You are unlikely to go hungry in Hungary. Cafés and restaurants (étterem or vendéglő) proliferate and portions are usually large. Eating out is generally affordable: choose well and you can eat till you can eat no more, plus enjoy a few beers, for under 2000Ft. Soups and small dishes – such as hortobágyi palacsinta (pancakes stuffed with mince and doused in creamy paprika sauce) – cost from as little as 600Ft, and mains tend to start around 1200Ft (or 1800Ft in higher-end eateries).
For foreigners, the archetypal Hungarian dish is goulash (gulyásleves) – a stew including meat and potatoes, brilliantly coloured with paprika and traditionally served in a cauldron (bogrács). Hungarians are fond of frying meat in breadcrumbs and stuffing it with other types of meat and cheese. The Mangalica pig, a hairy boar with a curly sheep-like fleece, is a particular (if fatty) delicacy. Choices for vegetarians in Hungarian restaurants tend to be limited to the salads or starters sections of menus – for example, fried cheese, mushrooms or cauliflower (rántott sajt/gomba/karfiol).
Hungarians like a protein-heavy breakfast (reggeli) featuring cheese, eggs and salami, plus bread and jam. Coffeehouses (kávéház) are increasingly trendy and you’ll find many serving breakfast and coffee with milk (tejeskávé) or whipped cream (tejszínhabbal). Most Hungarians take their coffee short and strong (eszpresszó).
Traditionally, lunch is the main meal of the day, and lunch set menus (napi menű) can be a highly affordable way of eating out. You won’t want for snacks, particularly sweet ones: the old-fashioned cukrászda or patisserie with tempting displays of elaborate cakes is a staple of every town centre. Marzipan is a national favourite, as is ice cream (fagylalt). Pancakes (palacsinta, from around 150Ft) are very popular, as are strudels (rétes; about 350Ft). On the streets you can buy corn-on-the-cob (kukorica) in summer and roasted chestnuts (gesztenya) in winter.
Hungary’s mild climate and diversity of soils are ideal for wine (bor), which is cheap whether you buy it by the bottle (üveg) or the glass (pohár). Hungary’s best-known wine-producing region is the Tokaj-Hegyalja, known predominantly for dessert wine. Bikavér, produced around Eger and meaning “Bull’s Blood”, is a robust red. Good whites can be found around the Badacsony in the Balaton region.
Wine bars (borozó) are common, but the best way to taste is at source at the wine cellars (borpince) around Pécs and Eger. Harder drinkers favour brandy (pálinka), with popular flavours being distilled from apricots (barack) and plums (szilva). Local beers (sör) to try are Soproni Ászok and Pécsi Szalon sör.