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Category Archives: 100 Essentials
The Eater’s (and Drinker’s) Guide to Hungaricums (Part 1)
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 09 December, 2016 in 100 Essentials ,Drink ,Eat ,

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You’ve seen shop signs and restaurants touting Hungaricums all around Budapest … but what exactly is a Hungaricum (and can you eat one)? Hungary is proud of the many inventions which its citizens have given to the world (in case you haven’t heard, Hungarian are the brains behind inventions including the Rubik’s Cube, the ballpoint pen, vitamin C, and the hydrogen bomb). They are proud (and fiercely protective) of their natural treasures, outstanding achievements, and matchless flavors and culinary products. In order to shield and preserve these uniquely Hungarian products on a local and international scale, many are protected under the term Hungaricum. The Hungaricum Act was established in 2012 and includes quintessential local products such as Herend porcelain, Matyo folk art, Hungarian grey cattle, and the Hungarian cimbalom. Check out the complete list of Hungaricums (pdf file).

We are not the only ones who think that some of the Hungary’s best assets are edible (or drinkable)—out of the 60 Hungarian treasures which have been declared as Hungaricums, 25 are foods, drinks, ingredients, or dishes. The culinary component of the Hungaricum collection shows off the best of what Hungary has to offer—craftsmanship, distinctive flavors, and a time-honored heritage. Below, we highlight the edible (and drinkable) Hungaricums which display the pure essence of Hungary.

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The 1956 Tokaj Aszú: A Wine With A Long Finish
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 14 November, 2016 in 100 Essentials ,Drink ,Explore ,Shop ,

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The 1956 vintage was a good one in Tokaj. But 1956 didn’t go down in the history books because of the great quality of botrytis in Tokaj that year, rather because of the revolution that began 60 years ago on October 23rd. On a warm fall day, a revolution against Soviet rule in Hungary broke out. The streets in Budapest, and other cities, filled with people who were fed up with the Rákosi regime. The oversized statue of Stalin (which sat next to Budapest’s City Park) was pulled down by the protesters on the first day. Shots were fired at the National Radio building on Bródy Sándor street, just next to The Tasting Table. After a few glorious and violent days, the revolution ended up turning into a war of freedom against the Soviet empire. Russian tanks, barricades, freedom fighters, and Russian soldiers filled the streets of Budapest. In some neighborhoods, battles raged from building to building. It was a war we could not win. The wounds from the siege of Budapest in World War Two had still not healed, and now there were more bullet holes in facades across the city. The war was lost in a few weeks, and Hungary remained part of the Communist block for the next three and a half decades. Hundreds of thousands left the country, prisons were filled with the revolutionaries, and a new communist leader called Kádár was named.

During that fall, despite the Russian tanks and soldiers, grapes still had to be picked and wine still had to be made. As the revolution raged, aszú berries were being harvested and wine was fermenting in the caves of Tokaj. In the fall of 1956, due to the long fall, there were lots of aszú berries and a good amount of wine was made. After it was bottled a few years later, most of it was soon drunk by Russian officials coming to check on Kádár or by good comrades from the Hungarian Communist party. But not all of the 1956 batch was imbibed. Somehow a few hundred bottles survived in a remote corner of the state cellar until the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Perhaps when the communist leaders visited the state-owned cellar for a tasting, the winemakers were afraid of serving the ‘56 vintage and served a ‘55 or ‘57 instead. Even the number 56 was a taboo for almost four decades. I remember a scene I once saw in a movie when the number 56 was even skipped when the presenter announced the winning lottery numbers of the week. After Communism was finished, the remaining bottles of ’56 aszú, along with other vintages, were sold to private investors.

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Pogácsa at Daubner
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 14 July, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Explore ,

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Homemade, flaky and rich with flavor—pogácsa is the quintessential Hungarian snack. It’s a beloved pastry staple that shows up at family lunches, weddings, wine tastings, and just about any food-related gathering. Pogácsa, for the most part, is a bite-sized treat which is usually best made by someone’s kitchen goddess of a grandmother. Unfortunately there’s not always a grandmother around to labor over the homemade version when you’re craving a taste for the tender biscuits. So where to turn in Budapest for serious pastry lovers seeking buttery, eat-it-anytime pogácsa that is as good (or better) than the homemade version? It’s a question that sparks much debate amongst locals. Pogácsa is available everywhere around town, but for the best of the best, many swear by the fêted Daubner Cukrászda.

