The most important tip I can give you on Hungary  local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Hungary, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.

What to Eat in Hungary

Main courses in menu are normally 2500..3000HUF in touristy places in Budapest, 1500..1800HUF outside it, or in towns like Eger and Szentendre (March 2009). A lunch in Budapest is from 900 to 8000 HUF per person, and half or third of that outside Budapest (Chinese fast food menu is around 500 HUF). In restaurants, a service charge is frequently included into bill, 10% or even 12%, but this has to be clearly pointed out on the menu. If it’s not mentioned, the place has no right to include a service charge in the bill. Even if there’s no service charge, unless the service was preposterous most Hungarians tend to leave a generous tip (10% minimum). Unlike in most western countries, tip is usually not left on the table, but rather the amount is specified to the waiting staff when you pay.

There were some places (mainly in downtown Pest) that tried to rip off drunk tourists at night by charging ridiculously high prices for drinks. Most of these places are closed now, but it’s still a good idea to always check the prices on the menu before ordering. In major cities and next to the highways you can find restaurants of the major international chains such as KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway and TGI Friday’s. Cuisine Hungarians are quite proud of their cuisine (Magyar konyha), and most of the time not without a reason. Food are usually spicy (but not hot by general standards), and it’s tasty rather than healthy — many dishes are prepared with lard or deep-fried.

Hungary food photo

Photo by l2x

The national spice is paprika, made from ground sweet bell peppers and which actually has some flavor when fresh. The national dish is, of course, goulash, but Hungarians call the thick paprika-laden stew known as goulash elsewhere by the term pörkölt and reserve the term gulyás for a lighter paprika-flavored soup. Meat is popular- especially pork (sertés), beef (marha) and venison (?z). Less common is lamb and mutton. The best fish in Hungary are river fish: Carp (Ponty) and Fogas (Zander), though many restaurants will serve fish from far away.

Chicken (csirke) and Turkey (pulyka) and common, and you will also find game birds excellent in smarter restaurants and country areas- Pheasant (Fácán), Partridge(Fogoly) and duck (Kacsa). A typical meal will involve soup, often like a consommé (er?leves), meat with potatoes (burgonya) and a side salad, and a dessert like pancakes (palacsinta). Less well known in the rest of the world are paprikás csirke, chicken in paprika sauce, and halászlé, paprika fish soup often made from carp. Goose is also quite popular in Hungary. While tourists gorge on goose liver (libamáj), still cheap by Western standards, probably the most common dish is sült libacomb, roast goose leg. Stuffed (töltött) vegetables of all kinds are also popular, and Hungarian pancakes (palacsinta), both savoury and sweet, are a treat.

Common snacks include kolbász, a Hungarianized version of the Polish kielbasa sausage, and lángos, deep-fried dough with a variety of toppings (mostly sour cream, cheese and/or garlic). A Hungarian meal is almost always — even at breakfast — accompanied by Hungarian pickles called savanyúság, literally “sourness”. These are often dubbed saláta on menus, so order a vitamin saláta if you want fresh veggies. Starch is most often served as potatoes, rice or dumplings (galuska’ or nokedli), the primary Hungarian contribution in this field is an unusual type of small couscous-like pasta called tarhonya.

It is worth to visit a “Cukrászda” if you are in Hungary. These are very popular with delicious cakes and coffee. Try the traditional Krémes (with vanila cream), Eszterházy (lots of nuts) or Somlói Galuska. You should visit Auguszt, Szamos or Daubner if you want the best! Daubner is a little out of the way, Auguszt Cukrászda is an absolute must. They have a shop downtown near Astoria metro station, founded in 1969. Another favourite is Lángos, it is basically deep fried bread, similar to “whales-tail or beaver-tail” but in Hungary, it can be served with any fillings imaginable. Most common is plain, with salt, garlic (fokhagyma) and soured cream (tejföl).

If you do come across a Langos stand, there are usually a large number of options from pizza langos, or eggs with mayo or nutella and bananas. Vegetarian food Vegetarians and Vegans will have about as much ease eating out as in any other western country. Budapest is not a problem, as there is a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, but in an ordinary Hungarian restaurant the non-meat mains on the menu are pretty much limited to rántott sajt (fried cheese) and gombafejek rántva (fried mushrooms). However, in recent years, Italian food has become a lot more popular, so as long as you don’t mind a pasta heavy diet as a vegetarian you will find a wider choice.

If one self-caters from supermarkets or local shops and markets, however, the selection of fruits and vegetables is quite good, especially in summer. Hungarian peaches and apricots are delicious (buy from farmers at local markets). There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and a lot’s of healthfood stores that offer all sorts of vegetarian/vegan products (including cosmetics). Regular stores like Groby among other brands sell everything from vegan sausages to mayonaise. A good place to start is looking at Budaveg and Happy Cow for specific information. Over all, apply the same rules as you do at home, and you should be well fed.

