Whether you have a Hungarian family background or just want to experiment with different types of meals, you’ll always find something delicious when it comes to Hungarian food. Many people don’t know much about Hungarian cuisine beyond goulash or chicken paprikash, but Hungarian dining has much more to offer than that, although paprika does have a lot to do with traditional Hungarian cooking.
On our last trip to Hungary, we were able to sample some of the amazing Hungarian dishes that make this one of our favorite comfort foods. Every dish that we tries tasted like it was made with care by our own grandmother.
Traditional Hungarian Food
Table of Contents
Here, you’ll be able to learn some of the most common Hungarian meals and what makes each of those meals unique. With the information you’ll learn in this article, you’ll never have to struggle to think of ideas for dinner for a long time to come. To start off our journey through food in Hungary, let’s start with a Hungarian staple: goulash.
1. Goulash (Gulyás)
If you ever visit Hungary or go to a Hungarian restaurant, it will be impossible to avoid goulash. This is because goulash is one of the most popular Hungarian dishes around. Goulash is a hearty and warm stew filled with beef, paprika, onions, and potatoes.
The big benefit of goulash is that the ingredients required to make it render it a very affordable dish. More than that, it is very filling and full of flavor. Different regions of Hungary may have their own twist on goulash. For example, some regions may use carrots while others may throw in some pork. However, more often than not, goulash will be made with beef.
2. Fisherman’s Soup (Halászlé)
The name “fisherman’s soup” may not sound the most appetizing, but when made the right way, this soup can be astoundingly delicious. It is a very popular dish, much like goulash. Traditionally, it is cooked over a fire in a kettle, although if you’re making this at home, you can settle for your stove.
Various types of fish may be in this soup. Some of the most common fish include carp, perch, or catfish. Traditionally, this soup is rich in paprika which is why it is often bright red. Some variations of this soup may use multiple types of fish instead of one. Other variations may serve this soup with pasta.
3. Chicken Paprikash (Csirke Paprikás)
Chicken paprikash is the favorite dish of many, even non-Hungarians. As with the fisherman’s soup, chicken paprikash tends to be startlingly red and it is all because of the paprika. Besides the paprika, there are onions, tomatoes, garlic, and sweet peppers. To make the dish creamy, you will need to add sour cream.
Chicken is the most popular choice for this dish, but some people prefer veal. To make the dish more filling, it is filled with delicious and chewy dumplings.
4. Meat Pancakes (Hortobagyi Palacsinta)
Many people think of pancakes as something sweet to eat for breakfast, but Hungarian meat pancakes are quite different. First, you’ll need to make a few thin pancakes to start the dish off. For the filling, you’ll need a savory mixture of chicken or beef minced into small pieces.
After that, fill the pancakes with the meat and wrap them up like burritos, and then bake the whole thing in the oven. While the pancakes cook, don’t forget to make a creamy paprika sauce and serve the dish with a healthy serving of sour cream.
5. Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Töltött Káposzta)
Stuffed cabbage leaves are common all across Eastern Europe, not just in Hungary. This dish is not all that different from the meat pancakes discussed earlier except that cabbage leaves are used instead of pancakes. For this reason, this meal can be a great idea if you’re trying to lose some weight.
The cabbage used should be cooked and pickled. To fill the leaves, you’ll need minced pork, paprika, and rice. You’ll find this dish to be especially common during the holidays, although it remains common throughout the rest of the year as well. My mother used to make cabbage rolls and this recipe is one you will want to add to your repertoire.
6. Meat Stew (Pörkölt)
If you’re looking for a dish that is especially savory and filling, this meat stew might be perfect for you. The stew is very versatile in that it can be made with any kind of meat you prefer. The meat is cooked with onions tomatoes, paprika and vinegar to make a delicious thick sauce that is served over noodles (Spätzle) You can add any type of vegetables you like.
Many people find it to be very similar to goulash. Because of this, many restaurants from Budapest and beyond don’t make a distinction between this meat stew and goulash. Keep in mind to have patience when cooking the stew as it tends to take several hours. Follow the recipe here.
7. Sour Cherry Soup (Meggyleves)
Sour cherry soup may sound strange if you’ve never heard about it before. Is it a dessert, or is it dinner? While this soup may seem like a dessert to non-Hungarians, you are actually meant to eat it before your main meal like any other soup. It includes sour cherries, sugar, and sour cream. The sour cream is usually served on top and the soup itself is cold. For something different give this recipe a try.
8. Jókai Bean Soup (Jókai Bableves)
This bean soup is perfect for winter because of how rich and filling it is. It is also full of warm and smoky flavors that are sure to warm up even the coldest evenings. Jókai Bableves is full of smoked pork and sausage, egg noodles, and pinto beans. More often than not, the soup is served with a dollop of sour cream on top.
