Some Notes on Hungarian Food

Coffee: Hungarians are great coffee drinkers, so it is not hard to find a place that will sell you a cup of expresso. Hungarians do not drink large cups of coffee brewed with lots of water the way Americans do, outside of very tourist oriented places all coffee is expresso and made to order. Hungarian coffee blends tend to be smooth -- if you are a fan of dark roasts you are out of luck (try Italy). Hint: "dupla espresso" will get you a double.

Peanut Butter: While Hungarians grow and eat peanuts, peanut butter is strictly a foriegn food. Look for it in the larger supermarkets -- sometimes with the jelly, but other times in the international section. The only brand that I have ever seen is ShopRite(not bad)and the odds are 7 to 2 that you will only find super chunky. Peanut butter is frequently out of stock so if you want it, buy it when you find it.


(December 2002 update) I actually found a local peanut butter (Yugoslavian) in the Rothchilds grocery chain (and also saw it in Kaisers.) It is more like the "specialty" peanut butters in the U.S. -- much less sugar, less hydrogenated fat. By the way, for some odd reason Rothchilds keeps their American peanut butter in the dairy case but the local product is on the regular shelves.

Turo Rudi

Turo Rudi: This seems to be a uniquely Hungarian confection. It is like a candy bar but made of a sweetened compressed cottage cheese dipped in chocolate. We always get one as a treat when we go grocery shopping. Look for them in the dairy case of the supermarket or convenience store (price about 40 cents). They come in flavors, but we like plain (natur) best. The name is pronounced "two-row rue-dee." Note that Turo Rudies are perishable -- they keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator. If you want to keep them longer the freezer seems to do them little harm.

Would you believe it? The Hungarians (who have a tendency not to notice just how many wonderful things their country has) have a website devoted just to people who want to leave short messages in praise of the turo rudi! Click their logo below. You can read an article about turo rudies by clicking on this text

Turo Rudi

Donuts: Not available. Hungarians make something called a Fank which looks like an American donut, but the dough is not a sweet one. In a bakery look for a fruit filled pastry -- bakeries almost always have labels on everything in their display cases (use your Hungarian phrase book.) My favorites are the turo filled pasteries (turo is rather like a sweet cottage cheese.)

Water: Hungarians are great consumers of bottled spring water -- in fact it is hard to order ordinary tap water and nearly impossible to find a drinking fountain. Any place that sells soft drinks will also sell water. A half liter bottle costs about 40 cents in stores and a dollar or two in resturants. Hungarians favor carbonated water so that is mostly the default. My favorite brand is Kristalyviz (the viz part means water) say, "krish-tie-veeze." If they don't have that brand most shops will automatically substitue what they do cary. Hint: In general, water with a blue top is carbonated and that with a pink top is still.

Tap water throughout Hungary is perfectly safe to drink. Any water faucet that is not for drinking will be clearly marked with a sign in several languages. In case you wondered -- if the water comming out of a spigot in a fountain is easily reachable it is drinkable unless a sign is posted.

Szerecsen Chocolate
Chocolate There is lots of nice chocolate in the stores -- you will recognize some German and Swiss brands. I mention it here only because we happen to like semi-sweet chocolate which is a bit harder to find. The brand shown above is available in the section with candy and cookies in many markets and convenience stores. Many Hungarians consider this "cooking chocolate" and think we are strange to treat it as candy.

Paprika This spice is the heart of Hungarian cooking and makes an easy to transport treat to take home. Paprika is not expensive and unless you have special knowledge you are probably not going to find better quality that what the Hungarians buy for themselves in grocery stores. (I have seen some paprika for sale in tourist stores that comes packaged with a wooden spoon. Think about it -- if Hungarians got a wooden spoon each time they bought paprika (and a family can easily use a kilo a year) they would soon be crowded out of their kitchens!)
After trying several brands we liked the one below best. Hint: Sometimes you can look for the word "Edes" (the first e is pronounced like a long a and the s is sh) which means "sweet -- this is the standard paprika. The word "Eros" means strong and identifies hot paprika.

Kalocsai Paprika

Eggs If you want to buy eggs don't look in the dairy case. Hungarians simply don't think that fresh eggs need refrigeration. In a supermarket you will find eggs on the regular shelves with the pasta or canned fish, or whatever. Cartons hold ten eggs, not a dozen. In a farmers' market or small produce store eggs are priced by the egg (about 9 cents each.) Bring your own carton. While we were initially concerned about the lack of refrigeration, in an entire year we never had a bad or even questionable egg (although when we got them home we did refrigerate them.) We suspect that in part this is because produce gets from farm to market so much faster in Hungary than it does in the U.S.

Eros Pista jar

Hot Sauce You may not associate Hungarian cuisine with spicy foods, but many Hungarians love hot peppers. Eros Pista (say "air-row-sh pee-shtah") is a popular condiment available in any grocery along side the catsup and mustard. Perhaps hot sauce is the wrong term since it is spoon-able rather than pourable. A jar about the size of a mustard jar will set you back one dollar. How hot is it? About as hot as the chili sauce used in Thai cooking. Which is to say respectably hot. An interesting gift if you have friends who lean in that direction.
One day at dinner I looked at the jar of Eros Pista on the table and broke out laughing. I had, after many months, realized that since "eros" means strong and "Pista" is the nickname for Istvan, which is the Hungarian form of Steven, that the name translates as "Strong Steve." Well, you can see it doesn't take much in life to amuse me...

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