Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Domestic Life in Hungary


Class distinctions were very much a part of Hungarian daily life until shortly after the Second World War. In the homes of aristocrats, lavish meals of many courses, each with intricately prepared dishes, were possible because of the availability of cooks, gardeners, and servants. Finely crafted tableware and luxurious eating began as early as the late 1400s. It was the influence of King Matthias and his Italian wife, Queen Beatrice, that soon made the work of artisans and the arts of gastronomy very much a part of the life of the upper classes. Abundance of good produce, servants, and the appreciation of good foods well prepared were the true beginnings of the excellence of the Hungarian cuisine.

While the nobility wined and dined on what the world came to know as “Hungarian cuisine,” the peasants lived on their monotonous diet (except for festivals) of bacon, bread, and soup. The bacon was often cooked on an open fire, the bread baked in outdoor communal ovens, and the soup slowly simmered in a big kettle called a bogracs. The delightful food specialties of the upper classes – known as “national dishes” – likely were unknown to the rural family because they had neither the time to prepare the more traditional complex foods nor the money for the ingredients. To this day many white outdoor ovens, still used for cooking and baking, may be seen in the countryside.

Class distinctions with their inevitable polarities of luxury and poverty were said to diminish under communism. Huge kitchens with fine facilities and many chefs prepared meals for workers. Individual homes had minimal kitchens as most meals were taken outside the home. Except for special occasions and restaurant fare (especially for tourists) food in Hungary was simplified to pork and poultry dishes, potatoes, cabbage, and quantities of bread. Cattle, pigs, poultry, eggs, and wine were mainly for export.

The Hungarian cuisine is seen at its finest in restaurants, and only occasionally in Hungarian homes when time permits the loving attention that great cookery requires. Hungarian women tend to prepare traditional foods mostly on weekends and of course for festive celebrations.

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