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Through the lean postwar years the Hungarian kitchen lost none of its spice and sparkle. Meats, rich sauces, and creamy desserts predominate, but the more health-conscious will also find salads, even out of season. Strict vegetarians should note: even meatless dishes are usually cooked with lard (zsír).
In addition to the ubiquitous chunky beef gulyás (goulash) and paprikás csirke (chicken paprika) served with galuska (little pinched dumplings), traditional Hungarian classics include fiery halászlé (fish soup), scarlet with hot paprika; fogas (pike perch) from Lake Balaton; and goose liver, duck, and veal specialties.
In almost all restaurants, an inexpensive prix-fixe lunch called a menü is available; it includes soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert. One caveat: touristy restaurants sometimes pad bills. Also note that most restaurants have a fine-print policy of charging for each slice of bread consumed from the bread basket.
Hungarians eat early—you risk offhand service and cold food after 9 pm. Lunch, the main meal for many, is served from noon to 2. At most moderately priced and inexpensive restaurants, casual but neat dress is acceptable.
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