For those in the know, Hungary has some of the best, tastiest foods in the world, especially those prepared for the Christmas season.
Hungarians love to eat, and never more so than at Christmas time. This is a good thing, as the foods that make this season even more special are a gourmet’s delight. My beautiful old ‘néni’ hoarded her favorite and secret recipes for years and even shooed us kids out of the kitchen while she prepared her amazing dishes for the holidays. We never really knew the ingredients she added to her basic recipes to make her offerings truly special, but our taste buds literally stood up and cheered whenever Christmas came around and we could partake of her best seasonal foods. And so, come with us as we dive into the yummiest Christmas foods that Hungary has to offer.
#1 Best Hungarian Christmas Food: Fish Soup
At first glance, it does not appear to be very difficult to cook fish soup, but, in fact, it does require lots of patience and time. Each of the large rivers that flow through Hungary, the Danube (Duna) and the Tisza, has its own style of Fish soup. There are many variants, but the two most well-known types are Bajai fish soup and Szegedi fish soup.
Bajai fish soup comes from the town of Baja on the Danube and, surprisingly, Szegedi fish soup comes from Szeged, which is the main town of the Tisza River region. The only real difference between these two fish soups is that noodles are included in the Bajai style soup. In addition to these two general types of fish soup, every Hungarian family has its own style of cooking this superb dish.
What do you need for this mouth-watering soup? Of course: FISH! But it is very important to choose the right fish! It cannot be sea fish, as the original Hungarian fish soup is made mainly from carp. You can use fish other than carp, such as catfish, starlet and bass. If you want to make an unforgettably good fish soup, use several types of fish. My taste buds are watering already!
#2 Best Hungarian Christmas Food: Stuffed Cabbage
The most critical ingredient of the Stuffed Cabbage is the sour cabbage. Its success largely depends on not only the preparation methods, but also on the quality of the ingredients used. The guarantee of success lies in the tasty cabbage, the smoked products and the pork. It’s a perfect complement to any Christmas dinner or even as a snack when the late-night too-much-alcohol munchies hit.
#3 Best Hungarian Christmas Food: Beigli
These seasonal specialties are also called Christmas rolls, Poppy-seed rolls or Walnut rolls. This Christmas delicacy was first invented in Bratislava and was then brought into Hungary.
Preparation of the beigli requires the use of a raised dough, which may take more time than the traditional beigli, but is definitely worth it. Once the dough is ready, for variety you can fill each Christmas roll with a different ingredient, one with walnut and the other with poppy-seed. It’s another Hungarian dish that can be served as a side with a main meal or to enhance other holiday activities.
#4 Best Hungarian Christmas Food: Zserbó
Probably most expats and tourists have never heard of this tasty Budapest treat. If you know how to pronounce this word in Hungarian, however – “Zs-air-bow” – it should be obvious this is the famous dessert popularized by Budapest’s equally famous restaurant, Gerbeaud’s. This dessert was invented by French confectioner Emil Gerbeaud, who lived and worked in Hungary. The pastry’s full name is Gerbeaud’s Cake (Zserbó Szelet) and it is probably Hungary’s best-known dessert. It is a marvelous, delicious homemade layered cake, filled with walnut and apricot jam and then covered with chocolate. Christmas in Hungary is almost unimaginable without this excellent cake.
#5 Best Hungarian Christmas Food: Turkey
What can we say about the best-known Christmas food in Europe? It’s been done and overdone and cooked and overcooked for so many years that it is merely common sense that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey. A wonderful, delicious, scrumptious stuffed turkey. And all the side dishes, of course. But first of all, the turkey. A big, plump, meaty turkey, complete with innards and gizzards and, of course, always make sure it has two legs. The two quickest hands at the table always get the two legs.
Covered with mouth-watering gravy with giblets, this Christmas favorite satisfies all tastes and draws loud applause from the diners as the chef brings it to the table. I’m salivating already, so I have to go and grab a leg before someone else gets it.