If you’ve ever had Hungarian paprika, then you’ve probably already done this. If you haven’t, then get your hands on some and trade in your black pepper shakers. Hungarian paprika tastes good on everything except ice cream.
Paprika is made by grinding up the pods of capsicum pepper plants. The plant reached Hungary through the Turks back in the 16th century and the best stuff is grown in Szeged. There are two main types (hot and sweet) that are further broken down into 8 varieties. All Hungarian paprika is a beautiful bright red but the varieties differ depending on their pungency and heat. The red peppers are hung to dry and grounded into a fine powder. Sweet paprika is mostly pericarp with most seeds removed, whereas hot paprika contains some seeds, placentas, calyxes, and stalks.
Using it as a garnish gives minimal flavor, it’s better to cook with. If you want to enhance the paprika flavor even more, stir it into some oil before use. Hello, paprika parmesan fries with truffle oil! Unfortunately, the only dish I had in Budapest was chicken paprikash and it was purely the paprika that made this dish worthy. It reminded me of the chicken rice in Singapore only because of the combination of boiled chicken with a zing of spicy flavor. I think my supply above will last about a month.
Kürtőskalács, or the easier to remember/pronounce “chimney cake”, is a Hungarian sweet snack which is sometimes referred to as “spitcake.” Don’t let the names fool you.
It’s made by wrapping a long thick string of dough around what looks like a rolling pin skewer. The dough is brushed with butter or egg yolk, coated in sugar, and left to rotate over hot coals. Watch it happen here. The sugar becomes caramelized and once toasted, different flavored sprinkles are added on top (coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, crushed walnuts). It’s then slipped off the skewer and wrapped; you can tear off pieces of the cake and it unravels like the inner tubing of a toilet paper roll. Sorry, bad association. It tastes best when it’s still warm off the coals. The outside has a sugary crust while the inner part of the strips remains soft like bread. Basically, if sweet pretzels and cinnamon rolls had a baby, it would be a chimney cake dipped in awesome.
Based on their little sign next to the grill and what I dug up online, the chimney cake originated in Transylvania when it was still Hungarian territory. Born in the bakery of the Szeklers, or Hungarian Szekleys. Szekleys were Transylvanian warriors who were rumored to be descendants of Attila’s Huns. They have pride in their effect on Hungary because Magyar tribes were said to be related to the Huns and thus, the Szeklers are a subgroup of Hungarians in the mountains of Romania. “Magyar” is used interchangeably with “Hungarian” but can also refer to the Hungarian language.
The cake is served at special occasions but can be found made and sold by street vendors throughout Budapest. Like Hungary’s pálinka, kürtőskalács are an EU protected geographic indication of Slovakia (but they’re called Trdelník). Regardless, they remain Hungarian to me.
“All we have to our left is our sword, dog, and hookers”
A Hungarian said this while walking with us two girls on the sidewalk. He moved to the left side as most gentlemen do, resulting in us being on his right and then proceeded to tell us the above Hungarian saying. So flattering.
“Egészségedre!” (pronounced egheshe gedra)
This means “cheers!” in Hungarian. The actual translation is “on your health!” so it’s just like Arabic’s “sahtein!” Be careful though because if you pronounce it wrong and say it with an A like “eghesha gedra”, then you’re saying “on your ass!” Always maintain eye contact when clinking glasses, they take their 7-years-of-bad-sex curse very seriously.
“The best way to describe Pinot noir is it tastes like strawberry shit.”
One Hungarian producer said this after telling me that Southern Hungary makes the best wine but his favorite type is Pinot noir. Despite this appetizing description, we had some later and I believe it tasted much better than fruity excrement but, then again, I’ve never tried strawberry feces.
“Let’s do a white line.”
This is referring to the new metro line. The existing three are the yellow, red, and blue lines. Yellow being the oldest in Budapest and the second oldest metro line in the world (first in mainland Europe!). It starts at Vörösmarty tér and was built in 1896. Seniors and EU citizens ride free. At first, Hungarians didn’t know what color was to be assigned to the new line so they dubbed it the white line; thus, the cocaine joke. Based on my trusty guidebook though, the line is actually green.
“Plum is the best.”
When asking about the best flavor of pálinka, Hungarian fruit brandy. There’s plum, apricot, apple, pear, peach, and so on. It’s an EU geographical indication which I find to be just another policy that we should implement for our own geographical specialties. It’s like hardcore copyright. It “ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed to be identified as such in commerce.” Read more here. We’ll have it one day. Anyway, pálinka is insane. It’s sometimes served like a shot in whiskey glasses and once you down it, you have a hint of fruit flavor and then your mouth stops functioning. It goes numb and you can’t feel your tongue for about 30 seconds. And then it burns on the way down and everything is fuzzier. TWSS.
Singing “Supergeil” under his breath
And then the German/Hungarian producer who studied in the UK showed me this amazingly unforgettable supermarket ad: