Go Hungary to Budapest
by Agnes Chung
What does a bowl of goulash tell you about Hungary? The spicy, intense and flavourful national dish is as fascinating as the culture itself, and as rich and complex as its history and land. Hungarian (or Magyar) cooking dates back a millennium when the Kingdom of Hungary was founded. Led by Prince Árpád, the Magyars (of Turkic origin) moved from Etelkoz to the Carpathian basin in the 9th century. Hungary was exposed to many foreign influences, being on the crossroads of the ancient caravan, crusade and migratory routes. Over time, these influences added new ingredients and recipes to the country’s culinary collection.
“Hungary is a land where people’s hospitality and love of food make eating out an enjoyable experience,” shared North America regional head of business development for Hungarian Tourism Agency, Zsuzsanna Sarmon in her email.
Dubbed ‘Paris of the East’, Budapest, the capital dominates the country by population size and cultural attractions. “Budapest is in a state of perpetual gastro revolution, which keeps the wealth of tradition alive,” added Sarmon.
The city’s food and cultural scene rivals Paris, Rome, Berlin or London. You can have a nice dinner in Budapest for a third or less of the price compared to Paris or other Western European cities, said Peter Toth, president of the Hungarian National Association of Mangalica Breeders.
Toth was in Vancouver recently to introduce Hungarian raised Mangalica meat to local buyers. Labelled the ‘Kobe Beef of Pork’ – the deep red, highly marbled meat is prized for its tasty, creamy-textured white fat. Mangalica is an indigenous Hungarian-bred woolly pig that resembles a cross between a pig and sheep.
Traditional Hungarian cuisine
Dishes reflect its nomadic past and influences such as those of neighbouring Slavic-speaking nations, Italy, Austria and Turkey. They consist of meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, bread and dairy products. “A must try is the authentic Hungarian goulash, a hearty soup with paprika, onion and beef cubes stewed with vegetables in a big cauldron,” said Sarmon. The nomadic herdsman soup takes after the Hungarian word gulyás meaning shepherd. Other Hungarian specialties include halászlé (fisherman’s soup), lángos (deep-fried flat bread), töltött káposzta (pork and rice filled cabbage roll).
Irresistible are the desserts: somlói galuska (sponge cake with chocolate, walnut, rum and cream) and kürtös kalács (chimney cake – a spiral, flaky, sugar-coated dough roasted on a spit). Transylvanian Traditions Bakery offers these delicious sweets in Vancouver. “The chimney cake is best enjoyed warm,” says owner Tunde Tar.
Culture, opulence and history
After a sumptuous culinary treat, walking is a great way to burn off the calories and explore Budapest’s many remarkable and lavish historical sites. The Danube River divides the city into two sections: Buda and Pest.
Castle Hill, overlooking the Danube River on the Buda side, features the 18th century Buda Castle (UNESCO World Heritage site), Fisherman Bastion and ornate Neo-Gothic Matthias Church. Standing majestically on the Pest side is St. Stephen‘s Basilica, the keeper of Hungary’s most sacred relic, the purported Holy Right Hand of Hungary’s first King, Stephen I, also known as Saint Stephen. An Árpád descendant, Stephen’s coronation in 1,000 CE launched Hungary’s entry into the family of European Christian nations. The Holy Crown of St. Stephen is on display at the Hungarian Parliament Building, the country’s largest monument.
Land of thermal spas
With more than 1,300 thermal springs nationwide, 123 in Budapest, there are plenty of warm, curative mineral waters to relax after a day of sightseeing. Hungary’s Lake Hévíz is the largest biologically-active thermal lake in the world, said Sarmon.
The travel boom has transformed many turn-of-the-century palaces and buildings to luxurious hotels and chic gourmet restaurants. The euro has not replaced the Hungarian currency (forint), so travel including hotel bookings for Canadians is still affordable. Sarman wrote, “In Hungary you can always find something historic or modern that touches your soul. Budapest is a truly European metropolis: you may find anything from Michelin-starred restaurants, ruin bars, luxurious five-star hotels to cosy apartments. Hungary is a place where everyone can find something for their taste and budget.” Info: hellohungary.com
Preservation of Christian identity
Hungarians value their sense of nationality, and preserving their heritage, unique culture and legacy – one of which is their Christian identity and heritage.
In his interview with CBN News on October 8, 2018, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó is quoted as saying, “We want to keep Hungary as a Hungarian country; we want to keep Hungary as a Christian country, according to the roots and heritage.”
Their defence of the Christian culture has received significant criticisms. To support the persecuted global Christian communities, the Hungarian Government established a Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians in October 2016.