Budapest market

You can’t go hungry in Hungary. Cook your own goulash and get well fed.

While staying home since Covid 19, it seems that cooking has become a terrific hobby for men, women and children. Here’s my story about a cooking school in Budapest, one of many classes I’ve taken during the decades around the world.

Hungary, as a country, goes back thousands of years with invasions by Romans, Eastern Goths, Longobards, Slavs to name only a few who have dominated or settled in this central small European country. And during the various occupations in more recent times, this small country produced some of the most important composers, invented Vitamin C, the ball point pen, the helicopter and even Rubik’s cube.

Budapest cooking

By 1989 Hungarians awakened from the dreary Communist regime and quickly headed into the present, Budapest residents didn’t waste a moment to celebrate the grandeur of the old and unattended architecture notably the Hungarian Art Deco buildings which they quickly renewed. Then there were needy palaces, some becoming 5 star luxury hotels. Even the public transport system, the easy to navigate Metro with the red, yellow and blue lines, was expanded. Never far from where ever you walk there’s always a coffee house, outdoor café or restaurant. And when discussing Hungarian food, is there anyone who doesn’t come up with goulash as the signature dish?

Market halls have existed in European cities since the 1800s. For example Les Halles in Paris, London’s Covent Garden and Berlin, Lyons, Florence and Barcelona to name other major centres also flaunted their produce at similar venues.

In the later 1800s, Hungarian architect Samu Petz was commissioned to design a structure in the city, aptly named “Queen of the Danube” which would showcase food. Since the taste de jour was the then fashionable French architect Gustave Eiffel and his metallic style, The Great Market Hall’s design included heavy wrought iron a la Eiffel Tower and a light- giving glass roof. The Central Market Hall was opened in 1896. By 1994 after years of the Communist regime which followed World War II, reconstruction was badly needed and this covered market was modernized to the splendor of the 1800s. This stately building isn’t lost on the locals or visitors becoming one of the top tourist attraction in Pest, (Buda is on the other side of the River Danube). This market place is for Olympian foodies.

Hungary  cooking class

The main floor with its rows of stalls stretching 150 metres offers just about every fresh fruit and vegetable, spices, herbs and meats that attracts locals especially on Saturday. Ropes of garlic, rows of sausages, ham and salamis hang from the stall tops making wonderful decoration as well as delicious offerings. And of course, various selections of paprika from mild to strong are colourfully wrapped and vary in size and price.
It’s still quite usual to see housewives and working women thinking about purchases for the evening meal as they line up at their favourite vendor’s stall.
The basement floor is smaller but is the Mecca for fresh fish. It’s a bit off putting to see them crushed together in aquariums but this floor is most important for Hungarian cuisine. It’s here that anything that can be pickled is available.

However that wasn’t the purpose of my visit here. On the 2nd floor among the hand embroidered clothing, table linens, arts and crafts, sweaters and leather goods is Fakanal Restaurant (The Wooden Spoon). I would be spending a blissful gastronomical 2 hours learning how to make the most respected and renowned Hungarian meal–goulash soup and cheese filled crepes.
Anyone who is a true epicurean maven will be familiar with the world famous restaurant Gundel located in the centre of Pest. (I may also add it’s the most expensive in this already pricey city.) And standing wrapped in a crisp white apron, waiting for me was the now retired Gundel chef, Andrew (Andros) Olgvai who has put his retiree hours to good use. He holds cooking classes and demonstrations in the spacious eatery. A moveable table had been prepared – a groaning board laden with all the ingredients I would need for the cooking experience. There’s a tray holding small bowls of cinnamon, cumin, salt, pepper, sugar and of course, paprika. Bricked and huge, is a huge stove that isn’t but looks like the old log burning appliance.

cooking chef

Around my waist, Andrew carefully wraps an apron and we quickly start the lesson. Happily, his English is perfect. Goulash, he tells me, means cowboy when translated into English. Perhaps this is the reason that so many male visitors come to get their hands on the fresh vegetables and the grub? This ingredient-filled soup is perfect for any hardworking person.

There isn’t a moment lost as he hands me a sharp knife to ‘finely chop’ onions. I worry about my mascara running which Andros finds amusing. After sautee-ing for a few minutes until transparent, the meat, pork shoulder in this case (could be beef or veal), is added.
“The old cookery doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all about fusion now,” Andros tells me without a hint of negativism. “Goulash can be compared with Irish stew.”
Ingredients include sun flower oil, garlic, tomatoes, celery and celery root, parsnips, cumin, salt, paprika, peppers, potatoes and carrots. The pot is big and necessary as we continue to add water during the cooking process. Surprisingly, no flour is used. For the perfect taste and time for the ingredients to mix and become tender, Andros suggests simmering the soup for about 1 ½ – 2 hours.

me and chef

With everything in the pot, the table is cleared and new ingredients are set out, this for the preparation of the dessert, Palacsinta. Pancakes or crepes, the translation, he says is up to me. Either version means thin and flipped in a cast iron small pan. I’ve had a bit or practice so that when it comes to the flipping segment, I impress Andros. Powdered sugar which we would call icing sugar and regular sugar is used, a pinch of salt, and eggs are the ingredients which we begin with. Hungarian cottage cheese is slightly different than ours, tastier in my opinion. It’s added into the mixture along with raisins and grated lemon rind. “Don’t go to the white of the lemon peel. That’s too sour,” he warns me. Some sour cream is the final step and the mixture is ready to be scooped onto the crepes. Andros takes a heaping tablespoons of the cottage cheese mixture and adds to one side of the crepe then repeats for the other side with a space between allowing him to fold and stand the finished dessert. The presentation is perfect as was my two hours of culinary joy. And then it was lunch time and I got to eat my lesson, the perfect meal, if I have to say so myself.

Course is under $30 for the two wonderful hours with Andros Olgvai and his great teaching abilities.
Central Market Hall
H-1093 Budapest Vamhaz krt 1-3
Bookings for the cooking class is through Bridge Tours and ask when Andros is available. There are other demonstrators..
Telephon 36 1 342 9315

For more information contact