The Hungarians appreciate good food. They believe that food elevates the spirit, promotes confidence, and is a comforting symbol of success and status. There is a saying: "Hungarians may live in a hovel but eat like kings, and the English live like kings but eat like beggars". To the Hungarian mind, food, love, and music are inseparable.
Even during Soviet times the food-loving Magyars enjoyed many of the tropical fruits like bananas, lemons, oranges that their neighbors (Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Romanians, and Bulgarians) could only dream about. Coffee houses and pastry shops abound in Budapest and Hungarian pastry chefs create tortes that are standard fare in many European restaurants. Dobos torte and cream tortes are the best known Hungarian cakes.
Many tribes occupied this fertile country, and up to 740CE, it was called the Khazar Kingdom. Khazar leaders knew about the strategic location of the country, and their precarious situation being on the crossroads between the eastward pushing Christian Kingdom (Holy Roman Empire), and westward pushing Ottomans. Khazar rulers decided to declare themselves neutral and adopted Judaism as state religion. Hence, no pigs were raised here, and this remained so until the Kingdom fell to seven Magyar tribes in 896CE. Khazars were pushed to the outskirts of Bosphorus, and finally annihilated by Russia shortly after.
The fertile Hungarian Plain and moderate climate allow the cultivation of many tree fruits, berries, and vegetables, and rearing of pigs, poultry, lamb and cattle. There are also many turkey farms to supply a growing appetite this meat. Many goose farms close to the Romanian border produce significant amounts of fattened goose liver for French processors, and goose fat figures prominently in many Hungarian recipes. In general, goose is more popular in Europe than it is in North America.
Before WWII the country produced excellent red wines, but the Soviet occupation and huge wine factories emphasized quantity over quality. Tokaj wines have always been fine, but now they are excellent. Red wine quality has improved too, and many Hungarian wineries are awarded medals in international competitions.
Fruit brandy, particularly apricot brandy called barack palinka is world-famous. The best is the brandy from apricots grown in Kecskemet, 100 kilometers southeast of Budapest.
The Hungarian cuisine is based on pork, lard, goose fat, paprika, sour cream, and vegetables. Pork is usually stewed with onions, lard, paprika, salt and pepper (porkolt), sometimes beef is prepared the same way. Chicken, turkey, and geese are often roasted and eaten with sautéed mixed vegetables. Goulash, originally a thick soup, has been adopted by some Austrian cooks and served as a stew, however Hungarians never serve it as a stew. Hungarians were deprived of the pleasures of enjoying pork during the 150 year long Ottoman occupation of their country, but now enjoy it with a vengeance. Hungarian cuisine is ingenious, flexible, imaginative, and full of flavor. They may not use olive oil, refined salads, lobsters, salmon, scallops and any other rare food stuffs, but Hungarian cooks make excellent use of whatever nature provides in their fertile country.
Popular Hungarian specialties include: Kaposztak, galuska, paprikas, porkolt, retes, tortas, meat and rice stuffed cabbage leaves, lecso sauce and palacsintak.