The fairy lights, joyful music, and festive atmosphere of Budapest’s Christmas Fairs are always enchanting, but while admiring the wealth of merry merchandise, mouthwatering aromas of mulled wine, roasted meats, and cinnamon are enough to turn our heads towards the gastro terrace. Almost every Christmas market features freshly made treats and authentic Magyar meals, from taste-bud tantalizing sweets through hearty stews to more daring dishes. We collected the Christmas fairs’ 10 must-have traditional Magyar delights that make you fall in love at first bite.
Chimney Cake (kürtőskalács)
This iconic traditional pastry is always the superstar of Hungarian Yuletide fairs, where they are always available in extra-special flavors in addition to traditional tastes. Watching vendors make these delicacies is already a special experience, as the raw dough is wrapped around a spit, held above an open fire, and then rolled in all kinds of sweet sprinkles, such as sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, walnut, and almond; however, even the first bite can cause an addiction, as these mouthwatering Magyar delicacies are not overwhelmingly sweet, and cannot be compared to any other treats.
Goulash soup in a bread bowl (gulyásleves)
Goulash soup is the national dish of the Magyars, and a must-try for everyone visiting Hungary. At Budapest’s bustling Advent and Christmas Fair, this succulent stew of beef cubes, vegetables, and plenty of paprika is served steaming in a round-shaped loaf of bread that the soup softens on the inside, but leaves crunchy on the outside, bringing this culinary experience to perfection. While strolling around the several stands at the Christmas Fair that all offer wonderful wintry merchandise, the best way to warm up is to devour this hearty, filling, and flavorful soup that will definitely make you chow down on the “bowl”, too.
Hungarian grilled sausages and “hurka” specialties (hurka, kolbász)
Savory Hungarian sausages are world-famous, and the best time to try them is during the festive season, when the freshly-made selection is bountiful. These succulent links come in a wide variety of meat types and flavors; hurka is normally boiled and flavored with liver (májas hurka) or with blood (véres hurka), while sausage is often smoked and seasoned to be spicy or mild. At Budapest’s Christmas markets, the scent and sight of Hungarian sausages and hurka entice everyone to surrender to the temptation and try a bite by itself, garnished with potato, in complicatedly crafted dishes, or even in a special hun-dog that is made of crispy Hungarian baguette, mixed pickles from Vecsés, and roasted sausage. If you fall in love at first bite, you can also pick one of several strings of links hanging at the stands to take home.
Mulled wine (forralt bor)
The characteristic aroma of mulled wine always fills the air during the festive season, and when the cold kicks in, nothing beats a cupful of this tasty tipple that warms up both our body and hands. The ingredients of a perfect concoction vary for everyone; however, the classic concoction is made of red wine, usually contains some kind of citrus fruit – often orange – and other spices, such as cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, or even cardamom, and some people even believe that apple and pepper help perfect this mildly potent potable. While it is always lovely to hold some mulled wine in our hand while strolling from stand to stand at a market, this delicious drink can also easily be made at home.
Roasted chestnut (sült gesztenye)
Friendly vendors roasting and selling chestnuts on the street are indispensable elements of a merry market scene in Budapest. Chestnuts are harvested in September and October, and kept in the refrigerator for a while in order to make them just perfect for the wintertime, when they are roasted on a covered coal fire on the street, and sold in small paper bags as handheld treats. They’re perfect accessories for a walk hand-in-hand, as they are soft, fleshy, creamy, and sweet; they go perfectly well with warm mulled wine, and they make all Christmas markets just perfect.
Rooster-testicle stew (kakastöke pörkölt)
If you’re brave enough to go beyond the ordinary Magyar meals, many Christmas markets of Budapest provide traditional Hungarian rooster-testicle stew. This might sound slightly strange, but as Magyars just love a hearty paprika broth, the possible fillings to enhance it with are almost endless. While making this dish, the rooster’s family jewels are mixed in a juicy stew of onions, tomatoes, pepper, dill, and cottage cheese in a cauldron, and once they are soft, the stew is served hot as a main dish, sometimes garnished with tasty Hungarian dumplings. While some people just giggle about the name of this tasteful treat, Hungarians often devour it for a meal, and it almost always makes an appearance at special events and festivals. Adventurous eaters will definitely relish this dish.
Parlor candy (szaloncukor)
In Hungary, no Christmas tree is complete without szaloncukor, a traditional Christmas candy covered in chocolate and filled with marzipan, flavored jelly, chocolate, caramel, rum, coconut, walnut, strawberry, or various other sweet creams. It is wrapped in a shiny colorful foil tasseled at both ends, and then hung on Hungarian Christmas trees in a way that the wrapping matches the colors of other ornaments, but big piles of it placed in a bowl are also found basically everywhere we wander during the holidays in Hungary. Most Hungarians have fond memories of Christmases past, sneaking the candy out of its wrapping, which then hangs loosely on the tree, looking like it’s still full of Christmas candy.
Spiral strudel (beigli)
Beigli might be the most traditional treat of the holiday season in Hungary, as making this sweet dessert can even be a festive family program that brings all generations together. This spiral-shaped roll contains sweet walnut or poppyseed filling, and is served in thin slices; however, be prepared that putting only one slice of each flavor on your plate is never enough! Beigli is also available in a whole roll that you can take home, as it is the perfect treat to cozy up and share with family and friends. As Hungarians tend to make more beigli than they can eat during Christmastime, it is often devoured even on New Year’s Eve.
Strudels fill a prominent place in the culinary culture of the country. A bite into a slice of flaky Hungarian strudel is guaranteed to make you fall in love while already reaching for a second slice. This delicious dessert is popular throughout the entire year; however, it is mostly devoured during the holidays, due to its truly wintry tastes, such as apple-cinnamon, sweet cottage-cheese, and sour cherry.
Stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta)
One of the most popular dishes of Christmastime in Hungary, stuffed cabbage, is not a dish that can be quickly thrown together, as it needs several hours to cook, but meanwhile it fills the air with irresistible aromas. Hungarian stuffed cabbage is made of cabbage leaves that are wrapped around a variety of fillings, such as minced pork meat and (obviously) paprika – however, the recipe for a perfect wrap varies by region – before it is baked, simmered, or steamed in a covered casserole dish before being served warm and full of flavors with cold sour cream on top. At Budapest’s Christmas markets, this delicious Hungarian delicacy will definitely paint a saucy smile on your cheeks.