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Our culinary heritage


Our culinary heritage

Hungarian gastronomy is probably more famous about its unique base materials and several hundred years (or even thousand) old traditional methods of preparing food than the actual meals. Cooking in open air is the most important characteristic, meals prepared in a bogrács (a special Hungarian cooking cauldron), cauldron, roasting disc or open-air oven form the most ancient, and at the same time the most spectacular part of Hungarian gastronomic traditions.
Methods and recipes established to preserve different types of meat also   represent those culinary traditions that are also present in the gastronomy of other nations, but the Hungarian versions of which are unique in both their seasoning and their choice of base material. The different sausages, salamis, hams and other meat products are all the result of centuries-old experience and traditions.  

Ground red paprika

In Hungary, people think of ground red paprika not only as a spice, but also as a medicine. Hot paprika increases the efficiency of saliva and gastric juices, thereby facilitating digestion. Its congestion effect eases rheumatic pain and mitigates migraines and sore throat. It cleans the respiratory organs and is useful in mitigating the symptoms of respiratory diseases and catarrhal bronchitis. Its capsaicin content is capable of decreasing the fatty tissue and blood flat levels, and of attacking cancerous cells.          
Paprika from Kalocsa, situated by the river Danube, has the biggest respect, but those grown around Szeged (by the river Tisza) also have a great tradition. These tow towns have been competing for centuries to be called “the capital of paprika”, since these are the only two varieties that can be dried – a necessary prerequisite for quality grinding.

The plants need lots of water and care. Paprika has to be harvested at the right moment, when it is neither unripe nor overripe. Paprikas are then stringed on long cords and are hung in the sun to start the drying process. This is the phase where paprika develops its characteristic aroma and beautiful red colour. During the drying process, the original green colour slowly turns into dark brown and finally ends up bright red. Then the stem and seeds are removed before the red, dried paprika is finely ground in paprika mills. The end product can be sweet or hot, depending on the paprika variety used.  
Ground paprika dissolves best in hot fat, this is how it can convey its colour and flavour to maximum effect – much more than in vegetable oil. If we cook with ground paprika, we should take the pot off the fire when adding it. Let us not put it back until we poured some kind of liquid on it or added a base material with high water content, for instance meat, vegetable or potato, as paprika may be burnt because of its high sugar content, resulting in brown colour and a sour taste.

Csabai sausage

Probably the most original smoked sausage variety in Hungary - with its preparation criteria slowly but steadily disappearing into oblivion. No wonder that real, traditional Csabai sausage can only be made by those who are both experienced and dedicated enough.
It is not true that only sausage made in and around the town of Békéscsaba can be considered Csabai sausage, since good Csabai sausage can be made anywhere if we precisely follow the preparation method – that does originate from the region. One of the most important requirements is that real Csabai sausage is made exclusively from pork and stuffed into pork casings, into the approximately 1.5-metre part between the rectum and the colon. Due to this method Csabai sausage preserves its flavours and juicy character, avoiding to become dry or hard for a year, or even longer.           
But the most important characteristic of Csabai sausage is that bacon fat can never be added to the sausage meat. The texture of the meat is the result of mixing different parts of the pig. Ham, spare rib, chop and flank are all represented in the mix and the right proportions guarantee that our sausage will be neither too fat nor too dry. To conclude it, Csabai sausage is the result of a fine mixture of pork parts with a different fat content, without adding bacon fat to it. Seasoning varies by households, but its basic spice is good old Hungarian, ground, hot red paprika, because one of Csabai sausage’s major virtues is its hotness.

