Hungry for Hungary

Bringing the Hungarian cuisine to the fore, Chef Shaleen Gambhir, executive sous chef, Radisson Blu MBD Hotel, Noida, talks about the challenges of preparing this cuisine for the Indian clientele and its potential in the market By Archana Sharma

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Bringing the Hungarian cuisine to the fore, Chef Shaleen Gambhir, executive sous chef, Radisson Blu MBD Hotel, Noida, talks about the challenges of preparing this cuisine for the Indian clientele and its potential in the market By Archana Sharma

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Chef Shaleen Gambhir

A he evolution of the Indian palate over the years has brought many international cuisines to the forefront in this country – Japanese, French, Italian, among others. While these cuisines have established themselves and have found a loyal customer base, many othnewer and lesser known cuisines are also seen making their way into the Indian gastronomic scene. One such cuisine is the Hungary cuisine. Though the knowledge about this cuisine is presently restricted to only a few select dishes, it is expected to gain popularity in due course, mainly due to the variety of dishes, and differences and similarities between Indian and Hungarian preparations. According to Chef Shaleen Gambhir, executive sous chef, Radisson Blu MBD Hotel, Noida, “With everybody trying Italian, French or American dishes, it is important to understand the other lesser known and not so popular cuisines that are available in the country, as well as the ones which are gradually entering the India market.” He believes that there are very few Hungarian dishes which areknown and that too only by a select clientele in India.

Hungarian cuisine is rich in flavours and colours, reflecting the regional variety of its culturally rich heritage, invoking the Magyar history as well as the influence borrowed from the adjoining regions. “Hungarian cuisine is ethnically rich, but also borrows influences from the Ottoman Empire, Austrian cuisine, as well as Slavic and Germanic cuisines,” states Chef Gambhir.

The recently held 10 day Hungarian Food Festival at S18, the 24/7 brasserie, at Radisson Blu MBD, Noida, showcased many traditional delicacies. Chef Gambhir opines, “Hungary is a country with a rich culinary tradition. It takes pride in its cuisine. The country’s cuisine is among the richest and finest in Europe. When we think of Hungarian cuisine, goulash and chicken paprika naturally springs to our mind.”

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The menu at the food festival included the famous ‘Gulyas’ soup in original Hungarian style; ‘Palacsinta’, slightly thicker than its French counterpart and lesser prone to tear containing  richer fillings; ‘Porkolt’, cooked outside over fire in a bograces, a traditional heavy Hungarian metal pot; ‘Rakott Krumpli’, a layered potato casserole with sausage, eggs and bacon; ‘Töltött Káposzta’; ‘Paprikás Csirke’; ‘Töltött Paprika’; and ‘Dobostorta’, a Hungarian original sponge cake layered with chocolate paste and glazed with caramel and nuts  and popular as a dessert.

Trial and error

Maintaining the authenticity of the dishes is essential, however, to accustom the Indian palate certain ingredients have to replaced, due to their unavailability or difference in quality. Chef Gambhir believes that Hungarians are especially passionate about their meat stews, casseroles, steaks, roasted pork, beef, poultry, lamb and game; and the mixing of different varieties of meats is a traditional feature of Hungarian cuisine. Goulash, stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, and Fatányéros (Hungarian mixed grill on a wooden platter), are dishes that combine beef and pork and sometimes mutton. “However, most of the red meat isn’t available in India and the rest cannot match the quality of the foreign ingredients and since the Indian palate is more inclined towards chicken and fish, therefore chicken has been used in most of the preparations,” he adds.

According to Chef Gambhir, the main challenge however was creating or substituting the ingredients as per the Indian palate as it is not just about the unavailability but also the difference in quality of meat and vegetables. “The Indian raw material is different from foreign ingredients and therefore the dishes were tweaked slightly to enhance the flavour to suit the Indian palate. Even the milk used in the sweet dish preparations was different,” he points out.

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Also, Hungarian food is often quite spicy due to the common use of hot paprika. Though the sweet or mild paprika is also used sometimes. Additionally, the combination of paprika, lard and yellow onions is typical of Hungarian cuisine. In addition to the various kinds of paprika and onions (raw, sweated, seared, browned or caramelised), other common flavour components include – bay leaf, black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, cinnamon, dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon juice and peel, marjoram, mustard (prepared), oregano, parsley, vinegar and vanilla. “The authentic Hungarian spices aren’t available in India and therefore the intensity of spices was also different and had to be used accordingly to retain the authentic flavours without compromising on the quality of the dish,” informs Chef Gambhir adding, “Another major difference is the presence of cold fruit soups that are an essential part of the Hungarian cuisine, however, due to the differences in the Indian palate, the cold soups were shifted to the desserts section at the food festival.”

Talking about the clientele, Chef Gambhir believes that in a location like Noida the demand was induced but for the cuisine to be accepted they amalgamated the buffet with Indian cuisine while trying out the ‘mix n match’ technique. Also since Hungary isn’t well known  as a tourist destination in India, Gambhir feels that the awareness about Hungarian cuisine has to be increased by organising more food festivals and trying out innovative techniques for various Hungarian preparations.

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