9. Deep-Fried Flat Bread (Lángos)
If you want something bready instead of meaty, try this fried flatbread. In Hungary, you’ll find that Lángos more of a street food than a meal you’ll also find in many Hungarian restaurants. It is crispy on the outside while soft on the inside. Many people love to eat it with cheese sprinkled on top. You could also eat it with sour cream for a bit of extra flavor.
10. Pasta With Cottage Cheese (Túrós Csusza)
If you want something cheesy and filling, Túrós Csusza is exactly what you need. This is a very old-fashioned traditional dish made with noodles and cottage cheese or various curd cheeses. The dish is best when the noodles are homemade and small in size. For toppings, many Hungarians love crumbs of bacon, sour cream, and salt.
11. Hungarian Trifle (Somlói Galuska)
If you’re looking for something decadent and sweet, don’t forget to check out this Hungarian trifle. Somlói Galuska consists of three layers of sponge cake, each layer of a different flavor. Between those layers are layers of custard along with rum-soaked raisins. This trifle is often topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
12. Pork Bone Soup (Orjaleves)
If you love soup, why not try pork bone soup? After all, any kind of bone soup is full of health benefits, not to mention that it tastes delicious. This kind of soup in particular has a long history in Hungary and spans all the way back to an old tradition where a pig would be slaughtered every year for a festival feast. Read more: The Best and Biggest Festivals Around The World
Since the base of the soup is pork bones, you can add whatever else you want to it. Noodles, vegetables, and meat are all popular options.
13. Pork Rice Pilaf (Bácskai Rizses Hús)
If you’re in the mood for rice pilaf, Hungarian cuisine has what you need. When cooking Hungarian food like this, be sure to set aside plenty of time because you’ll need it to prepare this dish right.
Beyond the pilaf, you’ll need to prepare a rich mixture of stewed pork. Then, mix the pork and the pilaf together. Once the dish is done, many love to grate some cheese on top.
14. Dobosh Cake (Dobos Torta)
What if you’re not looking for a savory meal but instead want something sweet for dessert? Dobosh cake is certainly sweet, but it comes in such large portions that it can be a challenge to deal with. It is one of Hungary’s most famous desserts and is more than 100 years old.
It is made of several layers of sponge cake and chocolate layered on top of each other. If that isn’t enough sugar for you, the top of the cake is usually covered with caramel. Make sure to take someone with you if you plan on trying to tackle this monster of a cake.
15. Ratatouille (Lechó)
Here is yet another dish that is best known for coming from France but is also very popular in Hungary. This dish is full of thinly sliced peppers, tomatoes, and onions. For flavor, garlic and paprika are thrown in as well.
Everything is then sautéed in in oil or lard. This makes it a little greasy, but full of flavor. With this dish, you’ll also have the freedom of serving it as a meal or a side dish.
16. Sour Cherry Strudel (Meggyes Rétes)
You’ve already heard about the sour cherry soup but what about the sour cherry strudel? Sour cherries might not sound like the most delicious type of cherries, but their mix of sour and sweet gives them a deliciously unique flavor. However, they are seasonal, so if you’re in the wrong season, you might have to get them canned rather than fresh.
The cherries are wrapped in a flakey strudel, but they’re not in the strudel alone. They are usually accompanied with poppy seeds for extra little bursts of flavor.
17. Sauerkraut Soup (Korhelyleves)
If you don’t like sauerkraut, you might want to pass up this soup. On the other hand, if you love sauerkraut, you’ll find yourself in heaven. This is yet another winter soup and many Hungarians believe it has the capacity to knock you back to your senses even if you have the most intense of hangovers. Beyond the sauerkraut, this soup is full of sausage and a thick sour cream broth.
18. Hungarian Tripe Stew (Pacal Pörkölt)
Even though tripe is essentially cow stomach, don’t let that deter you from trying this stew. You’d find yourself surprised how tender and flavorful tripe can be when compared to beef or any other meat. Tripe stew has long been passionately enjoyed by the lower class in Hungary, but today it is popular among every class.
Beyond the tripe, it is full of paprika and sliced potatoes. If you want something that will keep you full for a long time, it’s this stew.
19. Summer Squash Stew (Tökfozelék)
What if you aren’t looking for a winter soup but instead are looking for something a little more summery? This summer stew might be your answer. This is one of Hungary’s most popular stews and it is certainly a dish where you can get your fill of vegetables.
The main component of this dish is squash and it is filled with sour cream and dill. Sometimes, meatballs are added, but you can leave these out of you are trying to avoid meat. With its impressive vegetable content, it can be a surprisingly refreshing stew.
20. Chimney Cake (Kurtos Kalacs)
More likely than not, you’ve never seen or heard of a chimney cake before. While it might not be very popular in other countries, this pastry is one of the oldest desserts in all of Hungary. It is unique because of the way it is cooked and how it looks as a result.
To cook this pastry, you’ll need to wrap dough around a cylinder and cook it over an open fire. As it cooks, sprinkle some sugar over it. As the pastry cooks, the sugar will caramelize slightly and leave the pastry with a delicious sweet flavor.