Despite having visited quite a number of countries and having sampled their cuisines, it’s the first time I’ve eaten authentic Hungarian food. I didn’t have to book plane tickets and jet set to Central Europe to get to it, the place that serves real Hungarian fare can be found, more or less, 20 minutes from where I reside: along the thriving commercial center that is Paseo de Magallanes.
Magyar is a product of a Hungarian’s love for the Philippines after having stayed in the country for over a year. He wanted to share his own culture, particularly the food he grew up with, to the Filipino people. So, he culled recipes enjoyed by his family for generations and developed a menu that will showcase authentic Hungarian fare and, at the same time, still cater to the evolving Filipino taste.
When I heard of this thriving, new restaurant called Magyar located in Paseo de Magallanes, visions of Hungarian sausages on huge platters came to mind. Only to find out, after chitchatting with the lovely manager, Vanessa Qua, that Hungarian food is actually not just about those stuffed meaty links at all. In fact, the star in a Hungarian’s kitchen is the spice paprika, which is Hungarian for pepper. That being said, you’re right to assume that Magyar food is spicy. Nevertheless, not all items in the menu are infused with chili and you can always specify your tolerance level for heat when the waiter takes your order.
If you’re a newbie to Hungarian cuisine, fret not. The restaurant has handmade journals created by their wait staff, who are each dressed in a traditional Hungarian dress. The scrapbooks feature interesting trivia about Hungary, colorful illustrations, photos and interesting information about the food and lifestyle of the Magyars—an ethnic group in Hungary. From these, you can already see how an odd-sounding dish looks like, and from there, ascertain if you want to be adventurous or settle for the familiar. Of course, since you’re already in unfamiliar territory, might as well explore the various indulgences this place has to offer.
Try, for starters, the Langos (P110) (Hungarian word for flame), which is fried potato bread with cheese, sour cream and garlic butter. The bread is delightful—not oily, with a crisp and dryness that’s just right for an afternoon snack. The cheese and sour cream do not overpower, but complement each other instead. Langos is good to pair with the refreshing House Iced Tea (P65), which Magyar brews everyday.
Hungarians are very passionate about their soups and one of their famous kinds—considered the country’s national dish--is called Goulash. This dish is a stew usually made of beef, onions, vegetables, spices and ground paprika powder, cooked in a pot over a fire. I was able to try the Szekely Goulash (P285), a combination of pork and sauerkraut stewed in a pot and served over a candle to retain its temperature.
Some people eat this on its own, savoring the sweet-sour blend of the sauerkraut whilst chewing the tender chunks of pork. I prefer dipping my bread into it, though. And if you’re the kind who doesn’t shy away from carbs, Magyar has several types of bread, which they bake themselves. Get the Bread Basket (P90) if you want to sample their entire bread selection. The basket contains two soft rolls, one cumin roll, a slice each of old country-style bread and chili-cheese bread and a serving of butter.
I prefer the Old Country-style Bread (P60 for a loaf) with the Szekely Goulash because it just soaks up every bit of goodness in the stew. The bread is the perfect companion for soups and stews, offering a delicate balance to these very flavorful dishes.
Hungarian cuisine has influenced the history of the Magyar people. The importance of livestock and the nomadic lifestyle of these people become apparent in the prominence of meat in their dishes. That being said, carnivores will love it in Magyar. The Lamb Paprika (P325) is a current bestseller and it’s absolutely a must-try. I am not always a fan of lamb because I don’t like its gamey taste but I became a convert after eating the Lamb Paprika. Turns out, all these years, I was eating lamb that was not treated or cooked properly. Good lamb should not taste gamey, at all.
Lamb Paprika with Lecso and Spaetzle
This meat dish can be eaten with a serving of Spaetzle (P30)—also called Hungarian dumplings—a type of egg noodle that has a soft texture; and Lecso (P140), the Hungarian’s answer to the ratatouille featuring a mix of bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini and onions stewed in tomato and paprika.
No Hungarian restaurant is complete without the Gundel Palacsinta (P189), also usually referred to as Hungarian crepes or pancakes. This dessert is made from a century-old recipe of crepes filled with ground walnuts and oranges, and then drizzled with chocolate sauce. The taste is quite reminiscent of apple pie mixed with fruit cake and the folds of crepe are slightly thinner than a pancake—not flimsy at all.
It is noteworthy that all of Magyar’s desserts are homemade, which means they are always prepared with the same level of quality and style. Try, for example, the beautifully-crafted Dobos Torte (P115/slice), a cake named after its inventor—the well-known Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos. It comprises of layers of chocolate butter cream and sponge cake with a crunchy caramel top. The sides of the cake are coated with crushed almonds. It is believed to be the favorite of the former leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empires.
Dobos Torte (P1035/whole)
My favorite is the Apple Strudel (P185), which are cinnamon apples and raisins wrapped in homemade, traditional filo pastry, served with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’ve always been a sucker for hot and cold fusions in my dessert and this pastry offers that satisfaction. The warm fruit filling is not too sweet and the filo pastry tastes freshly-baked. The chopped almonds scattered on the plate punctuates the dessert perfectly.
Magyar also serves European beer!
I guess no place is too far and no cuisine too alien to a person fueled by adventure and passion. Just like the Hungarian who fell in love with the Philippines, it’s not difficult to imagine that more Filipinos will be drawn to get out of their comfort zone and give an entirely new cuisine a try. Magyar made a bold step in becoming Manila’s first and only Hungarian restaurant, so far. It’s about time our palates do the same.