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Sólet at Rosenstein, An Essential Budapest Experience
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 30 June, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Eat ,Explore ,

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Walking into Rosenstein, Budapest’s most revered Hungarian-Jewish restaurant, two distinct moods emerge. The crisp white tablecloths, chic stemware, dark wood furnishings, and immaculately dressed waiters exude fine-dining elegance. But other details—from the father-son chef duo to the time-honored weekly menu highlighting traditional Hungarian and Jewish meals—lend the familiar coziness of dinner at grandma’s house.

Striking a great balance between traditional and indulgent is the forte of owner-chef Tibor Rosenstein, and now his son and partner, Róbert. What he started as a tiny buffet in 1996 on a side street next to Keleti Railway station (and which is still in operation next to the restaurant today) has grown into one of the city’s finest restaurants, all thanks to his culinary expertise and entrepreneurial chops. Rosenstein’s menu is made up of Hungarian-Jewish specialties, from gulyás to lecsó (stewed peppers and tomatoes), and lamb knuckles with garlic hremzli (potato pancake) to goose leg with red cabbage. But it is his decadent take on comfort foods—such as töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage) and Brassói aprópecsenye (a dish made up roasted pork, potatoes, garlic, and paprika)—that really stands out.

Hungary, with its robust soup, bread and meat traditions, has also infused its own flavors into the vibrant Jewish cuisine which has deep roots in Hungary, and is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance these days. There are plenty of excellent dishes to try at Rosenstein—which has become somewhat of a pilgrimage spot for visitors to Budapest—including the matzo ball soup. But if you are there, you really cannot miss trying the sólet.

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A Q&A with Photographer Brian H Neely on His Wine Filled Year
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 02 April, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Explore ,People ,

Working in the Hungarian vineyards
Thanks to our common love of wine, we have gotten to know Brian H Neely, an American photographer, well over the past few years that he has been living in Budapest. For much of this time he has been working on a project called A Wine Filled Year. The seed of his project was born, naturally, over a glass of wine … or perhaps actually, over many glasses of wine! A Wine Filled Year has now been completed, and the result is a gorgeous book of photographs documenting several Hungarian wineries and vineyards over the course of a year. You can check out Brian’s blog for more information about the project, or you can order the book directly here. To meet Brian (and pick up a signed copy of the book!) come to his launch party on April 9th.

We spoke to Brian about his project, photography, and his favorite Hungarian wines.  Read More

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Discovering Tokaj’s Sweet Secrets: At Home in Erdőbénye
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 04 March, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Drink ,Explore ,

Vineyard view from Mád

Winemakers in Tokaj, the famed wine region in northeastern Hungary, are singularly obsessed with a fungus. No ordinary fungus, it is botrytis (or “noble rot”) which they are mad about. It is the ingredient which magically transforms their precious ripe grapes into the shriveled, small, raisin-like berries which make Tokaji aszú one of the world’s greatest sweet wines. The wine is the pride of Hungary, yet unfathomably, it is still practically a secret among the majority of the world’s wine drinkers. Winemakers in Tokaj rely on botrytis, which only occurs when weather conditions are perfect, to concentrate sugars and flavors in the shrivelly grapes. This results in rich, golden-colored wine that can taste of orange marmalade, hazelnut, bread, dill, citrus, apricot, honey, or a host of other flavors. These dried grapes are the backbone of Tokaji aszú and are not only hand-harvested, but are selected one by one.

It’s an exceedingly special wine, with a long-lingering finish and the potential to age for decades, even centuries.

Tokaji aszú berries

Tokaji aszú is a complex, traditional wine, which has been admired by royalty and popes, and is even praised in the Hungarian national anthem. As an expat who has been living in Budapest—200 kilometers fromTokaj in the southern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains—for around a dozen years, I slowly, but seriously, became so smitten with it that my husband, Gábor, and I fantasized about having a little piece of this dreamy place for ourselves. Read More

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Drinking-In The Ruins: A Guide to Budapest’s Ruin Pubs
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 16 February, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Drink ,Explore ,

Szimpla Kert Budapest

The pre-war edifice may be crumbling—with nearly all the battered, raw-brick surfaces covered in graffiti. And the courtyard may be overrun with weeds, but that hasn’t stopped the pleasure-seekers from packing in the place at all hours of the night. What may look like a squatters block party at first glance is just a regular weekend night at a romkert (ruin bar) in downtown Budapest. Deep inside the history-filled rubble of District VII, the Jewish Quarter, a coterie of wildly disheveled ruin bars have turned abandoned buildings, old cellars, and derelict public properties into bastions of Bohemian cool. Ruin bars have become one of the great Budapest attractions—intriguing places with unexpected layers of detail which you could easily spend a few hours taking in.

