famous Turkish and Levantine dessert, the baklava, even if the strudel today has evolved into a distinct and quite different sweet pastry. It is traditionally made with paper-thin dough layers, which are placed on each other, with filling put in the middle of the sheet. Its classic form, when the dough is rolled up into a cylinder, appeared in the territory of the Habsburg Empire around 1800 of which Hungary was a component state at the time. It has been held in high esteem in Hungary as a festive dessert often eaten at weddings for two centuries at least. A number of folk customs involve making strudel. In the village of Sárkeresztes, for instance, inhabitants make strudel on New Year’s Day, asking that "the year may last long, so that folks may live long".

Hungarian wines in the Tokaj Tavern

The Hungarian gastro experience of course would not be complete without offering the possibility to sample Hungarian wines. The Tokaj Tavern, located next to the Budapest Bistro will be dedicated to offer just that serving a selection of Hungarian wines.

Viticulture and wine play an important role in the gastronomical traditions of Hungary. Throughout its 1000 years of history Hungary was an important wine-producing country of Europe. At the end of the 19th century, Hungary was the second largest European producer of wine, after France.

In Hungary today, over 170.000 acres are used for growing grapes. The 22 territorial appellations are the products of centuries old traditions of wine-making and a rich, versatile and geographically segmented landscape with local microclimates. Often one finds very different conditions a few miles away within a single terroir, which serves as a great basis for a variegated tradition of excellence in Hungarian wine-making.

At the same time, appellations do help one to get a basic understanding of wines from the various regions. Villány, Szekszárd and Eger are known for full-bodies reds of a very high quality. Somló and Badacsony yield wines with high minerality due to the volcanic soil. The world-famous Tokaj region is home to aszu wines, distinguished by its unique microclimate and the local soil composition.

The Tokaj tavern will offer three wines

• Nimród Kovács Bull’s Blood—Red (5 oz)

• Szőke Irsai Olivér—White (5 oz)

• Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Dry cuvee

Nimród Kovács Bull’s Blood
Kovács Nimród Winery covers around 80 acres of vineyards, with roughly one third of it located around the Nagy-Eged, a hill in the Eger wine region renowned for its soil. Its limestone lends the wines from the terroir a characteristic minerality. The Bull's Blood is a fine representative of the region, with a nose of red fruits and spice, and rich on the palate. It is made using Blaufraenkisch, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and cabernet franc grapes. It is most enjoyable when consumed with red meats.

Szőke Irsai Olivér
Mátyás Szőke was the first in the wine region of Mátraalja who started selling wine under his family brand name after the fall of communism and the freedom of enterprise once again made it possible for small producers to present their own wines. His winery extends over 100 acres, 15 of which are planted with the Irsai Olivér grape. He is a great representative of the line of Hungarian Irsai Olivér specialists, who have done much to make the wine made from this recently developed grape a beloved companion for long conversations in Hungary.

Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Dry cuvee
The Dereszla cellars cultivates close to 150 acres in the Tokaj-Hegyaljai wine region. Edit Bai the cellar’s vintner beside upholding traditions is experimenting with new types of dry white wines such as the Tokaji Dry, which has already established a name for itself and is one of the most successful wines with both domestic and international audiences. Intensely fragrant, with hints of Muscat, elderflower and linden. The wine is 85% Furmint, but it is in combination with the sophisticated traits of Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains and Hárslevelű that this wine achieves its unique and elegant character. It is excellent as an aperitif, with fish and light white meats.

Fröccs — Wine Spritzer (12 oz)
The Tokaj Tavern will also serve spritzers – fröccs in Hungarian – made of Hungarian wine, presumably a popular choice in the summer heat. Hungarians love fröccs and have been drinking spritzers since carbonated (seltzer) water first became widely available. Ányos Jedlik, the Hungarian inventor perfected a method of carbonating water in the 1820s, and we have Hungarians on record drinking spritzers as early as the 1840’s. Simultaneously, the drink shot to popularity in German-speaking parts of Central Europe as well, but nowhere is it considered as fundamental to the culture of consuming alcoholic beverages as in Hungary.

The spritzer became truly iconic during the heyday of Budapest’s shiniest coffeehouse culture in the late 19th and early 20th century, when it was consumed by people of all walks of life, regardless of class and wealth. If you travel to Hungary, you will witness the ongoing renaissance of spritzers – it is the preferred drink of students and young people on summer nights, being affordable and refreshing at the same time, while still being consumed in the afternoon by all generations, as tradition would have it.

The most common varieties of spritzers in Hungary

nagyfröccs: large spritzer 2:1, 7oz wine and 3.5 seltzer
The classic spritzer, preserving much of the wine’s character while maximize the cooling effect.

kisfröccs: small spritzer 1:1, 3.5 oz wine, 3.5 oz seltzer
A quick summer afternoon fix frequently consumed standing at the bar after.

hosszúlépés: longstep 1:2, 3.5 oz wine, 7 oz seltzer A gentle long drink enjoyed by all looking to cool down on a hot day, ideal for long conversations.

háziúr: landlord 4:1, 13.5 oz wine, 3.5 oz seltzer
házmester: super 3:2, 10 oz wine, 6.5 oz seltzer
viceházmester: deputy super 2:3, 6.5 oz wine, 10 oz seltzer
lakófröccs: tenant 1:4 3.5 oz wine, 13.5 oz seltzer
The progression from tenant to landlord is a great example of the tongue in cheek character of Budapest humor. These varieties are the drinks of choice of summer afternoons among young people in Budapest frequenting one of the many old tenant buildings converted into large pubs.