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Guide to Hungary's signature dishes

By Mary Novakovich, for CNN
updated 12:26 AM EST, Fri November 22, 2013
Is it a soup? Is it a stew? Hungary's national dish is a cross between the two. It's hard to find a restaurant that doesn't serve it -- from the humblest café to the grandest establishments. Is it a soup? Is it a stew? Hungary's national dish is a cross between the two. It's hard to find a restaurant that doesn't serve it -- from the humblest café to the grandest establishments.
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Goulash
Langos
Paprika chicken
Hortobagyi meat pancakes
Goose liver pâté
Cold sour cherry soup
Tihanyi pike perch
Stuffed cabbage leaves
Kurtoskalacs (chimney cake)
Dobos cake
Eszterhazy torte
Somloi sponge cake
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Goulash, Hungary's national dish, is pronounced "gooyash"
  • Paprika chicken shows off the sweet red pepper, a staple in Hungarian cooking
  • Dobos is seven layers of sponge cake, sandwiched with chocolate buttercream, topped with a thin layer of caramel

(CNN) -- Dieting in Hungary is not recommended.

The country's cuisine is a rich blend of Europe, Middle-eastern and Asian food. The French lend their influence with goose liver pate, while the seven-layer Dobos cake can rival Austria's famed Sachertorte for sickly sweet extravagance.

Food here is abundant and affordable -- a nightmare for weight-watchers, a dream for true foodies.

Goulash

Goulash -- is it a soup? Is it a stew?

Hungary's national dish (pronounced "gooyash," by the way) is a cross between the two, a steaming bowl of slow-cooked beef, carrots, onions and loads of Hungary's trademark paprika to give it a good kick.

It's hard to find a restaurant that doesn't serve it -- from the humblest café to the grandest establishments.

Where to try it: In the sleek, modern surroundings of Budapest Bisztro (Vecsey utca 3, +36 1 783 0788).

Langos

The Hungarians' favorite street food certainly hits the spot on a chilly morning when you're desperate for a quick bite before lunch.

It's simple: a deep-fried flatbread topped with sour cream and grated cheese -- sometimes with a bit of garlic just to annoy the person next to you.

Where to try it: The Danube town of Szentendre has some of the best langos in the country. There's tiny alleyway leading to St Janos church in the main square, where a sign helpfully saying "langos" should point you in the direction of a nameless stall halfway up the alley.

Paprika chicken

Made to make your mouth water.
Made to make your mouth water.

Those sweet red peppers that are such a staple of Hungarian cooking really shine in this popular stew also known as chicken paprikash.

Powdered paprika goes into the dish too, along with onions, garlic, tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream.

Served with egg dumplings called nokedli (like the Austrian spätzle), it's comfort food that's hard to beat.

Where to try it: If you're in the Buda Castle district of Budapest, try Alabardos Restaurant (Orszaghaz utca 2, +36 1 356 0851).

Hortobagyi meat pancakes

Hungarians adore their palacsinta -- pancakes that are more like French crêpes than the thicker American ones you douse with maple syrup.

This savory version is just as decadent: a rich stew of minced veal or chicken tucked inside the pancakes and smothered with a sour cream and paprika sauce.

Where to try it: While relaxing under the stone arched ceiling of Pierrot (Fortuna utca 14, Budapest, +36 1 375 6971), housed in a 13th-century former bakery.

Goose liver pâté

It's not just the French who like goose liver; the Hungarians are right behind them in their love for this buttery delicacy.

Where to try it: They wrap it in bacon and lightly grill it at Aranysarkany Vendeglo restaurant in Szentendre (Alkotmany utca 1; +36 26 301 479). Or you can have it as a starter at one of Budapest's landmark restaurants, Gundel (Gundel Karoly Way 4, +36 1 468 4040), in the lush surroundings of the city park.

Cold sour cherry soup

More refreshing than it looks -- promise.
More refreshing than it looks -- promise.

While a lot of Hungarian dishes are perfect for cold days, chilled sour cherry soup is just the thing for warm summer evenings. Fresh sour cherries combine with sour cream and sugar in this refreshing classic.

Where to try it: Leves (Vamhaz korut 14, Budapest, +36 30 241 7760), for the takeout version.

Tihanyi pike perch

Lake Balaton is Hungary's playground, where everyone flocks to laze in thermal springs and feast on the lake's plump pike perch.

You can have this succulent fish roasted, grilled or prepared Tihanyi style: made into a terrine with cream, white wine, spinach and dill.

Where to try it: Gorgeous views of the lake come with delicious plates of fish at Ferenc Pince Csarda (Cserhegy 9, Tihany, +36 76 448 575) from its prime position on the Tihany peninsula.

Stuffed cabbage leaves

You won't go far in Central and Eastern Europe without coming across cabbage rolls, and Hungary is no exception. Here they're called toltott kaposzta: pork mince stuffed into cabbage leaves with -- you guessed it -- lots of paprika.

It's best with sour cream on top, in true Hungarian style, along with sauerkraut and chunks of smoked pork.

Where to try it: After browsing the stalls in Budapest's Central Market, you can grab a plate of hearty stuffed cabbage upstairs in Fakanal Etterem (Vamhaz korut 1-3, +36 1 217 7860).

Kurtoskalacs (chimney cake)

Best before ... you help yourself to another.
Best before ... you help yourself to another.

"Chimney cake" is made by wrapping pastry around a cylinder to bake over the last of the embers in an open fire. The pastry is also often coated in lots of sugar so the lovely sticky caramel coating can hold on to the extra flavors dusted on top -- anything from cinnamon to cocoa to chopped walnuts.

Where to try it: It's best slightly warm with ice cream and coffee in Molnar's Kurtoskalacs café (Vaci utca 31) in Budapest.

Dobos cake

Seven layers -- yes, seven -- of moist sponge cake sandwiched with chocolate buttercream. Then, before things get too gooey, there's a thin layer of caramel on top to give it a lovely crunch.

We have 19th-century Hungarian confectioner Jozsef Dobos to thank for this heavenly creation which has become a staple in Hungarian coffeehouses.

Where to try it: The sumptuous interior of Budapest's Central Kavehaz (Karolyi Mihaly utca 9, +36 1 266 2110) is a suitably grand setting for such a glorious cake.

Eszterhazy torte

A cake fit for a prince -- Prince Eszterhazy, to be precise.

The Hungarian royal's name lives on in one of Europe's most famous cakes: Five layers of almond meringue and buttercream with elegant swirls on top.

Where to try it: Just around the corner from Budapest's ornate Parliament is Szalai (Balassi Balint utca 4, +36 1 269 3210), a delightfully old-fashioned cake shop where you can indulge in one of these royal treats.

Somloi sponge cake

Not one but three types of sponge cake -- vanilla, chocolate and walnut -- go into this luscious dessert.

But it doesn't stop there: Fresh whipped cream, chocolate sauce and pungent rum bring the three cakes together to form an exquisite dessert.

Where to try it: For sheer opulence, this rich dish is best devoured in the fantastic interior of the New York Café (Erzsebet korut 9-11, +36 1 886 6111) in the Boscolo Budapest hotel.

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