Every country has material culture that is intrinsically lined up with who they are, what they are, and conveys something fundamental about the culture in question- something you can only experience there. What Americana is for the US, Hungarikum is for Hungary. This material vulture is not kitsch, is not the touristy definition of what it means to be Hungarian, but the real culture distilled into a food, an object, a picture, into something that is truly evocative of what it is to be Hungarian. Here is a list of 5 things not to miss on your trip to Budapest.
1) Kalocsai Paprika
Where and what kind of Paprika you buy is one of the most important topics in Hungary, and Hungarians, especially old folk can spend hours debating the finer merits of one or another kind. To be fair, there are many notable ones, but if you are interested in the high quality but affordable table Paprika that is available in most (discerning) kitchens in Hungary, that makes our food so uniquely what it is, get some Kalocsai. Kalocsa is a quiet southern town known only for its Paprika, and they do make the one that most Hungarians eat.
2) Csabai Kolbász
Each Eastern European nation has their own sausage, and they are all wildly different from each other. Always made from pigs, and always served in pig intestine, these sausages differ mostly in how they are prepared, what spices are used and what stories are behind them. Kolbász is the Hungarian version, made with paprika and spices. Csabai is a brand that is known all throughout the country, and its taste is a notable Hungarikum, unlike anything else, a part of the experience of dining in Hungary.
3) Acacia Honey
The acacia trees have recently been added to the Hungarian Wildlife Fund’s list of indigenous species, seeing as it’s been in the country for so long, and as several local sub-species now exist. Hungarians have always been really crazy about honey (swearing to its beneficial health properties and magical illness curing capabilities), and acacia honey is done best here. This unique flavour will tingle and remind you of Hungary, and is also the taste of childhood to most locals, as bread with butter and acacia honey is a typical childhood treat.
A hard alcohol developed by Herr Zwack to be a rival of the famous Unterberg, think of this spirit as basically a stronger, darker Jagermeister that has absolutely nothing sweet about it. The drink is sworn to prevent hangovers, cure upset stomachs and help you digest heavy greasy foods (of which we are well known for), and pretty much any sniffle or minor malady is enough for a Hungarian granddad to bust out the Unikum and have a shot with you, for solidarity.
5) Túró Rudi
Túró is a curious thing for foreigners- it is the consistency and make up of cottage cheese or quark, but it is sweet, eaten with sugar and raisins and used as a filling material for cakes and pastries. Túró Rudi is a chocolate covered stick of túró. While this may sound disgusting, foreigners usually comment on how good it is, and it is one of the things they miss the most when leaving, so give it a try.