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The Wine-Lover’s Guide to The Fröccs
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 23 June, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Drink ,Explore ,

When the weather gets hot in Hungary—and stays hot for months—there’s nothing like a cool, fizzy fröccs. Fröccs (which translates as “spritzer”) is a mixture of soda water and wine, which refreshes (and gives a mild, long-lasting buzz). It’s the ultimate summer go-to drink in Hungary, and there are plenty of places in Budapest to explore the drink in its many variations. Wine puritans may scoff at the idea of diluting wine, but in Hungary and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe fröccs drinking is the rigeuer de jour once the sweaty season arrives. For all its variations and new-wave popularity, this fizzy refreshment is imbibed by men and women of all ages and social classes. In short, fröccs is Hungary’s best prescription to beat the heat.

Fröccs varieties

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Where To Eat Classic Fisherman’s Soup (Halászlé) in Budapest
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 10 February, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Eat ,Explore ,

Halászlé (Fisherman's soup)

Gulyás might be the best-known of Hungarian soups, but halászlé (fisherman’s soup) is an equally-worthy and emblematic Hungarian dish. It is the lesser-sung knockout prepared for centuries by fishermen and their families along the banks of the Danube, Tisza rivers, and Lake Balaton (or wherever else there is freshly-caught fish). Following the Hungarian proverb “as many houses, as many customs”, this local favorite exists in many versions. Some versions include cream, others are served over pasta, but all are made using one or more locally-caught freshwater fish such as carp, pike, perch, catfish, bream or sterlet. It’s a Christmas Eve dinner staple, but the spring-summer fishing season also brings an abundance of raw material for year-round consumption.

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Budapest’s Kórház Utcai Market
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 03 February, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Explore ,Shop ,

Kórház utcai Market Budapest

Budapest has so many off-the-beaten-track tourist activities, but a simple visit to a neighborhood market may be one of the most entertaining and enriching of them all. One of the small chores and rituals of everyday Hungarian life, shopping for seasonal produce affords the opportunity to exchange a few smiles and meet some endearing characters while buying your sweet paprika.

Kórház utcai Market Budapest

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Hungarian Paprika—The Essential Red Spice
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 21 January, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Cook ,Shop ,

Hungarian paprika

If there is one ingredient that Hungary is undeniably associated with, it is, of course, paprika. Though peppers were not introduced to Hungary until the 16th century, the spice symbolizes Hungarian cuisine and is an essential component of some of the best-known Hungarian dishes, including gulyás, pörkölt (stew), chicken paprikás, and halászlé (fisherman’s soup). Paprika gives these dishes their brilliant orange color, and the intense peppery flavor and aroma so characteristic of Hungarian cuisine. “There is something about paprika itself that makes it synonymous with ‘Hungarian.’ ‘Fiery,’ ‘spicy,’ ‘temperamental’—all these adjectives suggest both paprika and the national character,” writes George Lang in The Cuisine of Hungary. “Paprika is to the Hungarian cuisine as wit is to its conversation—not just a superficial garnish, but an integral element, a very special and unique flavor instantly recognizable.” 

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Paprikás Csirke (Paprika Chicken)
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 19 January, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Cook ,

Paprikás Csirke (Paprika Chicken)

Paprikás csirke (pronounced paprikash cheerke) is one of the most classic of Hungarian dishes. Named for the large amount of paprika that goes into the sauce, the paprikás method can also be applied to veal, mushrooms, or fish. In fact, according to George Lang in The Cuisine of Hungary, it is one of the four pillars of Hungarian cooking (the others are gulyás, pörkölt, and tokány). “The chief difference between pörkölt and paprikás is that paprikás is usually finished with sweet or sour cream, sometimes mixed with a little flour, but always stirred in just before serving,” writes Lang. “You may never use cream of any kind for gulyás or pörkölt! Also, beef, mutton, game, goose, duck, and pork are most popular for pörkölt; veal and chicken for paprikás.”

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