My favorite articles in travel guides are about delicious food. I’ll tell you about the national cuisine of Hungary, what dishes you should try, and what’s unusual for tourists. You’ll learn about Hungarian fast food and the ingredients and products that Hungarians love to use. Hungarian cuisine is not just goulash and paprikash. This article is primarily for food tourists who are planning a trip to Budapest and Hungary.

Hungarian Cuisine: General Information

Here are some general points:

  • The main ingredients in Hungarian cuisine are familiar to us: lots of meat (pork, chicken, beef) and plenty of vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants).
  • However, Hungarians don’t use grains very often. Most of the time, you’ll find rice as a grain option.
  • They don’t use any special spices that we’re not used to; the cuisine, in general, is not spicy. Although Hungarians also enjoy spicy paprika.

Useful to know:

Hungarian cuisine is very hearty and meaty. They love pork, and the fattier, the better.

The most important Hungarian seasoning is paprika, ground from chili peppers. In Balkan countries, paprika usually refers to sweet peppers. In Hungary, when they offer to add paprika to your dish, it’s almost always to make it spicier. Be cautious with paprika if you don’t like spicy food.

Hungarians particularly like adding paprika to goulash; it warms it up nicely. But they also use sweet paprika in their cuisine.

hungarian paprika
You can buy a million types of Hungarian paprika at any market, store, or souvenir shop. It’s the main seasoning in Hungarian cuisine, and nothing is prepared without it.

Myth about Hungarian cuisine:

I often hear or read on the internet that portions in Hungary are huge, and you can confidently order one for two. Today, this is a rarity; maybe it was like that 15 years ago. Now, portion sizes are like everywhere else in Europe. They are not small, but not kilos of food either. The only place where you can still find larger portions is with soups. I recommend reading an article about Hungarian restaurants, menus, and tips. It provides detailed information and shows the sizes of portions in Hungarian eateries.


I’d like to tell you a bit about Csipetke because you can find them quite often in Hungarian cuisine.

What are Csipetke:

In simple terms, they’re the equivalent of our dumplings – pieces of dough made from flour and eggs, boiled.
bogrács soup in hungary
Hungarian soup bogrács, white – it’s not potatoes, it’s csipetke

Csipetke is not a main dish; often, they accompany the main course or go into soups. You’ll see this in the photos later.

About the Hungarian restaurant menu:

There will be references to this topic later, but I’ll mention it upfront. Despite the Hungarian language being complex and unfamiliar, always ask for a menu in both Hungarian and English in a restaurant. Don’t skip the Hungarian version. The English translation won’t accurately convey what the dish is; it might even confuse you. For example, the word “pasta” can refer to any dish made from pasta. Even Csipetke is translated into English as “pasta.”

So, I will continue to write the names of Hungarian dishes in Hungarian so you can find them on the menu.

National Cuisine of Hungary: Soups

In Hungarian, soups are called “levesek.” Look for this word on the menu. Let’s start with the pinnacle and the king of Hungarian cuisine, dish #1, and the symbol of the country – Goulash.

  • Goulash. Look for the word “Gulyásleves” on the menu.

In Hungary, there are many variations of goulash, but the foundation is the same everywhere: a soup made from beef with vegetables and paprika, slow-cooked in a kettle.

Goulash is always served very hot in a kettle. They also offer extra paprika; if you don’t like it spicy, you can decline since it’s already in the soup.

hungarian dishes goulash
Classic goulash and the classic presentation in kettles. Hungarian cuisine begins with goulash.

Goulash can be found in any eatery. There are three main types, even though there are more: goulash, babgoulash, and bográc.

  • Goulash is the most classic recipe with meat and vegetables.
  • Babgoulash has beans added for extra richness.
  • Bográc is just like goulash but with Csipetke (as shown in the beginning of the article) 🙂

Remember, not every goulash is bográc, but every bográc is goulash!

  • Halaszle. In English, it might say “fish soup,” and there will be 3-4 kinds in the menu. You won’t understand which one is the traditional Hungarian fisherman’s soup and which is Halaszle.

