Paprika is considered as the national spice of Hungary, and therefore it’s one of the most common item for sale in the Budapest Market Halls. It is a powder made from dried, deep red paprika pods of various kinds of Capsicum annuum peppers.
Since the plant arrived in Hungary in the 16-17th centuries, Paprika became the symbol of Hungary’s cuisine and is an essential component of the everyday dishes like Porkolt (stew), Goulash, Chicken Paprikás, and Halászlé (fisherman’s soup).
If you fancy tasting the real Hungarian Goulash soup, we recommend to book a Guided Market Hall Tour, where your dream can come true!
The color of the spice varies from mild to bright red and even brownish color, depending on the type of pepper.
Due to the climate, and geographical conditions Hungarian paprika has a bright color and unique rich flavor that allowed Hungary to become one of the leading producers in the world.
Kalocsa and Szeged are the capitals of Paprika production in Hungary. These south regions have the highest amount of sunny hours a year, and the plants need lots of sunshine to get ripe and sweet. Ripe peppers are harvested in September.
The surrounding towns and villages are organizing Paprika Festivals and Fairs to celebrate the Harvesting period, with music, dance and delicious paprika meals.
The Paprika harvesting villages are adorned with fresh, threaded paprika strings, hung from porches and gates.
Kalocsai and Szegedi Paprika are listed Hungaricums. (Hungaricums are special items from Hungary, that characterize the Hungarians by their uniqueness and high quality).
Types of Paprika
The grades of Hungarian paprika are édesnemes (it’s the most popular paprika type, with the brightest color, made only from the finest yield and often hand cleaned), csemege (delicate and mild), csípős csemege (more pungent), csípősmentes csemege (delicate and mild), félédes (semi-sweet with medium pungency), rózsa (mildly pungent and grounded, pale red), különleges (“special quality”; mild and finely grounded and vibrant red colored), and erős (hottest and light brown to orange)
“There is something about paprika itself that makes it synonymous with ‘Hungarian.’ ‘Fiery,’ ‘spicy,’ ‘temperamental’—all these adjectives suggest both paprika and the national character,” writes George Lang in The Cuisine of Hungary.
Piros Arany- Hungarian Mild or Hot Pepper paste
Hungarians love paprika, it fits almost every traditional meal. A true classic of the Hungarian kitchen is Piros Arany (Red Gold) which is a mild or hot paprika paste with vibrant crimson color. It is ready to eat with sandwiches or cold plates but it gives a nice paprika taste to cooked meals too.
Piros Arany is a popular product on the domestic market since 1963.
Édes Anna – Hungarian Crushed Mild Pepper
The second most popular paprika paste on the Hungarian Market after Red Gold. It is sold in small jars and can be added to any paprikash style meals or sandwiches.
Erős Pista is hot the pair of Édes Anna, it is also crushed paprika paste but the main ingredient is hot paprika. It is used in spicy Goulash or Fisherman’s soup but it fits to almost every hot dish.
Meals with Paprika
The four pillars of Hungarian spicy meals are the famous gulyas, and porkolt, the stewy paprikas and tokany.
Paprikás csirke (pronounced paprikash cheerke) or Chicken Paprikash is a classic meal around the country.
In Hungary, this dish is usually eaten with Galuska (spaetzle, Hungarian mini dumplings), and a Cucumber Salad or Pickles, but it tastes good with pasta or rice too.
It is very simple to make, you will need only a few ingredients: chicken drumsticks and thighs, onions, flour – all-purpose, goose fat or cooking oil, sour cream, salt, pepper and of course paprika. You can also add some tomatoes and peppers if you like.
Using the basic Paprikash Method can be applied to any other meat, fish or mushrooms.
Paprika Catfish (Harcsapaprikas)
Heat the lard (or oil) in the pot, add the 1 or 2 chopped onions, and stir them until the onions are glossy (Use 2 small onions for 500 g of meat and 3 or 4pcs for 1000 gr of meat).
Remove the pot from the heat and add the grounded paprika (so the paprika doesn’t burn and become bitter). You can add some chopped tomatoes too (1 or 1 pcs).
Place the chicken pieces in the pot and add salt, pepper and a bit of water.
Cover the pot, and cook for about 30-45 minutes in medium/ low heat. If the Paprikas is too juicy, remove the lid.
When the meat is cooked mix the sour cream and flour in a bowl (you can add some cream too).
Remove the chicken pieces and add the sour cream mixture to the paprika sauce and stir until smooth. Cook for 5 minutes, until the flour is cooked too. Put the meat back to the sauce and garnish with sour cream
Fisherman’s soup or ‘Halászlé’ is a paprika-based river fish soup, with paprika (often hot).
The soup was originally prepared by fishermen along the rivers, using fresh caught fish, most often carp, pike, catfish, and perch, (ideally, a mix of all four, give the soup more flavor).
It tastes the best prepared in ‘Bogracs’ (kettle above open fire) as it has a bit smoky taste as well. Fisherman’s soup is a traditional Christmas Eve dinner but also eaten in the summer or in any fishing season. There are ‘Halászlé’ Festivals around the country in the summer months.
Following the Hungarian proverb “as many houses, as many customs”, this meal exists in many versions.
In the Danube region, in Baja and the surrounding areas Fisherman’s soup is served with handmade noodles and never mashed onions and fish pieces, but in the Tisza region and in Szeged the soup is served with fresh bread and some of the fish pieces and onions are mashed in the soup to give a rich texture.
The meal was originally prepared by the herdmans in Puszta in hanging cauldrons, over open fires. The herdsman called Gulyas prepared this one-plate meal from onion, paprika, vegetables and fresh meat.
