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What is Left of Little Hungary?


I’ve been drooling over the pictures of the Hungarian food blog Chili & Vanilia for months, so when I discovered the story about what Hungarian goulash is and what it is not there (in English, no less), I re-remembered p?rk?lt and naturally had to try the recipe over the weekend. I’m all about edible souvenirs, so I was eager to use up the Hungarian paprika I had hoarded on a visit to Budapest. Fearing that my paprika might be a bit stale, I threw in a tiny dried chili which gave the sauce subtle fire.

I also sourced the Internet for instructions for Hungarian noodles (galuska). Lacking the appropriate tool, a galuskaszaggató (very similar to a sp?tzle maker, a kitchen tool I’ve always wanted), I had to resort to making a firmer regular pasta dough that I cut by hand.

P?rk?lt – Hungarian Beef Stew

(quoting, with slight modifications, Chili&Vanilia)

4 servings

1 kg beef for stews, cubed
2 big onions, finely chopped
4-5 tbsp canola oil
3-4 tbsp Hungarian paprika powder
1 green pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
(1 peperoncino)

Heat oil in a saucepan. Add the finely chopped onions and cook until translucent. Now comes an important secret step: remove the saucepan from the heat and now add the paprika “? this is very important as if you would do this step still on the heat, the paprika could burn from the sudden heat and get bitter. Put it back, add beef cubes and stir so that the spicy onion mix covers the meat evenly. Cover with about 100-150 ml of water so that the liquid doesn”?t completely cover the meat. Add the sliced green pepper, salt, black pepper (and peperoncino, if using). Simmer covered on very low heat for about 1-1.5 hours. After 1 hour, check, add a litle more water if necessary, so the stew doesn”?t burn. Depending on the thickness of the sauce, cook for 10-15 minutes uncovered so that all the liquid reduces and all what you get is a spicy, thick sauce which covers the meat. It tastes even better reheated.

The resulting slow-cooked stew had a soothing transgenerational vibe, my mother and grandmother would feel very comfortable making and eating it (minus the chili) and I will definitely make it again. The secret step really circumvented burned paprika – I definitely remember the bitter taste from previous not-so-successful experiments. BTW, in the off-beat horror movie Kontroll, filmed entirely in the timelessly elegant metro system of Budapest (this film has some coolest architectural shots of any movie in recent memory), one of the main characters recites a related recipe for pig feet that quotes the same secret step. So perhaps it’s not so secret after all ;)

These Kaurismaki-like characters from the film Kontroll also know the secret step of not burning paprika.

My everyday life is totally entrenched on the West Side of Manhattan, mainly in Morningside Heights, West Harlem, and Washington Heights – areas pretty firmly off the tourist map. Inspired by the sunny weather, I decided to break the mold and walk across Harlem and El Barrio to Upper East Side, in search of an appropriate dessert in the former Central European enclave of Yorkville. Unfortunately, I found that 86th Street was completely taken over by chain stores from Middle America. The likes of GAP, Banana Republic, and Barnes & Noble almost completely obscured what apparently used to be Little Germany. Some vestiges remained: I crossed over to Second Avenue and stopped by at the Schaller & Weber delicatessen (established in 1937) where German-speaking Hausfraus shopped for Pumpernickel and goose liverwurst; I did, too, and also noticed that the deli had a fairly impressive selection of Nordic products, including half a dozen varieties of pickled herring and Swedish L?kerol pastilles. In the next block, I finally spotted a Hungarian bakery. It looked brand new, definitely not a relic from the pre-War era. Inside, the cakes looked delicious and rich, but I couldn’t spot Dobostorta, my favorite. Some of the pastries were shrinkwrapped, too – never a good sign.

I gave up on Hungary and settled for the next best thing, one of the well-hidden gems in the neighborhood, a tiny German bookstore at Neue Galerie on 86th St and Fifth Avenue that has exquisite books I’d never notice anywhere else. The museum itself is very small, yet it features superb Austrian and German art from the early 20th century (Klimt, Schiele, Grosz, and Dix among others). It also the home of the lovely Caf? Sabarsky, very Viennese in atmosphere and appropriate for browsing the bookstore finds, although I doubt I’ll ever venture there again because I got a violent food poisoning from their Weisswurst last winter.

On the way back home, on a bus slowly inching forward along the northern edge of Central Park, I realized I would not have needed to leave my neighborhood after all. From the M4 bus window, I registered The Hungarian Pastry Shop on 110th and Amsterdam: the ever-popular hangout of procrastinating students, the backdrop to a scene in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, and certainly the home of Dobostorta.


