What are the 1st thoughts of tourists about the Hungarian gastronomy and what are some of the dishes that immediately come to their mind? Would they mention the Hungarian goulash, chicken paprikash, paprika potatoe stew, lecsó, stuffed cabbage or fish soup among others? Undoubtedly. But what is common in all of these dishes? Of course, the all-time favourite spice of the Hungarians, paprika, the national obsession that no Hungarian food can miss the flavour of.
The history of paprika and the Hungarian interest in it:
The homeland of paprika is the southern part of Mexico and Central America. But the question of how this got into Europe needs some examination. Its dispersion has 2 major ways:
- From one side, it got into Europe with the help of Christopher Columbus. Paprika was a domesticated plant among the Native Americans, and that is why it got its name, Indian pepper. From Spain, it spred into other European countries as well and thus, it got to Hungary, too.
- From the other side, the use of this spice dates back to the 18th century, when the Turks brought it to the Balkan Peninsula and spred it in the conquered countries.
In fact, it was initially a decoration plant and an important herb. Hungarians consumed it for the stimulation of appetite and for better digestion.
It was Albert Szent-Györgyi who discovered that paprika is the richest source of vitamin C and contains 5 times more vitamin than lemon or orange.
It was only later that it became important as a spice. The Hungarian chefs, with long years of expertise behind them, realised that the flavour of fat, onion and paprika together create such a unique combination that these could be the basis for typical Hungarian dishes. Thus, it is like the “holy-trinity” of fat, onion and paprika that dominates the Hungarian cuisine.
Let’s see some of the traditional dishes where paprika dominates:
1. The goulash
No holiday can go without tasting the rightly famous Hungarian goulash soup. Besides the above-mentioned “holy-trinit”, it is usually made of beef, potatoes, salt, carrots, tomatoes and water, but of course, its flavour can be different based on the region you travel to.
2. Chicken paprikash
This is a traditional food in Hungary as well. It is the best with sour cream served on the top of it. It is easy to prepare, so if you get a feel for doing it, check out the recipe here.
3. Paprika potatoe stew
It is a very easy meal to impress the relatives at family reunions and it can be also served as a simple dinner. It is typically a food that is best cooked outside in a bogrács. It is basically potatoes and meat (sausages), but further inevitable ingredients are paprika, tomatoes, garlic and water.
No summer can pass without lecsó in Hungarian families. This is a vegetable stew including tomatoes, peppers, paprika and eggs. Some people also prefer to add rice or beans to it to make it a richer dish, so in fact, only your imagination sets the boundaries. Find the recipe here.
5. Stuffed cabbage
The stuffed cabbage rolls come in many variations and the meat used can be pork, beef or chicken. This is the food that mostly grandparents and great-grandparents can make so perfectly that
it has become one of the most popular classics on Christmas and New Year’s Eve menus in most Hungarian homes.
6. Fish soup
It is also a typical Christmas dish in Hungary, although there are special regions that are the most notable for it. The 3 main centres of fish soup cooking in Hungary are, of course, close to the water. Consequently, the towns and cities around the Duna River, the Tisza River and Lake Balaton are great gastronomical centres of the famous soup. Just to mention a few outstanding towns, Baja, Szeged and Füred are highly recommended to visit, and after a great soup, no one would feel that the journey was not really worth it.
The list is, of course, not finished, because there are many more dishes that are made with paprika and are part of the Hungarian cuisine, but the above-mentioned few are what come to the mind of most foreigners.
In fact, it is not surprising that 9 out of 10 people associate paprika with Hungary, because it seems to be something that permeates through the Hungarian life.
It is, however, worth keeping in mind that the Hungarian gastronomy has a lot more to offer from its various soups, stews and roasted meat to the incredibly delicious Hungarian desserts like the Dobos cake or Rigó Jancsi. So, if you are in Hungary, do not forget to devote some time to the culinary pleasures besides exploring the historical city.
Featured image: budapesttravelling.com
Source: Daily News Hungary; puszta.com; danyikronika.hu