What to Drink in Hungary

Wine Hills, grape plantations and wine cellars near Villány, southern Hungary. Tokaji from Hungary Barack palinka a hungarian apricot brandy, served cold with a glass of mineral water. Hungary has several famous vine regions, most known are Villány, Eger, Badacsony, Tokaj, Szekszárd. Prices are reasonable. Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger) (HUF 1000 for a good one) is a strong red Hungarian wine which supposedly saved a clever Hungarian girl from her fate with a Turkish sultan. During the time of the Turkish occupation, it is said a young girl was summoned to become a member of the local sultan’s harem. Not wanting this fate for his daughter, her father gave her a bottle of Egri Bikavér to take to the sultan. He told her to tell the ruler it was bull’s blood, and would make him invincible.

The sultan, being Muslim, was unaccustomed to alcohol, and proceeded to pass out, leaving the daughter unharmed. There is another story connected to why Bull’s Blood is called so, and it also comes from the Turkish era. According to that one, the defenders of the different castles used to drink this red wine. When they saw the color on the mouths of the Hungarians, they thought that it must have been from a bull, thus the name. Tokaj is known for its sweet dessert wines (Tokaji aszú), (HUF 2000 < x < 6000) which acquire their distinctive taste from grapes infected by the “noble rot” Botrytis cinerea.

Hungary drinks photo

Photo by jokotografy

The favorite tipple of aristocracy, past fans of Tokaji include Louis XIV (who called Tokaj as “The king of the wines, the wine of the kings”), Beethoven, Napoleon III and Peter the Great — which is still reflected in the steep pricing of the best varieties. Almost uniquely among white wines, Tokaj keeps very well for long time. If new to Hungarian wine, be aware that both champagne (“pezsg?”) and wine, red or white, are quite likely to be sweet (“Édes”). If dry wine is your preference, look for the word “Száraz” on the label. When buying bottled wine, don’t bother with types cheaper than 6-700 HUF, as these are usually very low quality (maybe not even produced from grapes).

In wine cellars, however, high quality may be available at surprisingly low prices. Liquor In Hungarian, pálinka denotes strong brandy-like liquor distilled from fruit. Pálinka is a very social drink: just as the English drink tea, the Hungarians, especially in rural areas, will offer pálinka to guests upon arrival. The best-known varieties are barackpálinka, made from apricots, körtepálinka from pears, and szilvapálinka made from plums. Factory-made pálinka is widely available, but keep an eye out for homemade házipálinka. Pálinkas usually contain around or above 50% of alcohol, often more for the homemade ones.

Pálinka bottles marked mézes will be heavily sweetened with honey. (HUF 3000 for something good) Unicum is a strong digestif made from a secret mix of over 40 herbs. It comes in striking black bottles emblazoned with a red and white cross, and has a very strong and unusual taste. Unicum Next has a lighter, citrusy flavor, and is rather more palatable. Definitely worth trying, the bottle itself may also be used for decoration, and keeps very well for a long time. Beer Hungarian beer is quite average compared to other Central European countries like Germany and the Czech Republic as it has long been a wine culture. The most common beers are Dreher, Szalon, Borsodi, Soproni and Arany Ászok, available in the styles világos (lager) and barna (brown).

All of Hungarian breweries are owned and managed by international brands such as: Dreher Sörgyár (Budapest) – SAB-Miller; Heineken Hungaria (Sopron and Martf?) – Heineken; Borsodi Sörgyár (B?cs) – Interbrew; Pécsi Sörf?zde (Pécs)- Ottakinger. They cost about 200-300 Forints at a store and 400-600 at a bar. Some expensive club can charge up to 900 in Budapest. Imported beers like Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budweiser-Budvar (the Czech variety) are widely available in bars and markets for not much more than the ubiquitous Hungarian brands.

When offering a toast with beer, be warned that most Hungarians will politely refuse. This is due to an old tradition due to remembering soldiers killed in the 1848 revolution, whereby it was decreed no Hungarian would toast with beer for 150 years. It’s been so long, however, that most Hungarians no longer know the origins of this tradition or that they’ve been free to make toasts over beer for the past ten years. Coffee Cafe culture is alive and well in Hungary, although it may never recover the romance of its turn-of-the-century intellectual heyday. Unless asked, it’s a good idea to specify what kind of coffee you prefer.

The word kávé means the strong, espresso like coffee to most Hungarians, although American-style coffee (known as hosszú kávé in Hungarian, usually translated as “long coffee”) is now also available at most places. Tea Tea houses are now getting popular in cities, especially among the young. There is a growing number of tea houses, mainly in Budapest and some bigger cities where people can buy several types of loose tea. As it is quite fashionable to spend time in a tea house, more and more people will be able to serve good tea even at home. The best teas to go for are the herbal and fruit varieties.

In restaurants and cafes, lemon juice is frequently served in a small bottle. In traditional restaurants or cafes however, good teas are hard to find, as coffee and beverages are preferred. When you ask for a black tea in a budget cafe, frequently Earl Grey is served instead–remember to specify if that does matter for you. Mineral water It is widely available and good practice to have with you a bottle during hot summer. It should be noted though that as it is the case of most European countries, in Hungary, it is safe to drink tap water anywhere, even ‘remote’ settings. Bottled waters are offered in a large selection, both the fizzy (blue bottle cap) and still (red/pink bottle cap) water and it is cheap (starts from less than 100 HUF for one and half liter). The only notable exception of the drinking water are trains where the tap water is not drinkable and other places where tap water is labeled as such.

Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.