Sunday, October 30, 2011

Food Quest: Hungry Hungaros!

Having just reached Budapest from a land of amazing food, such as Greece, we thought it would be really tough to top the freshness of their cuisine. Our doubts were quickly quelled within the first hours of arrival. Roland's grandmother prepared an amazing meal, patiently awaiting two starving foodies. We came, we saw, we conquered!
You can't say you've ate Hungarian, till you've had Paprikás Csirke (Chicken Paprikas). This simple, yet hearty meal can be broken down to two delicious features. On the left side of the plate, you see those little white, bean-shaped specks. The Hungarians call it "nokedli." It's commonly used in German and Austrian cuisine too (because the three cultures have a shared history in some sense). It's essentially egg noodles: take several eggs, mix it in a bowl with flour till you've got a gooey paste, then funnel the paste into a special nokedli making instrument so it comes out as tiny little pellets; and finally, boil the egg noodles in a hot water, let cool off and serve.

And now, to the main attraction. WARNING, veggie lovers beware, this dish is meat friendly. Paprikas chefs generally use either veal, beef, pork, chicken, or turkey (depending on preference). They cook the meat in a pan, using paprika squares or just flavoring by scratch, till the meat reaches tender brilliance. Feel free to chop bits of onion in there. You'll eventually have this orangish-red colored meat simmering infront of you. Here, we come to a crossroads. Hungaros can either leave the meat in its stewy state (which is called Pörkölt), or add the secret ingredient.... Sour cream =D If you choose the latter, you'll end up with a lighter colored sauce with a better taste (arguably). This process of Sour-cream-inazation turns the pörkölt into paprikás. The main difference is as follows: the jucie of a paprikás is thicker than a pörkölt... That's it. Either way, they are both (more often than not) really awesome!  

The one and only Goulash Leves (soup). What makes this different from just about every other soup on the menu has to do with the spice composition. Goulash typically has a lot of paprika in it for kicks and flavoring. You can even see in this bowl, the chef actually included sliced green peppers (which are no joke). The supporting cast usually includes potatoes, parsley, tomatoes, and either slices of sausage or chunks of beef. The meat is optional, though it adds great flavoring. Other veggies can be tossed in as well, just be creative.

Langos w/ sour cream & cheese.

Lángos w/ cheese.
Hungarian cuisine isn't known for fast food at all. However, there is one thing on the menu that is both easy to scarf down and doesn't dent your wallet. Meet Lángos, (Pronounced lohn-go-sh); the delicacy that people in Europe have grown to call Hungaro Pizza. It's so simple, you'll wonder how it hasn't found its way to the States.
Step 1: Prepare dough (eggs, flour, etc.)
Step 2: Shape dough into a pizza pie shape, approx. 12 inches wide.
Step 3: Deep fry the dough to a crisp.
Step 4: Dry off excess grease and oil.
Step 5: Cover with a wide assortment of toppings (or just have it plain).
Step 6: EAT!!!!
If any comparison could be made, it's like if Indian Nan bread was fused with a loaf of regular yeast bread, then fried.

Lángos comes in all shapes and sizes. This baby langos is accompanied by a bowl of creamy onion soup. Feel free to dip or just eat on the side.

Almost every super hero has a sidekick, just as much as every main course comes with a side dish. This hunger fighting delicacy is simply known as the CUCUMBER SALAD!!! Epic, we know... It's really sweet and comes garnished with sour cream and paprika powder.
This bubbling pot of delight will eventually be a completed, fully operational bowl of veggie cabbages w/ tomatoes and peppers. Add some sour cream for supreme    Hungarofication.

By the end of our trip, this became our favorite dish. Simply known as töltött paprika (or stuffed peppers), this saucy dish can be found across Europe, from culture to culture. Each group of people does it differently. The Hungaros love to paprikafy it and stuff it with ground meat. We learned first hand that the Greekies fill it with orzo, a veggie substitute. The sauce you see here is a hand-made blend of tomatoes with spiced paprika flavoring. Yellow peppers provide the shell for the ground turkey meat inside. If there was a final meal in jail, this should be it. Any person can die happily after devouring this. 
Another very traditional Hungaro dish is the halászlé (or fisherman's soup). The Magyar horsemen that settled down around the Danube river quickly learned to utilize the terrain by fishing for their meals. Fresh carp fill the river, and eventually your belly. This soup wouldn't be Hungaro if it didn't have paprika in it. Veggies are optional, as long as they don't take away from the main attraction. THIS IS A MUST FOR NON-HUNGAROS TO TRY!  
Staying in the theme of fish, here we have a grilled salmon with a pesto/spinach glaze. This tender meat is complimented with greens and mashed potato goodness.
Looks light and easy to finish, but it will definitely catch you off-guard. Officially named: green bean rissotto, this pasta is both creamy and filling. The flavor is one of rich herbs and saucy goodness. This dish is more of a modern blend of Hungaro foods. Grandma won't be making it. So, you'll have to go out to get it. 

Last but certainly not least... The Desserts!
It's no secret at this point, Hungaros have a really big sweet tooth. Their dessert section is often larger and more diversified than the rest of the menu. We experienced a wide variety of what Hungaria had to offer during our trip, but one can only eat so many sweets in two weeks. You would need at least a life time to get through every option ;)
Most people outside of Hungary expect cakes (which they have tons of). BUT, some our favorite delights weren't in a cakey form... 

This curious bowl is full of Madár tej (or Bird's milk). Weird name, gross looking, delicious taste. The white fluffs you see are just egg whites that have been prepared into a marshmellowy texture. The yellowish cream is just milk mixed with egg yolks. It was a mystery for a while why they call this Bird's milk. There are no birds that produce milk in Hungary. Christina cracked the case: The eggs symbolize the milk of a bird. Actual milk is added for effect.
Hungaros are really big on their poppies. Not for the opium (of course), for its sweetness. Here we have a mákos beigli, which is essentially a pastry rolled up in poppies. The crust provides a layer of thick, chewy dough. It's a really popular dessert during Christmas time.
To round up our foods and desserts for Hungaro, we continue with our poppy theme. This time, the poppies are all over our pasta dish. It's a really simple combination: Pasta + Poppy = Brilliance. Tested, tasted, perfected. You could eat it for dessert or even a main course. Just remember to grab a tooth pick afterward... you'll need!

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