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Facts About Hungary

What do you think of when someone mentions the country Hungary? Gypsies in colorful costumes singing love songs? Or composers like Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók, whose music is based on rhythmic tolk tunes? Perhaps you have read about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which played such an important role in European history during the 1800s and early 1900s. You probably think of Hungarian goulash, a savory soup seasoned with generous amounts of paprika.

All of these things are part of the heritage of Hungary, a small central European country with a long and dramatic history. Throughout Hungary's 1,100 years of existence, its people have endured many invasions by foreign powerS and have lived under many kinds of governments. In good times and in bad, music and food have been mportant parts of Hungarian life. The music of Hungary's composers can be heard in concert halls all over the world, and Hungarian dishes ike goulash, paprika chicken, and strudel are enjoyed by people everywhere.

Hungary is one of the few countries in Europe that is surrounded by land on all sides. With nearly 36,000 square miles, it is close in size to the state of Indiana. It is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine to the northeast, and Romania to the east. Serbia and Croatia lie south of Hungary, and Slovenia and Austria border Hungary on the west. More than half of the country is farmland. Hungary's most important crops are wheat and corn, and its warm sunny summers create ideal conditions for large harvests of fruits and vegetables.

Hungary is divided into four regions. The largest region is the Great Plain. This region lies east of the Danube River, which flows through the center of Hungary from north to south, and south of the Mátra Mountains, which rise in northern Hungary. This plain contains some of Europe s best farmland, and Hungary's long river, the Tisza, flows through this region. Transdanubia lies to the west of the Danube River This area of rolling hills and low mountains is home to Lake Balaton, Central Europe's largest lake, also known as the Hungarian Sea. Hungary s two smallest regions are located in the north. To the west north is the Little Plain, which is mostly flat farmland. The rugged, heavily forested Northern Highlands in the northeast is the country most mountainous region.

The capital city of Budapest is often called the Queen Danube because of the it lies on the banks of the famous Danube cities River. The cities of Buda and Pest united in 1873, blending their names to form Budapest. The part of the city that was once Buda lies on the Transdanubian side of the Danube and, like the rest of the region, is hilly. The area once called Pest is located on the Great Plain side of the river. This is where most of the inhabitants of Budapest live. One out of every five of Hungary' s ten million people lives in the capital city. The national language is Hungarian or, as the natives call it, Magyar a name that brings to mind the nomads who were the first Hungarians.

Hungarians have long been known for their love of music and their delight in flowers. And they are noted for their family loyalty and for their hospitality. n Hungary you may hear the phrase, Come as a guest, leave as a friend. Visitors are warnmly welcomed and Hungarians willingly go out of their way to help strangers.

In the A.D. 800s, a group of nomads called Magyars migrated from their home near the Ural Mountains westward Hungary. to present-day The Magyars settled in the grasslands along the Danube River where they found grazing land for their sheep and cattle. The Hungarian people trace their ancestry back to this group of nomads (traveling people) and still call themselves Magyars.

Hungary's tirst monarch, King Stephen I, A.D. or Istvan, ruled from 997 until 1038. He was a strong leader who converted Magyars the to Christianity and united them under ment. Much King a central govern of Stephen s work, however, weak kings who followed was undone by the him, making Hungary the Mongols who invaded an easy target for in the mid- 1200s. The Mongols when their left leader died.

The reign of King Matthias Corvinus, between 1458 and 1490, was a high point in Hungariarn history. King Matthias had a strong government backed by a powertul army He made Hungary an important Cultural center by sponsoring artists and scholars. This period also was an outstanding time in Hungarian culinary history. Traditional Hungarian ways of cooking were blended with western European techniques. Chefs were as important as wealthy landowners. In 1526 the Turks took over much of Hungary. Their harsh rule lasted until the end of the 1600s, when they were defeated by the Habsburgs of Austria. The Habsburgs ruled Hungary with a heavy hand until an uprising, lasting from 1703 until 1711, forced them to allow the Hungarians more self-rule.

The mid-1800s was a time ot revolution in many countries in Europe, and Hungary was no exception. ldealistic young people, led by the poet Sándor Petöti (1823-1849) started a revolt on March 15, 1848.The liberal politician, Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) became the first governor of Hungary. There was a fight for freedom, but the Habsburgs put down the revolt in 1849.

In 1867, after Austria had lost two wars, Hungary forced the weakened country to form the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary This arrangement made Austria and Hungary two equal countries with one ruler. Although this gave Hungary more control over its own aftairs, many Hungarians still wanted complete independence. The economy was booming but millions of impoverished Hungarians sought retuge in emigration.

In 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which led to the beginning of World War I (1914-1918). Shortly after Austria-Hungary's defeat at the end of the declared war, Hungary itself an independent republic. The country shrunk to its present-day size according to the terms of the peace treaty following World War I.

In World War II (1939-1945), Hungary became an ally of Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler promised to restore some of the terri tory that Hungary had lost in World War I. But Hitler soon turned on his Hungarian allies and controlled the country until the Germans were defeated in 1945. Whole Hungarian armies and 600,00D0 Hungarian Jews perished in the war, which left the country in ruins. Hungary becanme a Communist country soon after the end of the war. Under the Communist regime, the arts and other cultural traditions were limited along with many freedoms and civil liberties.

In 1956 there was another revolution in Hungary, crushed by Soviet tanks. It was followed by yet another wave of emigration; about 200,000 people left the country within a few weeks. The fall of the European Comnmunist gOvernments including Hungary s-has brought many changes. Hungary became an independent republic again in 1989. Hungary joined the NATO alliance in 1999 and is expected to become a member of the European Union.

