In this land of hearty meats and sauces, everyone has their favorite Hungarian dishes for a cold winter day or a hot summer afternoon. I was asked to list five of the specialties I generally can’t go without for too long.
There are few Hungarian dishes better on a cold Budapest winter afternoon than Jókai Bableves. This hearty soup was named after Jókai Mór, a 19th Century Hungarian writer, who was a regular guest at a restaurant on Balatonfüred, where he almost always ordered bean soup. Jokai loved his basic broth and kept asking the chefs to add more and more interesting ingredients, such as smoked ham, smoked sausage, turnips, red pepper and noodles. The restaurant eventually named the final classic result after Jókai.
My personal special place to have this scrump-diddly-umptious dish is the For Sale Étterem at Fővám tér. Don’t miss it.
(pronounced Shlahm-boots) – The “Öhöm” (Outlaw’s dish)
Slambuc is a traditional and hearty shepherd food made of thin sheets of lebbencs pasta, potato, and bacon. Slambuc is relatively easy to prepare, delicious, nutritious and not perishable Although it may look simple, it does require some practice to make, especially in flipping the contents of the pot so the surface crisps up evenly. Probably first prepared by eastern Hungarian herdsmen in the 1850s, a special ingredient of slambuc is rancid bacon, to make it really tasty. According to the experts of slambuc-cooking the meal has to be turned over in the kettle thirty-two times. Legend has it that when the first recipient of this new dish was asked how he liked it, with his mouth full all he could say, was “Öhöm;” hence the name.
One of the very few venues in Budapest that offers this filling dish from the puszta as a weekly offer is Biarritz, at 2 Balassi Bálint utca.
Goose has always been one of the primary traditional wonders of Hungarian cooking. Goose is prepared in many ways by many restaurants, as individual tastes vary when appreciating this amazing dish. Bountiful feasts centered on goose dishes are served as a highlight of the harvest season every November 11 – the day to honor St. Martin of Tours, born in Hungary in 316 AD. From grand festivals to a romantic dinner aboard a vintage train to diverse restaurants presenting special meals that showcase goose delicacies, this is a special dish for all Magyars.
Obviously, many upscale restaurants around Budapest offer this favorite culinary specialty in a variety of settings and with a variety of side dishes. But for the strangely discerning gourmet, I heartily recommend a basic, standard, yet wonderfully-cooked and accompanied goose leg at Pesti Sörcsarnok on Vámház krt, just off Kálvin Tér. The price is extremely reasonable and you certainly won’t be disappointed in the quality.
This decadent Hungarian trifle, somlói galuska (shom-loh-ee gah-LOOSH-kaw), is made with three different-flavored sponge cakes, pastry cream, raisins, walnuts, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. The traditional presentation is to scoop three balls of this dessert into a bowl or on a plate, cover with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with chocolate sauce. A modern presentation is to cut it into squares so the different layers are evident. Rum is traditionally used in the simple syrup along with the chocolate sauce.
My favorite place to get this mouth-watering dessert is Auguszt Cukrászda. This family-owned and –run sweet shop is a bright, traditional cafe with mirrors & wood-backed furniture and is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. It’s been going for 140 years, and the family’s heritage is a continuing commitment to quality confectionery. It is located in the city center at Kossuth Lajos u. 14-16 and, imho, it still serves the best somlói galuska in town.
Kürtőskalács (often transliterated as kurtosh kalach) is a spit cake that originated in Transylvania in the 18th century. It began as a holiday festival treat and is now a standard of everyday consumption. The name refers to a stovepipe, since the fresh, steaming cake in the shape of a truncated cone resembles a hot chimney. Kürtőskalács is made from sweet, yeast dough, of which a strip is spun and then wrapped around a truncated cone–shaped baking spit, and rolled in granulated sugar. It is roasted over charcoal while basted with melted butter, until its surface cooks to a golden-brown color. During the baking process the sugar stuck on the kürtőskalács caramelises and forms a shiny, crispy crust. The surface of the cake can then be topped with additional ingredients such as ground walnut or powdered cinnamon.
This delicious treat can easily be found at the many sidewalk kiosks around Budapest.
When I first arrived in Budapest, I was amazed to find the local equivalent of a favorite taste treat of mine in New Mexico, USA. There the treat was called Indian Fry Bread, but in Hungary it is referred to as lángos, sometimes called Hungarian pizza. It was originally introduced by the Turks during their occupation. Today it’s a favorite street and fair food and eaten as an appetizer or snack, just rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with salt. Variations are to serve lángos with sour cream and dill or shredded Emmenthaler or Gruyere cheese, or sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or confectioners’ sugar for a sweet version.
As with Kürtőskalács above, lángos is prepared and served at many small stands all around Budapest. Two of the favorite local venues, however, are the Retro Büfé on Bajcsy Zsilinszky ut at the Arany János metro station and Tomi Lángos Fast Food Restaurant at Blaha Lujza tér 1.