13 September, 2009

Budapest I: The problem with paprika

It's been all quite on the W&F front for a little while. Recently, that's because I've been in Europe, exploring Budapest; Ravenna and Padova in Italy; and the north-west of Spain.

The trip was three weeks rife with culinary, artistic and visual delights, plenty of which will no doubt find their way up here in the weeks to come.

Where to start? Well, the beginning's not a bad place, which takes us to Budapest. Hungarian food is big on pork, paprika, crumbing and stuffing.

Their food is traditional enough that learning to recognise a few menu staples is a big help in the vendéglős (small restuarants).

Rántott, for example, means deep-fried in breadcrumbs.Here we have a dish delightfully named 'postman's favourite', consisting of crumbed pork stuffed with sausage, onion and bacon (yes, that is three meats in one item).

Pörkölt is a ragu of pork (normally), beef or chicken, coloured bright red by paprika.It's served here with noodles similar to the German spätzle.

Paprika is a complicated word. It can refer to both a spice and a vegetable, the latter also being known as capsicum and pepper. In Hungary they cook a lot with what we call capsicum, often using a white variety, which to look at on the plate is indistinguishable from onion. They're keen enough on paprika the spice for it to be a standard condiment on most restaurant tables.

To add to the paprika confusion, paprikás in Hungary is similar to pörkölt, but sour cream is mixed into the sauce. (Hungarians are keen on sour cream, but not as crazy for it as Estonians.)It's a meat-and-carb kind of place, since you need to mop up all that sauce with something. A side order of veg doesn't go astray either!

Gulyásleves (anglicised to goulash) presents another false friend: in Hungary it relates to beef soup (leves is Hungarian for soup), whereas we think of it as a stew (such as that served at Koliba). What we term goulash is closer to the pörkölt above. This soup was a little light on meat, but what meat it had was delicious. Conversely, it was quite strong on mint, which was a surprise.

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