As you might have suspected, at Taste Hungary we’re not big fans of New Year’s resolutions that focus on what we will not eat. We prefer to turn it around and focus on what we will do, rather than what we won’t do. So in 2017 I resolve to do more—more things which will expand my palate, bring joy, teach me something, and help me dig deeper into my favorite topics—Hungarian food, Hungarian wine, and travel.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Hungarian food and wine, talking about it, cooking it, eating and eating it, and writing about it. There is still so much to learn, and so much to appreciate (I’m only reminded how amazing it is that foie gras and Tokaji aszú are pretty much standard fare at any Budapest restaurant when I leave Hungary). So I’ve made some resolutions that will help me (and you!) to further appreciate and discover the rich cuisine and wine of Hungary.
If you are unfamiliar to Hungarian cuisine, I give you one more resolution to start with—make this the year that you dive in and get to know it! Start with George Láng’s Cuisine of Hungary (which is out of print, but many used copies are available), which will also introduce you to Hungary’s fascinating culinary history. Culinaria Hungary, which is full of beautiful photographs as well as recipes, is also a great place to get inspired. You’ll thank yourself at the end of the year after you master dishes like paprikás csirke, lecsó, töltött paprika (stuffed peppers), gulyás, and szilvás gombóc (plum dumplings)!
Here is what I resolve to do more of in 2017. Will you join?
1. Drink More Tokaji Aszú. I am pretty sure that collectively the Taste Hungary/Tasting Table crew drink (as well as serve and sell) more aszú than almost anyone! We are in awe of this heavenly golden wine. Why do I think we should drink more of it? Other than the fact that it is utterly delicious (and I could happily drink it at any time), I vow to drink more Tokaji aszú—and share it with as many people as possible—to support the region and introduce it to potential fans. Despite its centuries of history and its pedigree as the world’s oldest delimited wine region, wine drinkers of the world are just not really into sweet wine anymore. What Tokaj’s winemakers need is for consumers to buy their wines. What most wine consumers don’t know (yet) is just how much they would enjoy drinking Tokaji aszú, and not just with dessert, until someone convinces them of it. Known for their excellent acidity, good structure, layers of flavors, and ability to age for decades, these are powerful wines and the term “dessert wine” doesn’t do them justice. After taking a whiff and a sip of aszú you will get so many flavors that you may be a bit disappointed the next time you have a “regular” wine. At Taste Hungary and The Tasting Table we are ambassadors of Tokaj because the Tokaj region still has so much that it can still do, so much potential, so many talented winemakers, so much rich terroir, and so much beautiful wine. Trust me. Do yourself a favor and go out and buy a bottle. Chill it, and open it after dinner (you can even skip the dessert).
2. Discover Lesser-Known Hungarian Wine Regions and Native Varietals. I just said that this year I am pledging support to Tokaj, which is Hungary’s best-known wine region. Yet there are 21 other wine regions in the country and we shouldn’t forget about them! This year I aim to also get to know some of Hungary’s minor regions better, even (or especially) those which don’t produce much wine commercially, but sell it from their own cellars or their own back doors. Hungarians are proud of regions like Villány, Eger, Szekszárd, Sopron, and Somló, which have wines that are now available in many places outside of Hungary. But what about regions like Zala (an idyllic sub-region of Balaton, which doesn’t produce much commercial wine, but has many talented cheesemakers), Mór (a tiny region situated between the Vértes and Bakony hills and is known for the local varietal, ezerjó), Pécs (a town well-known for its culture and preserved historic spaces, which is also a wine region producing cirfandli), and Bükk (located at the food of the Bükk hills, next to Eger)? There’s still so much to learn and so many places to explore! And as I get to know these lesser-known regions, I will also be tasting as many local Hungarian wines—like ezerjó, hárslevelű, irsai oliver, cserszegi fűszeres, királyleányka, furmint, juhfark, and kéknyelű— as I can. Wine lovers who live in wine-producing regions are truly fortunate, and this year, In Hungary, I will fully embrace the unique local wines and places which make Hungary the multi-faceted wine country that it is.
