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Hungry For Hungary?

By Laura Blake

Posted: 17th April 2014 09:35

Hungarian food is always hard to comprehend – how can something so simple taste so good? To fully appreciate Hungarian cuisine, we need to go on a bit of a history lesson; today, the rich and plentiful dishes you find in any traditional restaurant are a clever blend of European influences, with a distinct nod to the food of Hungary’s original settlers, the Magyar people. 

The traditions of the ancient nomadic Magyars are still evident.  Meat and fish are still very much staple ingredients, and simple dishes such as goulash, pörkölt (stew) and fisherman’s soup have undergone little transformation since they were first cooked over open fires by the Magyars.  In the 15th Century, King Matthias and his Italian queen introduced new ingredients such as garlic and onions – flavours that we can’t imagine being omitted from a Hungarian dish today.  Queen Beatrice also brought pastas and cheeses, whilst Armenian, Italian, Jewish and Serbian settlers who settled in the Hungarian basin brought with them their own recipes. 

The 150 year Turkish rule of Hungary had a lasting impact; most notably the introduction of paprika, which quickly replaced pepper as the seasoning of choice.  As it was forbidden by their religion to eat pork, the Turks, during their raids, would pilfer all livestock apart from pigs, which lead to a prevalence of pork-based dishes.  The Turkish rule gave way to the Habsburg Empire, but it is still a topic of debate as to whether Austrian cuisine influenced Hungary or the other way round! However, lower and middle class Hungarians did incorporate Austrian cooking methods into their everyday meals, such as vegetable stews thickened with flour (today known as fÅ‘zelék.)

The ingredients the Hungarian cook with are simple and hearty, as the fertile plains provide excellent conditions for growing fruit and vegetables such as onions, aubergine and tomatoes.  Hungarian cuisine is best known for a number of distinct savoury ingredients such as sour cream and quark cheese, but those with a sweet tooth will also feel at home; sweet pastries are a favourite, as is Dobos cake – sponge layered with chocolate cream and thin slices of caramel.  If you’re on a diet you’ll find it hard to resist temptation, but the rich flavours and aromatic aromas are so overwhelming that you’ll probably forget about counting calories until you’ve licked your steaming bowl of goulash clean.  And then you’ll ask for seconds.  

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