Is there any commonly eaten food more divisive than liver? Loved and loathed in equal measures, it is also the cheapest cut at the market but the most expensive item on the menu. Banned, fetishized, reviled, liver—depending on the animal and the preparation—will always provoke bitter arguments and happy memories. Luckily nor not, depending on your viewpoint, liver is very popular in Hungary at all price points, and in all types of eateries, from étkezdes (lunch canteens) to Michelin star restaurants. If you are a fan of liver, Hungary is a fantastic place to be, offering a cuisine with a variety of favorite liver preparations, a few of which we will detail below, from the least expensive to the most.
Májas hurka (liver sausage): served hot from a chafing dish at the butcher’s, these roasted sausages are impossible to beat for an inexpensive lunch or snack, and can be had for just a few euro including mustard, a side of pickles, and bread. Hurka is the most accessible way to eat liver, as it is heavily cut with rice and spices. Still there is a rich flavor to májas hurka that liver lovers will enjoy.
Resztelt máj (chopped liver): This dish is typically found at lunch at Budapest’s famous étkezdes. Note that ‘chopped liver’ is the transliteration (trans-liver-ation?) of resztelt máj, and has not much to do with the chopped liver we know as a deli sandwich component in the West. Instead it’s a dish of pork (or occasionally chicken, or even cow) liver, chopped into bite-sized portions, stewed with liberal amounts of onion, lard and paprika, served with a starch like boiled potatoes. It’s a rich, heavy lunch, and will satisfy anybody’s craving for liver for a long time to come.
Csirkemáj szendvics (chicken liver sandwich): Two of the city’s best pub grub dishes can be found in central Budapest, in the chicken liver sandwiches of Fekete Kutya and Kisüzem, both on Dob street. The liver sandwich at Kisüzem has been known to convert liver haters with its lightly spiced liver, delicate sauce, and pickled pfefferoni pepper on the side. The chicken liver spread served on a fat slice of country bread at Fekete Kutya is an old school Jewish preparation, fried and with goose fat and onion. It’s an addictive accompaniment to the Czech beer they serve. Both will leave you craving more, and are excellent entry level liver dishes.
Kacsamáj pástétmom (duck liver paté or mousse): Duck liver is widely associated with Asian cuisines, but is also readily available and sought after in Hungary, where it can be found in market halls as well as on menus. Restaurants like the much loved Kispiac, Halsaszbástya, Olimpia, and Zeller all routinely feature duck liver paté or duck liver mousse on their menus. A less expensive but still decadently fatty alternative to goose liver foie gras, duck liver paté or mousse need not be fattened by force feeding. Moreover, duck liver paté is available in most Hungarian grocery stores in single serving tins for a quick, inexpensive fix or sandwich ingredient.
Libamáj (goose liver foie gras): There are few foodstuffs more divisive than goose liver foie gras. By law in France, to be called foie gras, the goose must be force fed with a tube, a process known as gavage. Your feelings on the humaneness of this method will dictate your feelings on eating foie gras. That said, it is very popular in Hungary and can be found on many upscale restaurant menus. Hungarian geese are renown for their ability to yield fatty dilectibile foie gras, so much so that countries like France rely on Hungarian farms for import of the raw liver, where it is then processed and sold as a French product. And after France, Hungary is the second largest producer of foie gras on the planet. Foie Gras will likely be on the menu of Budapest’s Michelin star restaurants, like Borkonyha, Costes, and Onyx. With its velvety flavor, like a Louis Armstrong song on a fork, libamáj lovers will find a lot to love in high end Hungarian cuisine.
This writer’s favorite liver preparations are the open faced chicken liver sandwich at Fekete Kutya, and the duck liver paté at Kispiac Bisztró.