Want to cook a few common Hungarian food choices for Christmas dinner this year? Try the well-known ‘Moon Cake’ otherwise known as ‘Mond Kuchen’ in Hungarian.
Whether you are Hungarian or not, holidays around the world center a great deal on eating and if you are in Hungary as an expat you will want to know and be included in all that local Christmas food, in fact, you may want to learn how to make it yourself if you like to cook. First learning what the Hungarians do at Christmastime as it relates to food is the place to start. The kitchen table is a place where all those meals come to fruition and are shared with friends and family.
Christmas Dinner in Hungary
Hungarians have been known, long ago, to decorate their tables with straw underneath to remind themselves of the manger in Bethlehem, these days Hungarians are a little more with the times and decorate their tables much like everyone else, with linens and candles. Christmas dinner is a momentous occasion much like in the States but the food choices that are cooked are different. In Hungary, Christmas dinner tends to be an array of fried fish, mostly carp, whose scales are thought to bring money and wealth to its digesters. The Hungarians call this fish soup, ‘halászlé’ and it is well-loved. Stuffed cabbage is also a popular dish with minced pork and rice placed inside and then the cabbage rolls are boiled in tomato sauce. Rice and potatoes are most often served as side dishes along with cucumber salad with yogurt dressing.
For dessert a few popular sweets are generally made in Hungary, the ‘beigli’ is a pastry roll made with walnuts and poppy seeds. Other home baked goods made are ‘strudels’ with walnuts, poppy seeds and raisins and ‘kipfels’ with assorted fillings of prune, apricot, nut and cheese. It is quite common at Hungarian Christmas festivities to find ginger-bread baking as a pastime for Hungarians. They make figurines to decorate the house or tree as well as to eat. ‘Szaloncukor’ otherwise known as ‘parlor candy’ is more like candy canes in that many Hungarians remember eating these at Christmas time as they are often used to decorate the trees.
Another long ago tradition in regards to Christmas food in Hungary was that the leftovers from Christmas Eve were kept for 13 days and then spread over their fields in the hopes of a good harvest for the following year. In some areas of Hungary the food was even burned and the ash was used as a remedy for sickness in small children and animals. Something called Moon cakes or ‘Mond Kuchen’ is made around Christmas time and most Hungarian families have their own version of it. They are recipes that have been handed down from generations and these cakes predate even Christian practices as the poppy was dedicated to the Moon goddess for the seeds in relation to Opium and its sedative effects. The seeds are still called ‘moon seeds’ in German today. Along with Hungarians, expats can wash it all down at many a festival with hot spiced wine or sip it on a snowy night at the thermal Széchenyi baths. It is made with red wine and is seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, citrus and sugar and sometimes with a shot of rum, mulled wine, amaretto or elderberry. Christmas time is only another reason to fall in love with Hungary, so why not try out a few of these recipes on your own! Good Luck!