Traditional Hungarian Cooking
Liptauer (körözött): Named after the curd cheese of Liptov, in today's Slovakia, Liptauer is an orange-hued spread favored by people across the former Austro Hungarian Empire. While many variations exist, the mixture almost always includes sheep's milk curd cheese (juhtúró), butter, paprika, minced onions, and caraway seeds. If in doubt, cold lager is always a good companion to körözött-slathered sourdough. Recipe.
Beef (Marhapörkölt) Stew: Hungary's national dish originated among herdsmen — the goulash — who spent months on end tending to the cattle in the Hungarian Plain (Alföld), away from all signs of civilization. The gulyás would sprinkle szalonna (pork fat) and onions into large cast-iron kettles called bogrács and roast morsels of beef over fire. The addition of paprika appeared later, in the 18th century. Although fewer people make it in bogrács these days, goulash is still popular across the country. The classic side dish to both the goulash and its sister dish, the paprikash, is egg dumplings (galuska) or egg "barley" (tarhonya).
Beef consommé (marhahúsleves): Húsleves is a signature of Sunday family meals across Hungary, usually served from a large soup tureen for the whole table, similar to a pot-au-feu. The steaming, fragrant broth packs bits of tender beef, root vegetables, and noodles. It's often paired with bone marrow and toast on the side. Recipe
Dobos torte: It was confectioner József C. Dobos who created in 1884 this famous sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream. The Dobos torte's signature feature is the shiny, brittle caramel topping. After pathetic attempts by competitors to replicate his concoction, Dobos made the recipe public and, still today, you'll find Dobos torte in most Budapest pastry shops.
Doughnut (fánk): You might know it as krapfen, Berliner, bombolone, sufganiyah, or jelly doughnut — fánk is the Hungarian version of this centuries-old deep-fried pastry traditionally eaten in the days of Carnival. Besides fruit jam, fánks also come with a chocolate or a vanilla custard filling. Most bakeries and grocery stores in Hungary serve them year-round.
Pozsonyi kifli: This is a variation of bejgli. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire, bakers in Bratislava (Pozsony) were so skilled at making these filled bread that people from as far as Budapest would order deliveries. To be able to distinguish between the two, the ones with poppy seeds come in a crescent shape, whereas those with a walnut filling resemble a letter C. Unlike the bejgli, the pozsonyi kifli is available throughout the year.
Somlói galuska: Despite being a relatively recent invention, dating back to the 1950s, the somlói galuska is a beloved dessert dish across Hungary. It consists of a rum-infused sponge cake soaked in vanilla custard, chocolate cream, and whipped cream, with a sprinkling of walnuts and raisins. Apart from pastry shops, restaurants also serve it.
Rigó Jancsi: This cube-shaped sponge cake is named after the Hungarian gypsy violinist whose story famously scandalized 19th century Europe: Rigó seduced Princess Chimay, an American-Belgian socialite, who ran away with him, leaving behind a husband and two children. Their romance didn't last very long, unlike the chocolate cream-filled cake Rigó inspired, which became a classic, though fewer and fewer Budapest pastry shops serve it these days.
Bejgli: During Christmas, no Hungarian dining table is complete without these sweet rolls filled with finely ground poppy seeds and walnuts. People usually place them on a plate side by side because there's a folk belief that the poppy seeds bring prosperity and the walnuts keep trouble away. Bejgli is a staple across countries in Central Europe.
Gesztenyszív: How about a post-meal dessert that won't knock you out for the rest of the day? This chestnut paste treats coated in crackly chocolate are light and winsome. Cut in the shape of a heart, they're sold in almost all Budapest pastry shops.
Esterházy torte: Named after a Hungarian royal dynasty, the Esterházy torte is one of the most well-known in and outside the country. It comprises alternating layers of ground walnuts (or almonds) and rum-laced buttercream with a white fondant coating. Interestingly, the cake contains no flour. At its best, the Esterházy torte is rich, but not cloying.
Krémes: Similar to a Napolean pastry, krémes is a cherished custard slice across Central Europe with each country flaunting a slightly different version. In Hungary, apart from regular krémes — vanilla custard enclosed by puff pastry — there's also "francia krémes," which comes with an extra layer of whipped cream and a caramel glaze on top.
Flódni: This rich cake layered with plum jam, apple, ground walnuts, and ground poppy seeds originates in Hungary's Jewish community. Traditionally, people ate it for the Jewish holiday of Purim, but today flódni is a cherished treat and is widely available across Budapest pastry shops.
Punch torte: A classic of pastry shops across Budapest and Vienna, the signature feature of this rich cake is the striking pink icing enveloping the outside. A layer of apricot preserves and raisins are sandwiched between rows of rum-infused sponge cakes.
Rákóczi túrós: Even most Hungarians mistakenly believe that this meringue and apricot jam-topped túró cake is named after the country's famous prince and revolutionary leader, Ferenc II Rákóczi, but the truth is banal: the moniker is a hat-tip to baker János Rákóczi, who invented the cake in the 1930s.