Food Culture and Tradition

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Glossary of Foods and Food Terms in Hungary


Bankoti: name given to the high-gluten content Hungarian wheat.

Barack: apricot brandy.

Csipetke: literally “pinched noodles” made by preparing a stiff dough from eggs, flour, and water then pinching off tiny pieces and dropping them in boiling salted water to cook.

Cukraszda: one name that spells the finest array of delectable cakes, tortes, and pastries, all prepared with fine ingredients readily identified by the sweetly fragrant aroma of creamy cheeses, fresh lemon zest, toasted nuts and poppy seeds, rich chocolate and of course whipped cream. All of this and coffee too.

Disznotor: the country celebration and feasting centering around pig-killing day. Except for breakfast, which is usually spiced wine or brandy and coffee cakes, the menus of the day feature soups, roasts, stews, and sausages all made from fresh pork and pork trimmings. City restaurants attempt a duplication of this by presenting a special Disznotor menu featuring soup made from pork trimmings and a main course of varieties of pork cuts and pork sausages accompanied with pickled vegetables and bread.

Dobos Torta: great arguments ensue when attempts are made to decide who invented this masterpiece. Hungarians will insist emphatically that it was of course a Hungarian. (Don’t argue – just eat it.) It is made by preparing a light round sponge cake, which is split and filled with a rich smooth chocolate filling (five to seven layers are usual). The top layer of the torta is scored into narrow wedges and coated with a hot caramel that hardens almost immediately. These caramel-coated wedges are then arranged in spiral fashion with alternate rosettes of chocolate cream as the finishing touch. Dobos Torta lovers save the caramel wedge for last and daintily eat it from their fingers.

Fatanyeros: Transylvanian specialty of assorted grilled meats served on a wooden platter garnished with pickled vegetables, and potato salad.

Galuska: soft “noodles” prepared by dipping pieces of a soft dough batter into simmering water or broth; they congeal as they hit the heated liquid and swell as they cook.

Gomboc: dumplings.

Gomolya: a fresh cheese made from sheep’s milk.

Gulyas: a stew made with cubed beef or pork and a base of gently simmered onions, lard, and paprika. Only cubed potatoes are added and the final result is a hearty dish with plenty of gravy to enjoy with Galuska or Csipetke. This dish is not finished with sour cream.

Habart Bableves: a sweet and sour soup with fresh green beans, the thin vegetable broth flavored with cream, vinegar, and sugar. Probably of Romanian origin.

Kaposztak: cabbage in any form, even sauerkraut.

Lecso: an all-purpose thick sauce made of simmered onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, usually well flavored with garlic. It may be used to flavor other dishes or soups, eaten cold as an appetizer, or cooked with sausages or meats as a main dish.

Meleg Tesztak: refers to the variety of sweet noodle dishes that are so typically Hungarian. They are always served hot, usually as a dessert but often they follow soup and complete a light but satisfying meal. The dish may be as simple as hot buttered noodles tossed with cinnamon sugar and chopped nuts or poppy seeds, or a more complex mixture involving sieved cottage cheese, nuts, raisins, freshly made noodles in strips or squares all lightly folded with beaten separated eggs then baked. Other versions are filled noodle squares simmered and served with nuts, sour cream, or preserves.

Metelt: noodles. (If this is confusing remember the importance of noodles and dumplings in the Hungarian cuisine – hence the many names.)

Palacsintak: very thin delicate pancakes similar to French crepes, Czechoslovakian Palacinky, and Austrian Palatschinken. The Hungarian version is used in as many ways, for sweet dishes mostly but occasionally filled with vegetables or meat preparations. They may be layered, folded, or rolled and are almost as frequently seen on the menu as the many noodle and dumpling dishes.

Paprikas: may be made from any meat, fish, or vegetable prepared with an onion and paprika base and finished with a generous stirring-in of sour cream.

Porkolt: a stew similar to Gulyas only thicker and with more onions.

Pulsizka: similar to the Romanian Mamaliga. A thick cornmeal porridge used only in certain areas (Transylvania).

Retes: the Hungarian name for all strudels, those crisply delicious rolls of thin pastry enveloping almost any mixture of fruits, nuts, cheese, potato, cabbage, meats. The sweet ones are only at their best with whipped cream close by.

Szilva: plum brandy.

Szekely Gulyas: a Gulyas of mixed meats or pork only, prepared with the usual lard-onion-paprika base, but then layered with sauerkraut. Breaking the Gulyas rule, this dish is finished with sour cream. A Transylvanian specialty.

Tarhonya: a type of egg barley prepared from a stiff flour and egg dough grated into tiny bits resembling rice or barley. These are well dried then prepared by boiling or baking with liquid. One of the oldest Magyar dishes still widely enjoyed.

Tokany: another type of Hungarian stew where the meat is cut into very small cubes or small strips, less strongly flavored with the lard-onion-paprika base and often made with variations such as peppers, mushrooms, and sour cream.

Toltott Kaposzta: meat-and-rice-stuffed cabbage rolls.

Tor: a feast.

Tortak: tortes. Since tor means “feast” … what better way to feast than on Tortak!

Zona: the name given to that mid-morning snack usually composed of a small portion of Gulyas, sometimes scrambled eggs or an omelet, sometimes assorted cold meats with scallions, radishes, and cucumbers.

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