Some years ago Hungarians were asked to name their favourite dishes. To no surprise, the chicken soup of Újház won the title of Hungary's favourite meal – followed by bean gulyás, fish soup and stuffed cabbage. Nothing unexpected in the dessert-category either: Magyars voted for madártej (a milky vanilla dessert with egg white), dobod cake, somlói galuska (sponge cake, chocolate sauce and whipped cream) and pancakes. Luckily, Hungarian cuisine today is more than a hearty bowl of pörkölt (meat stew)!
As Hungarians are very attached to their traditions, the magic term of contemporary Hungarian cuisine is ‘rethinking old flavours'. More and more restaurants and gastro professionals work on pushing the boundaries, thinking outside the box while still retaining that Hungarian core – and quite successfully, we have to say. While a couple of years ago only Austrian Gault & Millau restaurant guide devoted some appreciative words to a handful of Hungarian restos, today Budapest is proud to have two high-class restaurants honoured with a Michelin star: Costes and Onyx.
But what do these enthusiastic Hungarian chefs and masters seeking to lay the groundwork of contemporary Hungarian cuisine do exactly? Well, they deliver traditional flavours in a much lighter and more experimental form. The ingredients are mostly the same, it's the techniques that change, providing healthier, fresher, and often more interesting dishes.
Stars, scores, chef hats, Bib Gourmand classification and Bocouse D'Ore, the world's most renowned chef competition with a Hungarian finalist – a lot is going on these days. But which are the best of the best, the places that you should not miss on your culinary journey? Let us take a look at Gault & Millau's ranking for the year 2012. Well, we're proud to say that Costes has received an exceptionally high ranking - as if a Michelin star was not enough. Costes is now officially playing with the big guys. The champ is followed by Babel Delicate Restaurant, Fausto's and Onyx (holding a Michelin star as well) on the list.
An inseparable part of Hungarian cuisine is the drink. Small pálinka manufactures and artisan wineries have mushroomed everywhere in the country over the last few decades and are now playing in the top league on an international level as well. Moreover, they are not only offered in a glass by your dish – the often become an integral part of the meal itself. The apple pálinka-soup of Agárd, and the trotters cooked in white wine by Magony Cellar is just two of the delicious examples. Wine for flavouring is a tradition and taken to the next level by the chefs of today.
The sweet-toothed readers can look forward to experimental tastes and shapes as well, we're happy to say. For a truly unique experience, head to László Mihályi's Dessert Salon located in the lovely pedestrian area of Vác. Mr. Mihályi surely has some things to be proud of ashe came second at the 2008 Open de Desserts de France competition, and was the very first Hungarian ever to enter the renowned World Championship of Confectioners in Lyon. The tarts and ice creams of his shop are not conventional but rather traditional Hungarian sweets poured into revolutionary new forms.. We've wetted your appetite, haven't we?