3. Bake More. Hungary has such a wonderful baking tradition, and Budapesters are a bit spoiled with such a high number of cukrászdas per capita. Hungarian sweets are decadent, characterized by flavors like walnut, poppyseed, túró (farmer’s cheese), plums, and apricots. The coffeehouses have stunning displays of elegant layer cakes like Dobos torta and Esterházy torta and other Austrian and German-influenced sweets. Bakeries have pogácsa in a dozen varieties. And this just scratches the surface. If you flip through Hungarian cookbooks (or are invited into the kitchens of Hungarian grandmothers), you encounter delicious baked goods not really sold in restaurants or at bakeries. Dishes such as aranygaluska, Ferdinánd tekercs, csúsztatott palacsinta (slid pancakes) and fánk (doughnuts) are some home-baked favorites of mine that you will hardly see in a restaurant in Budapest. In 2017 I want to create more of this in my own kitchen. Looking through the Cuisine of Hungary, there are many delicious-sounding curiosities that I’ve never tried—wine strudel (boros rétes), pot-cheese strudel cake (gibanica), devil’s pill (ördögpirulák), cherries in run fritter (cseresznyék rumos palacsintában), and Beatrix torta … to name a few. And in my collection of old Hungarian cookbooks that I’ve acquired through my habit of scouring the cookbook sections at Antikváriums, there are so many recipes—many of which have been consigned to history—that I’d like to create at home.
4. Cook With More Paprika. We spent a lot of time thinking about paprika last year due to the launch of our “Paprika Box” at The Tasting Table. I created a few postcards with paprika recipes (accompanied by adorable illustrations). The first few postcards focused on iconic paprika-spiked Hungarian recipes (paprikás csirke, gulyás, and körözött). But in doing research, I found so many interesting recipes, and paprika has been on my mind ever since. So this year I vow to cook with it more (if that’s even possible). But I’m not going to save it for the usual suspects like halászlé (fisherman’s soup) and pörkölt (stew). I’m going to experiment and use it as many ways as I can, and in more unexpected places. Paprikás csiga (rolls), paprika kalacs (which we’ve seen recipes for both sweet and savory versions), and paprika-spiced chocolate cake all sounds like good places to start (also corresponding with my previous resolution!). I’ve been looking through old cookbooks by the prolific Hungarian food and travel writer, Zoltán Halász and have found some other recipes like Szegedi fish soup (unknown to me) which looks intriguing. (George Láng also wrote of a pig brain paprika, though I doubt I will go that far.) And, don’t forget …. Paprika is full of vitamin C, making it a perfect addition to the winter diet.
5. Experiment with Recipes from Old Hungarian Cookbooks. The theme from the previous two resolutions is clear! Cook more from old cookbooks (particularly the ones published during the pre-Communist era) to discover long-lost Hungarian culinary gems.
6. Travel more. I love to travel, and I love using travel to learn about the food, wine, and cooking in different places. This year I also want to take the chance to explore more places in Hungary. I want to seek out hidden gems in the countryside, like riverside fish huts, ham and sausage makers on the plain, cheesemakers in the hills, provincial markets, and hopefully a few good old-fashioned csárdas on the side of a country road. When I am in Hungary I will step away from my routine to travel to taste new things, meet new people, discover regional variations on well-known dishes, and perhaps discover a new dishes or two.
7. Learn from people. Just as travel can be so illuminating and educational, so can learning from other people. In 2017 I will ask more questions, and seek out people (especially older people) who could be secret sources of great culinary wealth. I will ask them to share their recipes, stories, and kitchen tips. If they invite me into their kitchen to cook or to sit at their table and eat with them, that would be perfect. And I will document everything I learn here, so we can all dig even deeper into the Hungarian kitchen together.
Happy 2017! Boldog új évet kívánok mindenkinek!