Food Culture and Tradition

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Meals and Customs in Hungary


The dishes comprising the Hungarian cuisine form the distilled essence of centuries of adaptations based on their native ingredients and the fine recipes from other peoples that have been a part of Hungarian history. What sets these dishes apart and makes them so distinctly Hungarian is more than a matter of lard, paprika, and onions, it is passionate attention and appreciation.

Sauces and salads are of little importance in the Hungarian menu. Soups, main dishes, cooked and pickled vegetables, fine breads and pastries – these are the cornerstones. Probably most important of all is the art of soup-making. Hungarians can make a flavorful and satisfying soup from almost anything: an onion browned in fat, flour browned in fat, milk and noodles, cabbage and sour cream, endless combinations of simple and complex vegetable soups and of course soups made with meats or game. Given so many types of soups, so many satisfying main dishes – tokany, gulyas (goulash), paprikas, and many others – and desserts of incredible delicacy and richness, is it any wonder that appetizers join sauces and salads as being of little importance? In fact, appetizers are only served in aristocratic homes or in restaurants.

Whether Hungarian breakfasts are the peasant meal of brandy, roasted bacon and bread, or the urban meal of coffee with hot milk, rolls and preserves, they are small. Mid-morning snacks are common everywhere: factory workers may have a small howl of gulyas, shepherds may pause for bread and onions, others may take coffee with bread or rolls, similar to a breakfast.

The largest meal of the day is usually served at noon. Invariably it begins with soup, and if it is in a poor home, it may be only soup and bread. The main dish following the soup will likely be of meat with cabbage, potatoes or noodles forming a part of the dishes or a side dish. Dessert is almost as necessary as soup and may be stewed fruits, thin dessert pan-cakes called palacsintak, dumplings served with sweet sauces, fritters or noodle desserts, soufflés, custards or puddings. Traditionally the noon meal is eaten at home with all the family together. Increasingly, however, children are taking this hot meal in school cafeterias, industrial workers in factory restaurants, while those working in the cities often enjoy restaurant or fast-food dining.

The afternoon coffee will he taken with honey cake or coffee cake if it is just for the family. But there will be a choice of fine pastries, cakes, strudel, and tortas if there are guests or if this snack is taken in a coffeehouse.

The evening meal is usually a light supper of leftovers from the noon meal. Sometimes soup and dessert are enough, other times soup with bread or light dishes made from eggs will be served. The evening meal is traditionally eaten between seven and nine o’clock.

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