A Hungarian rhapsody

From spicy stews to melting sponge cakes, Budapest offers all and more to the culinary traveller
A Hungarian rhapsody

Can anyone be hungry in Hungary? No, never! Did you know that Budapest, the capital, was named after Buda, the brother of the then king and Pest, which means oven in old Hungarian. So when the name of a city literally means Buda's oven, can abundant food and a wide choice of cuisines be far behind? On a recent visit to Hungary, my first stop was Budapest. Like I do elsewhere too, I took a hop on and hop off ride around the city to get my bearings right about the place, its history and culture.

Hungary traces its history back to the early Middle Ages, when the Pannonian Basin was conquered by the Hungarians—a semi-nomadic people at that time. Hungary has seen many wars and has been invaded by many since, each invasion leaving a distint influence on the cuisine. The Ottomans invaded Hungary in the sixteenth century, going on to rule the country for 150 years, leaving their stamp on the food habits of the people. In every nook and corner there were Turkish restaurants serving a wide variety of kebabs. Hungarians just love their kebabs.

Hungary became a part of the European Union in 2004, and its European heritage is evident in its food as well. Hungarians are especially passionate about their soups, stews, and stuffed pancakes.

They use paprika liberally and hence spicy food is common.

Hungarian cuisine has been heavily influenced by the history of the ethnic Magyar people. The importance of livestock and farming and the nomadic lifestyle of the Magyar people is apparent in the prominence of meat in Hungarian food and may be reflected in traditional meat dishes cooked over fire like goulash. In Hungarian, gulyás, literally means "herdsman's meal". Pörköit stew and the spicy fisherman's soup called Halászlé are all traditionally cooked over the open fire in a bogrács (or cauldron).

The concierge of my hotel guided me to a local classic, a restaurant called Lado Cafe. It was a formal dine-in outlet with a live jazz band . The menu was so interesting that it took me two hours to complete my meal as I wanted to taste almost everything. I started with Hungarian Goulash—the national soup. For salad I chose lettuce and cherry tomatoes topped with grilled Hungarian cheese with vinaigrette .The cheese  tasted much like good old Haloumi, the Turkish influence at work again.

For starters, I ordered bruschetta with sundried tomatoes topped with mozerella cheese and grilled to perfection. So delightful was the taste that I gulped the whole dish down with the local house white wine. What followed was the Roasted goose liver cooked with apple and white wine.

For mains, the butler suggested Pork medallions with Hungarian ratatouille and fried potatoes, Hungarian lamb for the stew with red wine and paprika and small egg noodles and cucumber salad accompanied by roasted duck leg, goose liver slices, steamed apples and mashed potatoes. For sides I had grilled vegetables and boiled eggs with forest mushroom sauce.

Although not much place was left in my stomach, the chef recommended Sponge cake (with a hint of rum) with vanilla custard, walnuts, raisins and chocolate sauce with fresh cream on top. This was followed by pancakes with orange marmalade and chocolate sauce. The dessert was washed down with a double expresso with grand mariner. For all those starving by now, please do go through the Hungarian Goulash recipe on the side.

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