Fattened goose and duck liver

Fattened goose liver is one of the most characteristic and unique base materials of Hungarian gastronomy.
Although many are opposed to force-feeding animals in order to fatten their livers, it must be told that this method burdens the goose’s liver only for a transitional period and it is not a fatal and irreversible deformation. When force-feeding is stopped, the liver quickly recovers and regains its original condition.
However, only fattened liver gives you an unforgettable culinary pleasure. In Hungary, this type of feeding is used with ducks as well; in terms of volume it is less successful, but as for taste it is just as good as foie gras. Still, only fattened goose liver is considered a Hungaricum; it has been one of the most special treats and gastronomic attractions offered by Hungary for 500 years, for tourists and domestic gourmets alike.

Grey cattle

What is most revealing about the Hungarian grey cattle, indigenous in the Carpathian Basin only, is that already in the 15th century our Hungarian ancestors traded them in a spectacular fashion: they drove the cattle that had fattened on the rich Hungarian grazing lands straight from the plains to the markets of Vienna, Munich, Strasbourg and Venice. The illness-resistant grey cattle swam through the Danube by the thousands practically without significant cattle loss, in order to supply butchers in Western Europe with their favourite type of meat.
Today’s grey cattle stock was bred from the last few hundred remaining species in the 1970s. Since then their number increased, the cattle grazing in the open air all year round, on land free of manure and pesticides – thereby making the meat of grey cattle rich in iron and low in cholesterol, not to mention its special taste, the result of herbs and spices consumed by the cattle.

Mangalica

Although many mistakenly call mangalica an indigenous breed of pig, they are unique in the sense that this breed is present exclusively in Hungary. Mangalica are protected by law and their history goes back several hundred years. Mangalica are a crossbreed from several different breeds, the genetic stock of which is dominated by a Serbian breed called Sumadia, but Bakonyi pig and wild boar were also involved in the birth of this new breed that gives more fat and finer meat.  
Thanks to breeding, by early 19th century a rather homogenous pig population was established, but because of the two world wars, epidemics and a change in demand mangalica lost its market by the 20th century and almost disappeared. Luckily, persistent breeders established a valuable stock in Hungary yet again.  
It is a popular misconception that the meat of mangalica is low in cholesterol, easier to digest or contains unsaturated fatty acids. The cholesterol content and fatty acid composition of mangalica meat is the same as that of other breeds, but mangalica are suitable for open-air grazing all year round and for pannage – these forms of feeding guarantee a slower weight-gaining process that suits the pigs’ biological cycle better and the outcome is fat and meat of lighter structure.
The real peculiarity of mangalica and its main advantage is the gastronomic value, as the meat itself is interwoven with a fine network of fat – its marble-like structure treats the lovers of finely tender, juicy meats to a spectacular culinary experience. The same characteristic makes mangalica suitable for exporting to Spain, in order to be used as base material for the renowned Serrano ham.

Bogrács

Although bogrács-type cauldrons can be found on all five continents, the nomadic horse nations were the first to use them. Consequently, the conquering Hungarians already were already seasoned users of the bogrács – back then these cauldrons were made from earthenware.
Today bogrács is made from metal and has become the symbol of our national dishes, high spirits and freedom. Hungarians think of cooking in bogrács as a community-forming experience and many believe that bogrács and the meals cooked in it on an open fire have spiritual/sacred powers. All in all, it is a fact that these meals have a slightly smoky, rich and characteristic taste after long hours of cooking on an open fire.

There are two basic types of bogrács: one is for cooking goulash and the other is for fish; their shapes are different, the former has a wider upper part, while the latter has a wider lower part. Probably the two most important and special national dishes are made in these special cauldrons: goulash and fisherman’s soup.

Bogrács is perfect for cooking one-course dishes that incorporate base materials step by step or are made by carefully placing all base materials in different layers on top of each other; this is followed by long hours of cooking with great care. In both cases, fire plays a pivotal role – it has to be regulated in accordance with the different phases of cooking, most of the time by feeding it with wood.