The shepherds used to live apart from the communities, cooked for themselves using only one cooking utensil, a metal hanging cauldron.
Until the 1790s probably only the beef was typical, as they mainly held Grey Cattles on the pastures. Hungarian Grey cattle is an ancient breed of Hungary. Hungarian Grey cattle are robust and long-lived. Their long horns are directed upward and curved (ideal for making horn bugles and drinking horns).
Goulash soup can be made from beef, veal, lamb or pork.
Typical cuts include well-exercised muscles rich in collagen (shank, shin or shoulder), so the goulash derives its thickness from tough meat cooked slow. The collagen is converted to gelatin during the cooking process.
To make Goulash soup use the Paprikash Method (sauté the onion in the oil until glossy, remove from the heat and add the paprika. Stir and add the meat with and water). Basically, it is the same recipe as Porkolt, but with more water.
You can add spices like pepper, bay leaves, majoram or thyme.
Diced potatoes may be added, when the meat is cooked. The potato will make the goulash thicker and smoother. Goulash is often served with homemade noodles (Galushka or ‘Csipetke’). Galushka is a bit softer, while ‘Csipetke” is pinched by hand.
Types of Goulash in Hungary:
Bográcsgulyás: the meat is cooked with beans in open fire
Lowland (Alfoldi) Goulash: enriched with parsnips, carrots and kohlrabi
Szegedi Goulash: made with vegetables and egg noodles (Csipetke)
Kolozsvári Goulash: made with sweet cabbage
Serbian Goulash: made with savoy cabbage, flavored with marjoram
Csángo Goulash: cooked with sauerkraut.
Bean Goulash: enriched with beans and with smoked meat
Pörkölt – Stew
The Paprikash method was already common in the 17th century. Porkolt became from herdmans meal to one of Hungary’s national dishes. Paprikas meals are still popular in weddings and weekend lunches. There is no Sunday without Porkolt– said a speech from Csongrad shire.
Porkolt is similar to Gulyas, but it is thicker like a stew as the meat is cooked with less water.
It is common to enrich the stew with peppers and tomatoes.
Porkolt is usually served with Nokedli (Hungarian mini dumplings), noodles or rice.
To make the porkolt, sauté the onion in the oil until golden. Remove from the heat and add the paprika (removing from the heat ensures the colour and flavour is released without burning). Stir for a minute then add the meat. Make sure that the meat is covered with the onion-paprika mixture. Now we can add the water. Simmer until slightly reduced. Add the salt, garlic and paprika paste and stir well. Simmer until the meat is tender.
The most popular Porkolts in Hungary:
Beef shin porkolt
Chicken gizzard porkolt
Pork trotters porkolt
The tradition of making sausage at home still exists in Hungary. In the winter months, the families are coming together to slaughter pigs and fill up the larders with sausage, liverwurst, pork scratchings, bacon, salamis and pork fat. Making sausages are a living folk tradition in Hungary, many families has their own recipe from the elderly generations.
The grounded and seasoned meat is filled into intestine or artificial sausage casings.
There are thousands of different Sausage (Kolbasz in Hungarian) varieties in Hungary.
One ingredient is common in all Hungarian sausages, it is the Paprika. No true Hungarian salami or sausage exists without authentic, Hungarian red, grounded paprika.
When buying Hungarian sausage, try to avoid “industrial” versions, look for the homemade or traditional ones. You can find sausages mostly of pork meat and fat, but there are special ones for example grey cattle, deer, or even horse and donkey sausages.
Fresh Sausage for Baking (Sütő kolbász, Sütnivaló kolbász)
This is a fresh sausage and needs to be baked in a frying pan or in an oven.
It is soft and juicy, once it is baked it tastes nice with potatoes or bread, mustard and pickles. It is a beloved street-food style meal in markets or public happenings.
It is usually baked with Hurka, boiled sausages that come in two main types “májas” (liver sausage), and “véres” (blood sausage). The main ingredient is liver and rice, or blood and rice. Spices, pepper and salt are added.
Fresh Sausage for Boiling (Főző kolbász, Főznivaló kolbász).
This type of sausage is also sold fresh and needs to be cooked. It is usually eaten with bread and mustard. This type of sausage is the least common type in Hungary. It is often cheap and contains big pieces of meat.
Dried and/ or Smoked Sausage (száraz kolbász, füstölt kolbász)
It is the most popular sausage in Hungary and around the world.
Is is similar to Chorizo and can be eaten right away or as a snack or a sandwich. It gives a nice smoky taste to the cooked meals like potato and cooked egg casserole (Rakott Krumpli).
The 2 most common smoked sausage brands are Gyulai and Csabai and both are Hungaricums.
Gyulai sausage is slow cooked and wood smoked. It is made from fine pork, ‘szalonna’ (Hungarian bacon), garlic, Hungarian red paprika, garlic and spices. At the World Exhibition of Food in Brussels 1935, the Gyulai kolbász was awarded a gold diploma.
Csabai sausage is made in the town of Csaba.
This sausage has Protected Geographical Status (PGI) protection, so only the sausages from the Csaba region. It is spicier than Gyulai sausage and contains no pepper.
Hungarian salamis are also rich in spices and of course, paprika.
Salami is made with the same process like sausage but it is a thicker.
Winter salami (Pick Salami) is a traditional cold smoked salami made in Szeged. It is spiced according to a secret recipe and covered with noble mould which appears during drying and maturation.
Mould fungi need a chilly temperature and a suitable humidity to settle down. Therefore, the factories were established at riversides, such as the original Pick Salami factory at the Tisza river.