While advent begins at the end of November or the beginning of December, in Hungary Christmas really begins for children on the 6th December, this is because it is (Mikulás-nap) St.Nicholas day, the day when Santa visits Children throughout Hungary.
In preparation for this Advent and Christmas period, a number of popular treats are prepared in vast quantities, available everywhere from cukrászdák (confectionaries), and at the stalls at the Advent Christmas fairs located in bigger cities such as Budapest and Debrecen.
#1 The Beigli
In what can only be described as a sweet tradition, the Beigli is consumed in vast quantities in the build-up to Christmas. The rolled cylinders of dough are more widely known as Christmas Roll or Poppy Seed roll or Walnut Rolls. They are named accordingly, with either poppy seed or a walnut filling and then baked. These sweet treats last for long periods and are mass-produced by Grandma’s across the country. It is a happily unavoidable treat and a sensation that is inseparable from the Christmas experience and memory here.
#2 The Zserbó
Despite the inventor of Zserbó being a Frenchman living in Hungary, Hungarians adopted the sweet treat and the inventor as their own. Surprisingly, outside of Hungary, Zserbó is relatively unknown, you might call it Hungary’s best kept sweet secret. It’s rise to fame is inextricably linked to the fame of Budapest’s most famous restaurant “Gerbeaud” since the inventor was Gerbeaud which is where its name originates, – Gerbeaud’s cake (Zserbó Szelet). Just like the Beigli, Zserbó is widely available in the lead up to Christmas. The recipe consists of layers of alternating Walnuts and Apricot Jam (both Walnuts and Apricots are widely grown in Hungary). A truly delectable treat.
#3 Fish Soup
Hungarian Fish Soup is popular in the lead up to Christmas and a tradition, on Christmas eve when halászlé (Fisherman’s soup) is served at dinner as a starter. There are many different recipes of fish soup but the two main ones that most other variations arose from are defined by location and the fish availability in the local rivers. Originally the fish used was Carp but catfish and bass are also used these days. The main rivers are the Danube (Duna) and the Tisza. Bajai fish soup arose from the town Bajai, located on the Danube and Szegedi fish soup, yes you guessed it, arose from the city of Szegedi, located in the Tisza river area. Be warned, Hungarian fish soup is spicy, with oodles of paprika, warming on cold winter days.
#4 Stuffed Cabbage
The pre-Christmas Butchering of a fattened pig is a tradition in Hungary and the pork, a staple food of the Hungarian diet. Stuffed Cabbage is one recipe that depends on minced pork which is mixed with diced onion and garlic, but the most important part of the preparation is how the sour cabbage is prepared, and last but not least, Paprika. Yes, that’s right it’s spicy and served with sour cream, perfect on a cold winters day.
During Christmas one tradition on Christmas eve is to adorn the Christmas tree with Szaloncukor, alongside the other Christmas tree decorations. The colorful foil-wrapped Szaoncukor is chocolate or fondant filled with marzipan or some other equally tasty filling. Szaloncukor is available everywhere, sold by street vendors throughout Hungary.
#6 Turkey (the best for last)
In Gastronomic terms, Christmas eve is about Fish soup, and abstaining from other meats in order to build-up to the splendour of Christmas day’s gastronomic extravaganza.
Christmas Day brings the traditional Turkey dinner, usually served with a chestnut stuffing. Other meats are often available such as Duck and spicy pork sausage.
Hungary is also famous for its wines and so no Christmas dinner should go without excellent Hungarian wines.