P?rk?lti – liharuoka jota me ei-unkarilaiset kutsumme gulassiksi

(resepti lainattu Chili&Vanilialta)


1 kg pitk??n haudutukseen sopivaa kuutioitua naudanlihaa, esim naudan lapaa
2 isoa sipulia hienona silppuna
4-5 rkl ruoka?ljy?
3-4 rkl unkarilaista paprikajauhetta
1 vihre? paprika
1 tl suolaa
1 tl vastajauhettua mustapippuria
(1 pikkuinen kuivattu chilipippuri)

Kuumenna ?ljy isossa paistinkasarissa. Kuullota hienoksi hakattu sipuli. Ota kasari pois tulelta, h?mmenn? paprikajauhe sipuliin (t?m? vaihe on oleellinen, se est?? paprikaa palamasta kitker?ksi karstaksi). Laita takaisin l?mm?lle, sekoita joukkoon lihapalat siten ett? ne peittyv?t kauttaaltaan sipuli-paprikaseokseen. Lis?? 1-1,5 dl vett? – veden ei tarvitse peitt?? lihaa kokonaan. Lis?? my?s vihre? paprika, suola ja pippuri (ja chilipippuri). Hauduta matalalla l?mm?ll? 1-1,5 tuntia, lis?? vett? tarvittaessa jos n?ytt?? silt? ett? muhennos on kuivumassa kattilan pohjaan. Mik?li lihan ollessa pehme?? muhennos on kovin vetist?, kiehuta 10-15 min kovemmalla tulella siten ett? liika neste haihtuu pois. Tarjoa tuorepastan kanssa – unkarilaisten perinteen? on tehd? t?m?n kanssa pehme?st? pastataikinasta galuska-nuudeleita. Muhennos paranee viel? maultaan seisottuaan y?n yli.

17 Responses to “What is Left of Little Hungary?”  

  1. zsofi

    Oh, Anna dear, what a great surprise to see this post and that you treated yourself with a Hungarian meal! And that you’re even mentioning Kontroll, which is one of the best Hungarian movies of the last few years indeed, I’m so impressed..I’m glad you liked the recipe, I think I’m going to adjust that goulash post with a proper galuska recipe. Oh yes, the Hungarian Pastry shop..when I lived in New York, I lived at the Upper West Side (90th) and I also sometimes went there. Or to Mocca on the east side..Thank you for this post! Take care, Zsofi

  2. Anna

    Zsofi, I’ve rarely eaten anywhere as consistently well as in Budapest. Hoping to return soon… Your blog is so beautiful I should actually learn some Hungarian to get the full benefit ;) From afar, I always confuse your language with mine because the cadence is so similar. In the meantime, if you post a recipe for galuska in English, I’ll learn to make them – deal?

    Sadly, I think Mocca is no more – I think I heard it passed away last year.

  3. Ivonne


    You should give tours of New York … I loved the food trip through the city.

    This post reminds of a book I’ve been meaning to buy called, “The Lost Art of Baking with Yeast: Delicious Hungarian Cakes and Pastries” by Baba Schwartz.

    Even though we’re in Canada and our background is Italian, I was lucky to have a father who made sure that our food horizons were as broad as possible.

    I remember trying beautiful Hungarian food as a little girl. It’s been awhile as most of the places are either gone or in parts of the city that I never make time for (sadly).

    But you’ve reawakened that desire. Thanks, Anna. And thanks for the tip about Chili&Vanilla. I will check that out.

    By the way, there is a book by a Canadian writer, published in February 2006, called “Paprika: A Spicy Memoir From Hungary” by Joanne Sasvari. You may be interested!

  4. Anna

    thanks for the wonderful book suggestions. I will definitely check them out, the Paprika book in particular. (If you happened to see it in a bookstore in Toronto, please let me know where – I’ll be there later this week and although I’m officially over quota with cookbooks I can always justify a souvenir.)

    A few years ago I had a Croatian-American neighbor. We did some Christmas baking together and I realized that the delicacies she learnt from her mom the very same Austro-Hungarian treats I learned to love when I spent some time in Austria as a student. Actually, a very dear friend from Vienna gave me the wonderful Die Gute Küche by Plachutta and Wagner, *the* Austrian cookbook, as a wedding present. It’s wonderful… IMHO, the most delicious cakes and pastries and in all Europe hail from Austria, Hungary, and Germany.

  5. t3v

    Anna, you don’t really need a “galuskaszaggató” for making those noodles. After making the original soft(!) dough, put part of it on a cutting board, arrange it in a long, thin stripe, and in one movement cut down the end of the stripe and push the little piece into the boiling water with the blunt edge of a knife. Cut and push, cut and push again. (I hope you get the idea.) It needs some practising to get it right and do it fast enough. You can try with more stripes….

    This is the traditional way these “dumplings” are done. Hungarian chefs do it like that (and so does my granny)!

  6. Eszter

    Hei Anna, hauskaa lukea unkarilaisista ruoista, filmeist? ym. taikinapojan luona! Ja onnittelut galuskaszaggatón oikeinkirjoituksesta. And I join t3v in remembering various old relations and non-related ladies from my childhood who made galuska on a simple wooden board at the speed of light. Kev?tterveisin, Eszter

  7. Eszter

    Anna, where did you eat so “consistently well” in Budapest? If you remember some places I would be very much interested to know which restaurants you liked here in Budapest. Yours would be an expert opinion and also a good lead-on for foreign guests looking for a place to eat.

