Hungary for me automatically means family and home-cooking. Uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins seated around tables dressed hours before for this occasion. Little things to nibble on before the main course reaches the table. Talking, drinking my grandfather’s pretty terrible wine, cracking jokes about it behind his back. Telling stories in an attempt to describe my life on another continent to family that has never been there to see it. None of the photos below were taken in a restaurant. In fact, I can’t really remember more than 2-3 times I’ve BEEN in a restaurant in Hungary, despite having gone back for a month every summer of my life.
My number one in Hungary has to be the sausage, the succulent, juicy, slightly sweet blood sausage and liver sausage in particular. Little pork hot dogs are okay too. Grilled and then cooked in the over on top of a bed of potato chunks which soak up all the delicious fat and juices themselves. Living without these, in the States, was pretty difficult. That’s why finding them in Buenos Aires, in the form of morcilla and choripan, was a happy day in my life indeed.
My second favorite, the simple chicken soup, seemingly simple but wonderfully complex and comforting, The broth is a salty, delicious liquid infused with the flavor of the chicken, carrots and onions which are boiled in it for hours. A few crumbly, warm potatoes, some slippery onions, a bit of cooked carrot (still with a bite) and the most delicious of the chicken parts – neck, feet, heart, gizzards, liver, the flavorful trash-meats I love so much. This used to be my favorite thing prepared by my late grandmother, Mari. She made it the best. Even if my mother or I try our hardest to recreate it, it will never be as good as the one she made. And that sucks.
Another all time favorite is the kocsonya, a very traditional, cold, salty pork aspic. Unfortunately for me, this stuff is prepared exclusively in the winter, when the broth, laden with collagen from the skin and bones and cartilage of the pig trotter, pig nose, pig ears, etc, is placed outside on the windowsill, where the cold air helps it harden into a jiggling jelly. Convincing grandma to try to make this during the summertime, the part of the year when I’m actually in Hungary, is impossible. I’ve contemplated going home during Christmas break just to have it. The aspic itself is a deliciously salty, cold jelly, infused with the flavor of the pork and the vegetables cooked in it. The pig parts themselves are a bit gummy and it might be off-putting to some that they are cold but I adore them. Kocsonya is always served with thick, crunchy, country-style bread which soaks up any excess grease in the dish beautifully and offers a nice contrast in texture to the cold, gelatinous aspic.
Cooked bone marrow on toast. A super expensive delicacy in many restaurants in the States, kind of normal grandma food in Hungary. The bone is boiled in chicken broth until the marrow inside melts and becomes incredibly soft and buttery. It is then spread onto a slice of thick, warm, country-style toasted bread, much like butter, and it melts all over it. The marrow is sprinkled with some coarse salt and black pepper to bring out the incredibly intense beef essence running through it. A wow dish every time.
Similar to bone marrow is the tatár bifsztek. This one is truly meant for special occasions. Beef loin is ground down to a very fine, melt-in-mouth texture and is mixed with an egg yolk (only from your most trusted egg-guy), some chopped red onion, mustard, salt, black pepper and oil. Sometimes butter is added to the mix as well, meant to melt over the thing and give it a creamier texture. The mixture is spread over toasted bread and consumed raw. The juicy meat made even richer by the egg yolk, its flavors brought out by salt and pepper.
The wonderfully simple pogácsa, a salty, cheesy, buttery, flaky scone that is a staple of the Hungarian diet. It appears on the table before dinner and for breakfast and is a go-to snack throughout the day. This one is made with crispy cheese topping it; my favorite, however, is the one with pork cracklings (tepertő) inside of the dough. The texture of this little treat is great – it breaks apart into layers in a single bite.
Mákos-meggyes rétes, the Hungarian version of strudel, with a creamy poppy-seed and sour cherry filling. The black seeds are mixed with sugar and milk until they soak up some of the moisture and swell, turning the mixture into a sticky, sweet paste which retains the toasty, nutty flavor of the poppy-seeds. Some sour cherries are added to give it a cool, tangy flavor which contrasts the sweetness of the poppy seeds. The pastry dough is thin and buttery and crumbles into flakes in your mouth right away. A bit dense to eat too much of but man is this a delicious pastry.
And finally, the kakaós csiga. Soft, yeasty dough rolled around into a “snail” shape, each layer doused with delicious cocoa powder and sugar which melts all over the dough while it bakes, filling the air with its wonderful, sweet aroma.