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If we have learned anything on our adventures it is that travel and food are the perfect combinations. No matter where you travel in the world, a country’s cuisine is always a huge part of their culture. In fact, it is often said, one way to learn about a nation is through its cuisine. Budapest, in Hungary, is no except to the rule.
When thinking about some of the world’s best cuisines, Hungarian may not be the first one that comes to mind. Thanks to the country’s colorful history, its cuisine has had many influences. It blends the spices of the east with the hearty meats and recipes of the west. You could say that chefs in ancient Hungary were the inventors of a fusion cuisine. Its most famous dish, Goulash has gained a worldwide reputation, but there is more to Hungarian cooking than its soup (or is it a stew?), as I was to find out when I enrolled in a cooking class in Budapest with Chef Parade.
Cooking Class in Budapest’s Central Market Extension
While I opted out of the first half of the tour, typically guests would meet at the Central Market Hall. The Central Market Hall is one of the biggest and most popular markets for locals and tourists. Built in 1896, it is home to plenty of locally sourced vegetable, fruits, meat and spice stalls as well as plenty of places to purchase souvenirs and hot delicious food. A must visit for any trip to Budapest!
While I waited for the group to return from the market with fresh ingredients, I had already begun to get stuck into reading the 4 different recipes we would be learning, Gulyas Soup (Gulyásleves in Hungarian), Chicken Paprikas (Csirke paprikás nokedlivel), Poppyseed Pie (mákos pite) and Apple Strudel (Almás rétes).
Insight into Hungarian Cuisine
Looking through the recipes, I identified a few key ingredients which are the staples of Magyar cuisine; Paprika, hearty vegetables such as potatoes, onions and celeriac and sour cream. These ingredients are used to make many of the country’s most famous dishes, Gulyas or Goulash included. Brigitta explained that some of the original recipes date back hundreds of years when meals were prepared over an open fire, with large cast iron pots. Whatever meat was available would be thrown into the pot alongside some home grown vegetables, often potatoes and onions, and slowly cooked for several hours. Hey presto, that was the birth of the simplest form of Gulyas soup.
The Cooking Class Experience Begins!
It wasn’t long before the group had arrived back, our aprons were on and we were cutting into our vegetables to prepare the base for two of the dishes, the gulyas soup, and the chicken paprikas. Both dishes start off the same with finely chopped onions in oil and after some stirring (the onions have to turn transparent) seasoned with Hungarian paprika powder, salt, and pepper. When cooking Hungarian dishes, add Paprika and add another tablespoon just for good measure – apparently you can never have enough!
After adding some water, tomatoes and cut green paprika the mixture is left to simmer. After roughly 15 minutes the mixture is separated into two pots.
Meat (chicken in this case) was added to one pot to slowly cook and simmer until very tender. In the other, saute beef is added along with a mixture of spices and plenty of water for the Guylas as per the traditional Gulyas recipe. One tip would be to always keep an eye on the water levels, so it doesn’t dry up while cooking.
While both were left to simmer, Brigitta introduced us to some of Hungary’s wine and liquors. One to try is Unicum, a herbal liquor that will certainly take your breath away. The liqueur is produced by the Zwack family, according to a secret formula. It is said to contain more than forty herbs with a recipe that dates back to the mid-1800’s. After being exiled during communism era, the family returned to Hungary and now produces Unicum, one of Hungary’s national drinks.
Work also began on the poppy seed pie and apple strudel, which was tasked to the group for our desert. What came as a surprise to me is that Hungary is well known for its pastries and cakes. The flaky pastry dough called filo or phyllo was brought to Hungary by the Turks in the 17th century. Instead of the honey and nuts used in Turkish pastry, the Hungarians filled phyllo dough with their own ingredients. One of the most popular desserts is the strudel, which many believe to be native to Austria, not Hungary.
The kitchen began to smell divine as the pots simmered and the smell of paprika and apple filled the air. The groan of stomachs could be heard too.
The final vegetable ingredients were added to the Gulyas soup which was then left to simmer slowly for even longer and preparations for the noodles (or dumplings) to be added to the chicken paprikash began. Since the mixture was already prepared, each of took it in turns to “grate” the noodles mixture into the boiling water. Once cooked, the nokedli (noodles) would float to the top.
The Guylas was almost done (hurrah!)! About 15 minutes before it was finished, I added in the “csipetke” pasta. This cross between a noodle and a dumpling, is a stiff dough made from flour, egg, and salt. In Hungarian “csipetke” means pinched dumplings. While you can make them at home, we saved time and used some the group had purchased at the market before.
And shortly after, the sour cream and flour mixture was added to the chicken paprikash. Served with a side of freshly made noodles, both dishes were finally ready.
After 4 hours of cooking, it was time to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor. What was a mix of strangers at the beginning of the class was now a group of friends, sitting down to lunch, each tasting one another’s dishes. Considering we were all following the same recipes, it was surprising how different each of our dishes tasted. Different amounts of spices added meant a huge variation in the taste.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the morning spent at Chef Parade. Not only did I learn to cook 4 traditional Hungarian dishes, but I also learned about the country’s history and food culture while meeting both locals and other interesting people with the same passion for cooking as I. While it’s definitely a lot of work, it is a lot fun and a great way to spend a morning in Budapest.
Chef Parade also offer other culinary experiences and cooking classes in Budapest: from Italian to Spanish, chocolate, and Thai! They can also arrange one on one private cooking classes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this cooking class experience (thank you Chef Parade!). I highly recommend it to any one interested in Hungarian cuisine or who enjoys cooking!