Christmas cooking is an important part of our celebration. In the old villages kichen table was always the center of the houses, which was covered and decorated only for holidays. The Christmas table-cloth had a magic meaning of power: health and abundance. People put straw under the table remembering to the manger in Betlehem. Main dishes were: turkey and brioche with walnut and poppy-seed, which is called 'beigli.' Almost all Christmas food had magic meaning: poppy-seed and pear brought abundance, honey made life sweet, galic brought health, apple meant beauty and love.
Another common dish of today's Christmas-dinner is fried fish, which is a tradition mostly in towns. The scale of fish means money, wealth.
The leftover morsels from Christmas table were kept in the next 12 days,then were spread over the fields believing in good harvest in the next year. In some places they were burnt and the ash and smoke was used to cure sick children and animals.
Most of these traditions originate in the pre-Christian history, since Christmas is about the shortest day of the year, which was the end of the year for long. These traditions include superstitious predictions for future health, wealth, harvest and family life.
Ginger-bread has been an important part of Christmas baking usually made weeks before the holiday. Gingerbread figurines are used to decorate house or the tree.
On 24th of December, children go to their relative or to the movies, because little Jesus brings the tree and the presents that evening to their house. It is customary to hang edible things on the tree, like golden wrapped assorted chocolates and meringues beside the glass balls, candles (real or electrical), and sparklers.
Families usually cook festive dinner for that night. An example would be fresh fish usually with rice or potatoes and home made pastries as dessert. After dinner, the tree would be viewed by the children for the first time. It was very exciting. Christmas songs are sung and then the gifts under the tree are shared.
Older children attend the midnight mass with their parents. (During communism, children had to hide at the back of the church. Teachers could have lost their jobs for attending the mass. Later (in mid 1970's) most of the Communist Party leaders of the town attended it too.) Next day the children attack the edible part of the tree. Festive food is enjoyed on the second and third day too.
The best-known ingredient in Hungarian food is the red-powdered spice called paprika. It is used to flavor many dishes. Other staples of Hungarian cooking include onions, cabbage, potatoes, noodles, and caraway seeds. Both cream and sour cream are used heavily in Hungarian food. Dumplings (dough wrapped around different kinds of fillings) are very popular as are cabbages or green peppers stuffed with meat and rice. Another favorite is the pancake called a palacsinta. It is often rolled or wrapped around different kinds of fillings.
Hungarians eat a lot of meat, mostly pork or beef. Many meat dishes are dipped in bread and then baked or fried. Hungarians also prepare many different kinds of sausages. The Hungarian national dish is meat stew. People outside Hungary call it "goulash," but the Hungarians have several different names for it, including pörkölt and tokány . The dish they call goulash, or gulyás, is actually a soup made with meat and paprika. Paprika is also a key ingredient in another national dish; a fish soup called halászlé.
The Hungarians are known throughout the world for their elegant pastries and cakes. The flaky pastry dough called filo or phyllo was brought to Hungary by the Turks in the seventeenth century. Instead of the honey and nuts used in Turkish pastry, the Hungarians filled phyllo dough with their own ingredients to make a dessert known as strudel. Strudel fillings include apples, cherries, and poppy seeds. Hungary is known for its wines, especially the sweet wines of the Tokay region.
Hungarian fish soup, we call it "halászlé"
Roasted turkey stuffed with chestnut