Halaszle is a rich, thick Hungarian fish soup. It’s made with lots of tomatoes and paprika, making it red.

Halaszle fish soup
This chunk of fish is always served with Halaszle, and it’s always in a kettle.
best soup in hungary
I really like Halaszle and order it more often than goulash. That’s why there are more photos of Halaszle 🙂 It’s rich, nourishing, very tasty, and not too spicy.

Even if you don’t like fish soup, you’ll find this delicious. Halaszle is made only from river fish, and the bones are carefully removed. All the vegetables, peppers, tomatoes, lots of fish, simmered with seasonings. Then everything is strained back into the broth. Large pieces of fish are added, often catfish, and it’s simmered for 15 minutes until ready. It’s always served with a big piece of fish.

Interesting feature:

Look for Halaszle in the menu under fish dishes, not soups. That’s how it’s traditionally categorized.

These were the two main soups in Hungarian cuisine that every tourist must try in Hungary. If you haven’t had goulash, you haven’t been to Hungary.

But Hungarian soups don’t stop there. Something unusual to consider:

  • Főzelék – a thick creamy soup, sometimes even more like a side dish. It’s made from mashed zucchinis, spinach, carrots, flour, and sour cream, along with various other vegetables, but zucchini is the base.
  • Cherry soup or vanilla soup – a sweet, summery, cold soup. It’s made from sour cream, cream, vanilla, and it can have cherries or other fruits and berries. I recommend it for those who like sweet soups, but others can skip it.

Main Dishes of Hungary

We’ve finished with soups; now let’s move on to the main dishes, although nothing is more important than goulash.

  • The most famous and popular dishes in Hungarian cuisine are Pörkölt and Paprikás.

In essence, they’re the same dish with slight differences. It’s stewed meat, any kind of meat, with chicken paprikash being the most popular variation in Hungary. However, it’s also made with pork, beef, rabbit, and so on. It’s stewed with vegetables for about two hours, and both dishes have paprika.

The main difference between Pörkölt and Paprikás is just one thing:

  • In Paprikás, sour cream is added during the stewing, whereas Pörkölt is prepared without sour cream and served with dumplings – Csipetke. So, Paprikás is meat stewed in a creamy sour sauce, while Pörkölt is simply with paprika, vegetables, and Csipetke dumplings.
hungarian cuisine dishes
In the photo, you can see the classic Paprikás, the sauce is light, and it’s evident that sour cream was added. Pörkölt can look similar, but the gravy is darker. And pay attention to the side dish – our beloved Csipetke 🙂

Both dishes are usually served with a side dish, can you guess what it is? Right, Csipetke. In reality, it’s quite simple; if you order a dish and they don’t ask you what side dish you want, they’ll probably bring it with Csipetke. But sometimes you can choose between Csipetke and mashed potatoes 🙂

In Hungary, there’s also Lecso, the traditional version with meat and vegetables, just like in the Balkans. It’s made with a lot of sweet peppers.

Now, let’s talk about Hungarian cuisine that’s not for everyone. A dish that everyone should try, but not everyone will. However, it’s on the menu in almost any restaurant.

  • Túrós csusza, and here’s where the power of the Hungarian language and translation difficulties begin, so look for this dish in the Hungarian menu.
what dish to try in hungary
Here’s how Túrós csusza is translated into English: Pasta with cottage cheese and bacon. If you didn’t know, you might even order it.

So, after reading the English translation above – pasta with cottage cheese and bacon, does it make you want to try it? It does for me. But here’s what you’ll actually get:

  • Túrós csusza is a traditional Hungarian dish for the less affluent. It’s our beloved Csipetke (sometimes pasta), topped with cottage cheese and, most importantly, cracklings. We’ll talk about cracklings later.
national dish of hungary turos csusza
True Hungarian cuisine is Túrós csusza. You can get one portion for two if you’re unsure.