  8. Antti

    Eszter: I also had wonderful meals in Budapest during the two week-long business trips I made there two years ago. I wish I’d remember the names (I have to go trough my old recipes) – but I especially remember the delicious goose legs on the (main?) restaurant street near the big market hall. There also was a very nice bar, where you were offered peanuts, and you could throw the broken shell on the floor covered by straws (very fire-unfriendly!!!). Naturally the restaurant at Hotel Gellert was exquisite. I also went to this medieval restaurant, where the staff was dressed accordingly. Very nice indeed :)

  9. Noemi

    Hi Antti,

    this nice bar is called For Sale (Vamhaz korut is the name of the street), the other restaurant I don’t know.

    Anna, I find your blog really great:-)

  10. Antti

    Eszter & Noemi: I found the restaurant names from my old expense reports. You were right about the For Sale bar. Great beer, great food and nice live music.

    The one with the fabulous goose legs (Roasted Goose Leg with potatoes Bataszeki style and red cabbage, steamed in T?rley sparkling wine, Martonvasarhelyi style) was V?r?s Postakocsi on Ráday u. I ate there several times, as I was staying in a very nearby hotel on Kálvin t?r.

    The medieval place was Sir Lancelot.
    The restaurant at Hotel Gellert was superb, albeit twice as expensive as the orhers. Nonetheless, the service and food were first class, and dining al fresco on their terrace was very enjoyable.

  11. Anna

    Hi Eszter, I’ve been away from Finland for the better part of the last three years: during that time the restaurant scene in Helsinki has changed almost completely, and I can no longer recommend where to go and where not to go. So I’m sure Budapest has changed a lot, too. Maybe even my personal tastes have changed…

    I just remember very fondly the variety and vibrance of the restaurants of Raday utca around the turn of the millennium. (Andras T?r?k’s Guide to Budapest and the Finnish Sankarimatkaajan Budapest were great reads, although I can’t remember anymore whether they recommended any restaurants.) I’m sure I missed many bastions of haute cuisine in the city but I was just so pleasantly surprised by the friendliness, innovation and high level of service I found in a string of eateries along that street and nearby. I loved the cafe / bar Paris Texas for example. My next visit is long overdue – but when I do get around, I will definitely tell you which places currently appeal to me.

    Another matter is that I’m happiest when I stumble on places that are not packed with busloads of fellow travellers. I’ve grown to appreciate neon-lit street kitchens and anonymous little places. And, inevitably, the most memorable travel-related meals tend to take place when visiting friends abroad, whether enjoying the freshest seafood in a crumbling palazzo in Venice, a supper of ham and cheese prepared by the housemaid in a highrise in Rio de Janeiro, or a plateful of homemade m?mmi (yesterday in Toronto, among several generations of Finnish-Canadian immigrants gathered together for the Palm Sunday service).

    t3v and Eszter: thanks for the galuska tips – I agree that an afternoon with someone’s grandma would be the right way to learn… or maybe a video clip…

  12. Anna

    V?r?s Postakocsi sounds really familiar… I dimly remember a superb waiter who suggested truly stunning Hungarian wines. Really, I should visit Budapest again ASAP – and when I do I’ll ask you all where to go ;)

  13. Noemi


    should you come, just ask where to get a galuskaszaggató:-) (I don’t like the grandma-style, it’s too hard for me…)

  14. Anna

    Thanks for giving me the green light ;) I love kitchen gadgets far too much to pass up the opportunity to get a new one…

  15. Eszter

    Hei Anna ja Antti and thanks for going into such details on the Budapest restaurant scene. My experience is that visitors often know better and given your gastronomic inclinations, it was very interesting how you reflect on our eateries. My, what a challenge it would be to recommend places to you. But I’d happily oblige if and when you happen to come to this part of the world.

  16. Anna

    For the Magyarophiles on this site, I noticed this morning leafing through the weekend papers that a reporter from NY Times explored whatever remains of Little Hungary in New York. No, he didn’t find much either. He relates: “Mocca closed in 2004, facing rising rents. But, displaying American pragmatism, it merged with a diner a few doors down, and the unlikely alloy is called Frankie’s and Mocca. You can have goulash, while the table next to yours is having a tuna melt. [There is a] Mexican chef who has been cooking Hungarian for 20 years. The nockerl was as good as I remembered, and the palacsintas only slightly less so.”

    Yorkville Meat Emporium (2nd Ave at 81st St) apparently sells potato bread and stuffed cabbage, but sadly most of the former patrons have passed away. And if you are interested in finding the Hungarian versions of Playboy and Cosmo, go to Blue Danube Gifts on East 83rd Street ;)

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