Pogácsa, which usually gets a loose translation as ‘scones’ or ‘biscuits,’ are everywhere in Hungary. A savory bready treat that etymologically derives its name from foccacia, pogácsa are found in every corner store, bakery, and even in a few Hungarian folk tales, which is perhaps one reason why they are loved so much.
Pogácsa, or ‘pogi’ for short, also seem to be compulsory for most organized social gatherings. Indeed, pogácsa are as much about socializing as about feeding a hunger pang. But just as not all gatherings are alike, not all pogácsa are alike, and the type of pogácsa you get will need to conform to the type of socializing you are doing. Below is a helpful guide to the various pogácsa you are likely to find around Budapest, because as with much food, context is also an ingredient.
WE’RE AT A MEETING POGÁCSA
While all pogácsa are allegedly similar in delictibility and freshness, in reality we know this not to be true. For instance, there are work meeting pogácsa. We are thinking of school staff meetings or corporate gatherings. These meeting-friendly pogácsa are the blandest sort, usually a bit stale, but handy for chewing on in frustration and can sometimes be considered a perk of the job. Likely they will be mini cheese pogácsa, which you may have to restrain yourself from throwing at colleagues, bosses. Otherwise they allow you to do something with your hands other than nervously pick at the seat cushion.
Or ‘bar biscuits.’ It happens that every now and again you come across a bar that really knows what it is doing and breaks out pogácsa for free or for sale (it doesn’t matter, they will disappear as quickly either way) late at night when revelers are well into their cups. If they are fresh baked, like they deliver at the Budapest wine bar Kadarka, all the better. The warm, yeasty dough is at once sobering as it is intoxicating. Fresh pogácsa goes exceedingly well with alcohol, like luxurious beer peanuts. Though pogácsa, like most baked goods, are typically thought of as morning food, the best are actually served at night, or at an afternoon wine tasting, where they act as flavorful, bolstering palate cleanser.
HOUSE PARTY POGÁCSA
Because pogácsa love to be seen at parties, you find the House Party Pogácsa. It’s just not a party without pogácsa on the guest list. Put a bowl of pogácsa in an empty room, and chances are a party will form around it. That said, pogácsa is kind of the ugly cousin you had to invite. Pogácsa are never the star of the snacks table, but rather the dense bready substance that will absorb the booze and substitute as a meal. Rock solid by the next morning, if there are any left, they make a slightly punitive hangover breakfast.
Finally, we get the rare experience of the Solo Pogácsa. This is the pogácsa purchased alone, at a bakery or stand, eaten with no social value in mind. These are best bought in an underpass, on the run, hidden from view. While it is almost shameful to buy a single pogácsa, and worse to eat it alone, these are frequently the most flavorful. Maybe for entertainment you will peel back the layers, because unlike a scone, the dough was folded. This is gratifying the way peeling things like stickers off a surface can be gratifying. It is almost a transgressive act, eating the solo pogácsa, and nothing to be ashamed about. Really, there should be other people around. But this is the only time you can really enjoy a pogácsa for what it is: a flavorful snack or breakfast that also likes to step out alot.