Hungarian cuisine is mostly continental Central European, with some elements from Eastern Europe such as the use of poppy, and the popularity of kefir and quark (cottage cheese). Paprika, a quintessential spice and pepper is often associated with Hungary and is used prominently in a handful of dishes. Typical Hungarian food is heavy on dairy, cheese and meats, similar to that of neighboring West Slavic cuisines (Czech, Polish and Slovak). Chicken, pork and beef are very common, while turkey, duck, lamb, fish and game meats are also eaten but not as frequently (mostly on occasions and/or special events). Hungary is also famous for the high quality and relatively inexpensive salamis and sausages it produces primarily from pork, but also poultry, beef, etc.
Bread is perhaps the most important and basic part of the Hungarian diet. It is eaten at all meals and often as a side to a main dish. Before the fall of communism in 1990, white bread was a staple food, and Hungarians were very proud of the delicious bread widely available. After the change to capitalism, the quality of bread decreased as bakers tried to save on costs. Nevertheless, there was a backlash and many specialty bakers arose who strive to provide the high quality white bread available back then, as well as many new varieties. Not only bread, but numerous types of baked goods, such as buns and pastries both salty and sweet, often creatively filled, have proliferated in recent years. These can be found in the numerous bakeries all over Hungary. To mention one, the pogácsa is a real Hungarian classic, and the Fornetti franchise has been hugely successful with their line of pogácsas and other pastries.
Hungarians view main dishes as one of two types: either requiring a side dish (köret) or not requiring one. For the ones that require it, it would be very unusual to eat it without the side dish. Vice versa, if a side dish is not required it would be very unusual to order one. The side dish is most commonly potato prepared in different styles, but rice or steamed vegetables are also popular. Some foods have a customary side dish (i.e. csirkepaprikás (paprika chicken) is almost always eaten with noodles (nokedli), while others are completely flexible (i.e. rántott sajt (fried cheese) can take any kind). Some Hungarian dishes also have toppings or bread on the side considered almost mandatory, for example the sour cream and bread with töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage).
In recent years, chefs have made Hungarian food into a creative art form, adding new ingredients and preparation styles that never existed in the past. As a result, Hungarian dishes prepared for tourists may seem quite unusual to Hungarians who have always eaten those foods in a traditional, less showy way.
Goulash, the quintessential "Hungarian" dish, is actually not eaten very frequently, it's a traditional food. Other famous Hungarian meat stews include paprikás, a thicker stew with meat simmered in thick, creamy, paprika-flavored gravy, and pörkölt, a flavorful Hungarian stew with boneless meat (usually beef or pork), onion, and sweet paprika powder, both served with nokedli or galuska (small dumplings). In old-fashioned dishes, fruits such as plums and apricots are cooked with meat or in piquant sauces/stuffings for game, roasts and other cuts. Various kinds of noodles, dumplings, potatoes, and rice are commonly served as a side dish. Hungarian dry sausages (kolbász) and winter salami are also an integral part of Hungarian cuisine.