Our culinary heritage
Hungarian gastronomy is probably more famous about its unique base materials and several hundred years (or even thousand) old traditional methods of preparing food than the actual meals. Cooking in open air is the most important characteristic, meals prepared in a bogrács (a special Hungarian cooking cauldron), cauldron, roasting disc or open-air oven form the most ancient, and at the same time the most spectacular part of Hungarian gastronomic traditions.
In Hungary, people think of ground red paprika not only as a spice, but also as a medicine. Hot paprika increases the efficiency of saliva and gastric juices, thereby facilitating digestion. Its congestion effect eases rheumatic pain and mitigates migraines and sore throat. It cleans the respiratory organs and is useful in mitigating the symptoms of respiratory diseases and catarrhal bronchitis. Its capsaicin content is capable of decreasing the fatty tissue and blood flat levels, and of attacking cancerous cells.
The plants need lots of water and care. Paprika has to be harvested at the right moment, when it is neither unripe nor overripe. Paprikas are then stringed on long cords and are hung in the sun to start the drying process. This is the phase where paprika develops its characteristic aroma and beautiful red colour. During the drying process, the original green colour slowly turns into dark brown and finally ends up bright red. Then the stem and seeds are removed before the red, dried paprika is finely ground in paprika mills. The end product can be sweet or hot, depending on the paprika variety used.
Probably the most original smoked sausage variety in Hungary - with its preparation criteria slowly but steadily disappearing into oblivion. No wonder that real, traditional Csabai sausage can only be made by those who are both experienced and dedicated enough.
Fattened goose liver is one of the most characteristic and unique base materials of Hungarian gastronomy.
What is most revealing about the Hungarian grey cattle, indigenous in the Carpathian Basin only, is that already in the 15th century our Hungarian ancestors traded them in a spectacular fashion: they drove the cattle that had fattened on the rich Hungarian grazing lands straight from the plains to the markets of Vienna, Munich, Strasbourg and Venice. The illness-resistant grey cattle swam through the Danube by the thousands practically without significant cattle loss, in order to supply butchers in Western Europe with their favourite type of meat.
Although many mistakenly call mangalica an indigenous breed of pig, they are unique in the sense that this breed is present exclusively in Hungary. Mangalica are protected by law and their history goes back several hundred years. Mangalica are a crossbreed from several different breeds, the genetic stock of which is dominated by a Serbian breed called Sumadia, but Bakonyi pig and wild boar were also involved in the birth of this new breed that gives more fat and finer meat.
Although bogrács-type cauldrons can be found on all five continents, the nomadic horse nations were the first to use them. Consequently, the conquering Hungarians already were already seasoned users of the bogrács – back then these cauldrons were made from earthenware.
There are two basic types of bogrács: one is for cooking goulash and the other is for fish; their shapes are different, the former has a wider upper part, while the latter has a wider lower part. Probably the two most important and special national dishes are made in these special cauldrons: goulash and fisherman’s soup.
Bogrács is perfect for cooking one-course dishes that incorporate base materials step by step or are made by carefully placing all base materials in different layers on top of each other; this is followed by long hours of cooking with great care. In both cases, fire plays a pivotal role – it has to be regulated in accordance with the different phases of cooking, most of the time by feeding it with wood.
While cooking in a bogrács requires an open fire, roasting in a disc has more to do with blazing embers. We inherited roasting disc from the charcoal- and limecoal-burners of old times, embers was available – only a reliable pot was needed that could preserve the flavours of meals and keep inside everything that excellent base materials had to offer. Roasting disc is a flat metal pot that closes well and saves the food from the combustion power of embers. Its name is a bit misleading as the process that takes place in a roasting disc is more like simmering – a cooking method that is perfect for preparing different kinds of meat with fruits and vegetables, creating an exceptional combination of different flavours.
This name does not need introduction any more in several parts of the world, because from Thailand to Europe and Canada it is a dish that is quite well-known. However, very often the name is the only thing that connects these dishes with the original Hungarian goulash, since it cannot be made properly without original Hungarian ground red paprika and our special onion. Really authentic bogrács-goulash is made from beef and lamb as meals cooked in a bogrács are special because of long cooking hours – and more tender types of meat would be spoilt in the process. The original goulash is a thick one-course dish without vegetables, with potato being the only exception. Goulash soup, a dish less authentic than the ancient goulash, is the meal in which carrot and other vegetables can be found; the use of more additional liquid is also possible.
What Hungarian gastronomy can really be proud of because of its originality and cooking method is fisherman’s soup. It is made from different types of Hungarian freshwater fish, although there is a single fish variety version as well. However, traditionally we differentiate between our fisherman’s soups based on other characteristics. Along the two biggest Hungarian rivers, Tisza and Danube, two completely different methods of preparation developed. In the case of Tisza-style fisherman's soup, the cooked fish is pressed through a sieve and is used to make the soup thicker, while the Duna-style version is a lighter soup that is ready in 40-45 minutes, made thicker by red paprika and the addition of soup pasta. In Hungary there is continuous debate about which version is better. This debate is undecided, but we dare say that for foreigners both versions offer singular culinary pleasures.
Tokaji wine is the pride of our nation, just like Brussels lace for Belgians, parmesan for Italians, champagne for the French or Iberico ham for the Spanish. It is completely normal that Hungary tries to do everything to defend the brand name and high quality of its national treasure.
Besides characteristic and unique dishes, true Hungarian beverages are also part of our national cuisine. Among these, pálinka is the most distinguished. A document from the 14th century already mentions this distilled medicine – back than pálinka was more of a spicy wine distillate. Later practically all kinds of fruit grown in Hungary ended up as pálinka and the tastiest ones have become the crown jewels of Hungarian gastronomy. Plum, apricot, pear, cherry, sour cherry and apple are all classic pálinkas, but today elder, blackberry or sloe pálinka specialties are also available.