The Bulgarians and Turks were responsible for introducing the most beloved and well-known spice of Hungary – paprika – in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Turks also introduced filo pastry, tomatoes and sour cherries, which became essential ingredients to the Hungarian kitchen.
Probably the most famous dish to come from Hungary is the paprika-laced meat stew known as gulyas (goulash); the name actually means 'herdsmen' and came to be associated with the meat stew the herdsmen ate. Kettle gulys (Bogracs gulyas) evolved from being a shared hearty soup cooked in a kettle on the Great Plain, to later becoming an aristocratic specialty. Interestingly, two hundred years ago when Hungary took a stand to protect its language, culture and gastronomy, gulyas became a symbol of the proud nation and everyone ate it – rich and poor. They still do today. And there are many variations on the theme – dishes known as paprikas, tokany and porkolt.
Sweets became elevated to an art form in the days of the Austro Hungarian Empire and exquisite confections were made – strudels filled with apple, sour or sweet cherries, cream cheese, poppy seeds and walnuts; elaborate layered cakes like the magnificent dobostorta with its mahogany toffee topping; kugelhoph, beigli and many more delights were created and celebrated.
As the Hungarians say: Jo etvagyat, barataim! (Enjoy your meals, my friends!)
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Porkolt is a beautiful Hungarian casserole of tender veal cooked with paprika and garlic. Beef can be used instead (cuts such as chuck steak or gravy beef), as can pork (neck or leg). Traditionally this recipe is served with nokedli – quick homemade pasta served with lashings of butter.
This dessert is a luscious mixture of cherries, ricotta and cream cheese encased in golden flaky pastry from a great cook, Janelle Bloom, via a recipe from her Hungarian grandmother. If time allows, drain the ricotta in the fridge for 1–2 hours before making the filling.