Roasting disc

While cooking in a bogrács requires an open fire, roasting in a disc has more to do with blazing embers. We inherited roasting disc from the charcoal- and limecoal-burners of old times, embers was available – only a reliable pot was needed that could preserve the flavours of meals and keep inside everything that excellent base materials had to offer. Roasting disc is a flat metal pot that closes well and saves the food from the combustion power of embers. Its name is a bit misleading as the process that takes place in a roasting disc is more like simmering – a cooking method that is perfect for preparing different kinds of meat with fruits and vegetables, creating an exceptional combination of different flavours.

Goulash

This name does not need introduction any more in several parts of the world, because from Thailand to Europe and Canada it is a dish that is quite well-known. However, very often the name is the only thing that connects these dishes with the original Hungarian goulash, since it cannot be made properly without original Hungarian ground red paprika and our special onion. Really authentic bogrács-goulash is made from beef and lamb as meals cooked in a bogrács are special because of long cooking hours – and more tender types of meat would be spoilt in the process. The original goulash is a thick one-course dish without vegetables, with potato being the only exception. Goulash soup, a dish less authentic than the ancient goulash, is the meal in which carrot and other vegetables can be found; the use of more additional liquid is also possible.

Fisherman’s soup

What Hungarian gastronomy can really be proud of because of its originality and cooking method is fisherman’s soup. It is made from different types of Hungarian freshwater fish, although there is a single fish variety version as well. However, traditionally we differentiate between our fisherman’s soups based on other characteristics. Along the two biggest Hungarian rivers, Tisza and Danube, two completely different methods of preparation developed. In the case of Tisza-style fisherman's soup, the cooked fish is pressed through a sieve and is used to make the soup thicker, while the Duna-style version is a lighter soup that is ready in 40-45 minutes, made thicker by red paprika and the addition of soup pasta. In Hungary there is continuous debate about which version is better. This debate is undecided, but we dare say that for foreigners both versions offer singular culinary pleasures.

Tokaji wine

Tokaji wine is the pride of our nation, just like Brussels lace for Belgians, parmesan for Italians, champagne for the French or Iberico ham for the Spanish. It is completely normal that Hungary tries to do everything to defend the brand name and high quality of its national treasure.
Tokaji wines were named after the town of Tokaj. Foreign wine merchants all over Europe were looking for the famous wine of Tokaj already in the 16-17th century, as this historical wine region had such special characteristics that are matched by no other in the world. This largely due to the fact that the wine region of Tokaj-Hegyalja hardly covers more than 5 000 hectares, involving 28 small towns and villages.       
In addition to Tokaji base wines, Szamorodni is made from bunches of grapes which contain a high proportion of botrytised grapes, while the regions most famous wine, Tokaji aszú is made using a technology that is several hundred years old. Tokaji wines develop their richness in wooden casks placed in cellar labyrinths covered by noble mould.    
It is forbidden to take grapes or wines from other regions to the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region, except for bottled wines. This rule guarantees the protection of the region’s wines and wine specialties.

Pálinka

Besides characteristic and unique dishes, true Hungarian beverages are also part of our national cuisine. Among these, pálinka is the most distinguished. A document from the 14th century already mentions this distilled medicine – back than pálinka was more of a spicy wine distillate. Later practically all kinds of fruit grown in Hungary ended up as pálinka and the tastiest ones have become the crown jewels of Hungarian gastronomy. Plum, apricot, pear, cherry, sour cherry and apple are all classic pálinkas, but today elder, blackberry or sloe pálinka specialties are also available.
Since 2002 pálinka has been a brand protected by the European Union – this was the year when Hungary was awarded the exclusive right to use the term pálinka. According to the regulation, an alcoholic beverage may be called pálinka only if it is made exclusively from fruits or grape pomace grown in Hungary, by applying the most refined traditional Hungarian methodology and a precise designation of origin. No additives, sugar or flavouring are allowed to be used as only fermented and distilled fruits can guarantee the savoury character of real pálinka. The finest and most precious pálinkas are aged further after distillation in small special casks, many of which are made from tasty fruit-tree wood.

 

 

 

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