I am happy and proud to announce that I have found the one thing that unites Hungarians in a positive way. Something that enlightens their hearts and gives them a sense of belonging. It`s called `T?r? Rudi` and its uniting power reaches well beyond what it physically represents: a chocolate bar filled with cottage cheese, packed in a white piece of plastic with red dots. To be kept in a fridge to prevent it from turning sour.
Hungarians care a great deal about food, even though it is not something they tend to talk about a lot. They are not food philosophers like the French, nor is it likely that they will argue with friends about the one and only way to prepare a dish in the right way, like the Italians do. Nevertheless, there are plenty of local specialties that are worth knowing about.
`I get grumpy if I miss out on one of the day`s meals`
Soups and sauces
Laura (26) explains me that Hungarian cuisine is creative in how it finds a way to use everything that`s worth eating: `Whenever we cook vegetables, for example, we use the water to turn it into a soup or sauce. F?zel?k is an example of such practice. You boil boil vegetables in a minimal amount of water, than add flower, butter and milk to make a thick sauce out of it, which you then poor over the vegetables again.`
Laura also explains that soup is a very important part of each meal: `It`s not the kind of watery soup that Western Europeans tend to serve. Ours has lots of meat and vegetables in it and it can be based on almost anything. Szeged is known for its fish soup, but there`s also bean soups, meat soups and many more. Hungarians often have two-staged meals, consisting of soup and a `second` dish. If they have to leave one out because they are short on time, they will eat the soup and skip the rest. It`s usually sufficiently filling to serve as a meal by itself.`
`In the old days, meals varied along with the seasons. It probably still does in the villages, but no longer in the cities. Helped by modern agricultural techniques, importation and supermarkets, we can now eat whatever we want, whenever we want it. Still, the people who care will notice that tomatoes (called `paradicsom` in Hungarian, which is the same word as `paradise`) and the much-loved peppers be much tastier towards the end of summer than during another time of year`, Laura says.
Joszef (25, photo is a bit ashamed to admit that his favourite food is actually curry, even though he appreciates Hungarian cuisine a lot. `We use quite specific ingredients that usually do not have the same taste when you them abroad. Paprika powder and many types of pepper and meat are different in other countries. The basis of most Hungarian meals consists of onions, peppers, meat and potatoes. Cabbage, beans and pork fat cubes also feature in many dishes.`
Joszef cooks about three times a week. He usually prepares meals that are suitable for conservation for another day, so he does not need to cook every single day. Joszef lives with his sister who also likes cooking, which also relieves him from duty every now and then. `In most families, it`s the women who are most likely to cook, although there is no golden rule. Men are often able to cook but they are not too bothered. Unless it`s cooking on open fire for special occasions. That`s where the men usually step in`, Joszef says.
`Lunch is the most important meal of the day, and it is supposed to be a hot one whenever possible. At work, people will bring food and heat it in a microwave. Big companies have mensas and there are plenty of old-school cantines in town. The latter sell a fixed two-staged menu for less than 5 euros. In many cases, those meals can be paid for with restaurant tickets that are provided by employers on a monthly basis. No matter how extensive the meal, employees have little time to devour their lunches. Half an hour is the standard. After that, it`s straight back to work`, Joszef explains.
Joszef is attached to the three meals of the day: `I get grumpy if I miss out on one`, he says, explaining that breakfast definitely counts as one of the meals: `It`s not the same as in Italy, where they take a cookie and 2 mils of coffee. We have bread with ham, cheese, maybe some sweet stuff or toast. With coffee and/or milk. It`s supposed to keep you going until lunch, so you can`t opt out on it.`
Although Hungarians do not tend to eat out often, there are some options in international cuisine. While Budapest has almost any international cuisine one could think of, Szeged`s restaurants are mostly Hungarian, with options including Chinese and Greek.
Hungarians are not very fanatic when it comes to reducing the time they spend in the kitchen, so tells me Mikl?s (24): `They may take less time for cooking as they gain experience, but they are not doing so because the increasing pace of working life is pushing them to. On the contrary, the economical situation is declining, so people can`t afford to buy expensive products. They need their cooking skills and dedication to combine cheap ingredients and make something tasty out of it. Tesco is about the only place in town where people can buy ready-made meals, but if you ask me, those taste like plastic.`
Hungary does have quick snacks that enjoy wide appreciation. The previously mentioned `T?r? Rudi` is one of them. L?ngos can be bought at street stands and markets. It`s a deep fried flat bread made of potato-based dough, optionally covered with sour cream, cheese and garlic. There`s also S?t?t?k, which combines pastry with giant pumpkin. Ice cream makes a perfect snack to celebrate the arrival of spring. On a day like today?
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