Modern presentation quirks: sometimes, instead of Csipetke, you might get classic pasta, and it’s drizzled with sour cream, but not always. There’s no meat in this dish; just authentic cracklings. I’ve also encountered sweet cottage cheese once. But it’s a fantastic combination 🙂

Hungarian fast food and delicatessen

The cuisine of Hungary is not only Goulash and Pörkölt, but also Libamáj and Langos!

  • Libamáj – a dish with the most delicate goose liver pate. This is Hungarian foie gras. In fact, some sources claim that the foie gras recipe came to France from Hungary.
Libamáj Hungarian foie gras
Hungarian delicacy: a 100g jar costs 35 euros. No worse than foie gras. In stores, look for jars like those in the photo.

Real Libamáj is expensive, it is a delicacy and not every Hungarian can afford it. For tourists, the name simply says Goose Liver or foie gras.

  • Lángos is the national Hungarian fast food. You can buy it on the streets of Budapest and other cities. The food stalls are called Langos, look for signs like these.

This is a flatbread made from yeast dough fried in boiling oil.

Hungarian fast food Langos
These are two classic Langos – with cheese and plain.

The most traditional option: either plain or with garlic sauce, sour cream and sprinkled with cheese. Both options are pictured above. But today tourists are offered options with meat and mushrooms and even Nutella and strawberries. There are many options.

  • Kürtőskalács – in English – Chimney Cake – similar to trdelnik from the Czech Republic. The recipe is exactly the same. This is a popular pastry throughout central Europe, and it is not even clear where its homeland is. Each country has its own name. In Hungary it is Kürtőskalács.
Chimney Cake hungary
Hungarian kürteskalács. Pay attention to the poster, you can see how it is served with ice cream.

Puff pastry with sugar is baked on a grill, slowly rotating a “skewer” – in the Czech Republic this device is called a trdlo.

Kürtőskalács is eaten plain or with ice cream inside. Such points are popular on city streets.

Sausages, lard, pickles

A small section to help you understand all the culinary preferences of Hungarians.

Hungarian cuisine also includes sausages and pickles. They also love pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut; all this is sold at any market.

Sausages also occupy a special place in Hungarian cuisine. They are prepared mainly from pork, and there are a huge number of types and tastes.

Interesting fact:

We’re not done with the pig. Hungarians are one of the world leaders in lard consumption per capita. Even more interesting and unusual facts about Hungary.
national dishes of Hungary lard
Hungarian cuisine is smoked lard rolled in paprika. It is eaten plain and used in many dishes. Lard is added to soups and main courses. When preparing goulash, all the meat is initially fried with lard and only then simmered in a pot.

The most traditional recipe: smoked lard in paprika. Often even restaurant dishes, such as perkölt, can be served with beautifully decorated pieces of lard. Well, let’s remember Túrós csusza.

  • And in Hungary there is a holiday called “Pig’s Wake”, but that’s a completely different story, in the article about Hungarian holidays :).

In conclusion: Hungarian cuisine is delicious, hearty, fatty, lots of meat and vegetables. Every tourist simply needs to try the three main dishes of Hungarian cuisine: goulash, halaszle and pörkölt. And when walking along the streets of Budapest and other cities, you are unlikely to pass by lángos and kürtoskalács.

Food tourists and non-vegetarians will have a good time in Hungary!

IMPORTANT: Below are useful links that will help organize your trip to Hungary and Budapest:

  • Flight: Aviasales – compares prices for flights among 30+ airlines flying to Budapest.
  • Tours and excursions:
    • Viator and GetYourGuide – the best services for finding tours in Budapest and Hungary with the largest database of activities in Hungary. They offer river cruises on the Danube, tickets to baths, and 1000+ tours (available in different languages).
  • Accommodation, apartments, hotels, hostels:
    • Hotellook compares the prices among dozens of other booking services and offer the best price
    • Booking – the most popular booking platform
    • Agoda – even more accommodation options in Hungary
  • Car rental: DiscoverCars – the leading and largest car rental service in Hungary.
  • Travel Insurance: EKTA.
  • eSIMAiralo virtual SIM card in Hungary.
  • Taxi and airport transfers: Intui.Travel