With her sparkling spirit and extensive knowledge in global gastronomy, Magyar foodie Zsófia Mautner is one of Hungary’s leading culinary stars. She is the hostess of a top-rated TV cooking show, the founder and writer of the popular “Chili & Vanilia” blog, and the author of several cookbooks – and now Zsófia added to her prolific menu of works with the recent release of an English-language cookbook that showcases the diverse history of Hungarian cuisine while highlighting its modern-day developments, all illustrated with gorgeous photography.
Providing a comprehensive overview of the past and present in Hungarian gastronomy with a lighthearted writing style and dozens of recipes, Budapest Bites is a perfect introduction to this region’s rich culinary culture, purposefully crafted so that almost anyone can use it to make classic Magyar staples like goulash and paprika chicken, but also including instructions for cooking some of the nation’s new-wave specialties. As Hungary’s gastro scene is becoming increasingly worldly with the ongoing introduction of 21st-century influences, Zsófia is proud to point out that old-fashioned Hungarian recipes already represent an intricate tapestry of international roots, including French, Turkish, Jewish, Gypsy, and other cultural tastes.
“There are really so many influences, and it’s my goal to show the rich cultural heritage of Hungarian cooking,” Zsófia tells We Love Budapest, and while Budapest Bites includes many traditional recipes dating back centuries, she often suggests spicing them up with exotic ingredients like Indian curry, Turkish bulgur, and North African harissa. “The recipes represent a lot of diversity. … I believe that if you can put Hungarian cooking into an international perspective, it makes the dishes more appealing.”
Zsófia’s worldly viewpoint is the result of an unconventional career path – although her family has a long heritage of cooking that was passed on to her since childhood, she was initially employed by the Hungarian government in international diplomacy, studying and working in Cologne, New York, and Brussels. Throughout her years of living abroad, Zsófia befriended countless colleagues and associates from many countries, often welcoming them for dinner parties – and as her own culinary boundaries expanded dramatically as a result of the newfound knowledge shared by her global companions, Zsófia longed to spread her discoveries and recipes with Magyar friends back in Hungary, so she launched the “Chili & Vanilia” blog in 2005.
As Hungary’s first dedicated gastronomy blog, “Chili & Vanilia” became a big hit, inspiring Zsófia to give up her diplomacy work and begin writing a food column for Magyar Narancs magazine, before accepting a staff position with Budapest’s influential Dining Guide media outlet. Soon afterwards she published her first cookbook, and as her renown grew along with Hungary’s recent culinary revolution, Zsófia landed her own TV cooking show three years ago. However, despite this speedy success, Zsófia remains a remarkably down-to-earth person who is eager to share her foodie fascination with the general public; she emphasizes that Budapest Bites is specifically aimed for home cooking, not for gourmet-restaurant kitchens.
“I’m just a professional woman who loves to cook, and people appreciate my credibility, because they see that they can cook the same dishes,” she says, noting that when people from different backgrounds prepare meals together, they often find common ground. “I really love that food is such a great tool. I see the world through food, I connect through food. If you are cooking with someone and eating with someone, you can break barriers so quickly.”
This is one of the reasons why Budapest Bites clearly points out the diverse influences behind Hungarian cuisine – along with the most well-known Magyar classics, the book includes recipes for Jewish matzo-ball soup and multilayered flódni cake, Turkish-inspired stuffed peppers, and spicy lecsó stew common in Gypsy cuisine. Partly in homage to that latter influence, many of the stunningly beautiful food photos that illustrate the recipes are set before colorful textiles provided by Erika Varga of Romani Design, along with other amazing images of the stained-glass windows and decorative ceramics that adorn many monumental Budapest buildings.
Budapest Bites is available at Libri bookstores across Budapest, or through the Libri webshop.