I once traveled to Hungary. I don’t remember it, though.
It would be a little frightening if I did, as I was a fetus at the time.
All I know from that trip are the stories my parents tell: unintelligible locals, intriguing mélanges of baroque architecture and Soviet-era concrete fortresses, and a market in Budapest where you could buy anything from live goats to rocket launchers.
And one more thing: Hungarian food is one of the world’s finest cuisines.
That embryonic memory made me look back 18 years later and decide that I might like to learn how to make some.
Anyone who’s had Bulgarian food, Austrian food, Czech food or the cuisine of any other Eastern European country knows that they are largely similar—similar ingredients, similar techniques and only minor regional differences.
But Hungarian food is different. It is the nonconformist of Eastern Europe.
Yes, unlike nearly every dish in nearly every cuisine in Eastern Europe, Hungarian food is known for its spiciness.
And oddly enough, the richness and smokiness of Hungarian food stem from a mere bell pepper.
They do not strive for the raw chili heat of our jalapeños and habañeros, but instead seek a more nuanced, deeper flavor.
Most people know goulash, the thin meat-and-vegetable stew that is an Eastern European classic.
But in my opinion, the finest flavor of Hungary is not in the goulash, but in the porkolt.
This thick stew of pork, onions, peppers and a heavy dose of spice is what Hungarian food is all about.
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. pork shoulder in 1 in. cubes
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 fresh bell pepper, seeded and chopped
½ 14 oz. can peeled tomatoes
Season the pork with salt and pepper.
Cook the onions in the oil in a heavy saucepan until translucent. Remove the onions and throw in the seasoned pork.
Cook in small batches until well browned on all sides. Add the caraway and paprika, and add back the onions and all of the pork. Cook for a minute.
Add enough chicken stock to cover the pork, and simmer 30 minutes before adding the peppers and tomatoes.
Simmer for an hour until the pork is tender. Season to taste.