The Food of Hungarian
The Magyars and the Turks are the two groups that have had the most lasting impact on Hungarian cooking. The Magyars, the ancestors of the Hungarian people, were nomads who favored food that would travel well without spoiling. One common Magyar dish was gulyas, a soup made with dried cubes of meat that had been cooked with onions. This "instant soup mix took up very little space and, when mixed with hot water, made a fast and filling meal. In modern times, gulyás, or goulash, is still a favorite Hungarian dish. Although the recipe has changed over the yearsit is no longer dried and can include anything from green peppers to tomatoes1t owes its beginnings to the Magyars simple soup.

Another Hungarian specialty that dates back to the Magyars is tarhonya, a pasta made of a flour and egg dough that has been crumbled into pea-sized balls and dried. Because it could be stored indefinitely, this pasta was very convenient for the migrating life of the nomads.

The Magyars also introduced bogrács. A a cooking utensil called a bogracs iS a copper or cast-iron kettle that is suspended from a sturdy stick over an open fire. Hungarians still use a bogrács cookouts on when making a dish such as goulash or fish stew. In many restaurants, these dishes are served in a mini-bogrács over a flame.

The most characteristic ingredient of Hungarian cooking is paprika, a spice made ot ground dried red peppers. Paprika is believed to have come from the Americas. It first appeared in Hungary in the 1500s during the Turkish occupation. At first, paprika was used only by the lower classes. It was eventually discovered by the nobility and became an essential part of Hungarian cuisine by the middle of the 1800s. In 1937 Hungarian professor Albert Szent-Gyorgyi won the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine when he discovered that paprika is the world's richest source of vitamin C.

Paprika can be quite hot, and many people have come to associate Hungary with very spicy food. But a typical Hungarian meal is not necessarily made with strong paprika. Powdered paprika comes in a great variety of strengths, from mild and slightly sweet to red hot There is a paprika to please every taste.

Strudel and coffee are two Hungarian treats that were also introproduced during the furkish occupation. The Turks ate a delicious pastry made of paper-thin sheets of dough, called phyllo, that were baked with a filling of nuts and honey The Hungarians took the phyllo dough and filled it with a variety of sweet fillings, such as cherries or poppy seeds, to make strudel. Coffee, a perfect accompaniment to strudel, was introduced to Hungary at the same time as phyllo dough. A small cup of very strong coffee with sugar and milk or cream, or even without, is an important part of a Hungarian meal.

Holidays and Festivals of Hungarian
Traditional Hungarian meals are often heavy and have given way, in modern times, to lighter fare. But even serious weight watchers give up their diets on holidays and during special get-togethers with friends and relatives. At the beginning ofa meal, Hungarians wish each other "Good appetite. When they finish eating, diners thank their host or hostess. The traditional response is: "To your health!

Hungarians, like other people, like to brighten their everyday lives with festivals and holidays. Many festivals originate in ancient Hungarian folklore and are celebrated all country. There over the are also smnaller, local festivities that connected are to special events in a village or town.

August 20 is national holiday in Hungary honoring King Stephen (István). This first king, who became a saint, was the founder of the state of Hungary. In Budapest, Saint Stephen's Day is celebrated with live performances on and over the Danube River. The highlight of the day's festivities is a spectacular fireworks display. After the fireworks there are street balls with live music and dancing. Traffic halts for the occasion. St. Stephen's Day is also called the Day of the New Bread. Hungarians consider bread to be the basis of life, and the most important food. August is the month when the wheat harvest is brought in, and the first new flour of the year is used to bake new bread.

Hungarians celebrate two other national holidays. March 15 recalls the 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs, and October 23 recognizes the 1956 revolution against the Soviet Union. Christmas and Easter are important family holidays. People plan and prepare for the festive holiday meals far in advance. Christmas specialties, whether pastries or cookies, are often given Cooks these as gifts. serve gifts along with their own creations at holiday get-togethers.

The traditional dish for Christmas Eve is fish, either fried or as a special fish soup, called halászlé, and both. The some families have fried fish is usually carp, and the soup is prepared from different types of fish with onions and a lot of paprika. The popular walnut roll and poppy seed roll are a must for dessert.

Christmas Day dinner is usually shared with family members or friends and the table is decorated as suited to the oCcasion. As with most formal Hungarian dinners, it starts with an appetizer and a soup course. Each family usually has its own traditional Christmas menu. Many have a rich chicken soup followed by roasted or fried pork, potatoes, rice, and vegetables. There are also different salads along with the main course. Other families prefer a beef soup, followed by roast turkey, with the same kinds of accompaniments. Christmas dinner is usually finished with a rich walnut- or chocolate-layered cake.

Dessert is an important part of Christmas. Each family prepares many different types, and they are arranged elegantly on large china dishes. It could be a selection of flaky strudels with different kinds of filings, or rolled cakes filled with poppy seeds or walnuts. Chocolate is used in many desserts, either as filling or as toPping. A layered cake, called zserbo, filled with walnuts and jam and covered by thick layer of dark chocolate, is everybody's favorite.

New Year s Eve is another festive occasion all over the country. People start celebrating as early as late afternoon, walking in the streets with enormous paper trumpets, making a lot of noise. Some streets in Budapest are closed to traffic so people can crowd into them. Later, people continue the partying until dawn, at home or at the many restaurants or theaters in town. On New Year's Day, many Hungarians promise to start a diet to lose weight. Lentil soup is a favorite New Year's meal. Lentils, small and round, look a bit like coins and are believed to brig luck and riches during the coming year.

Easter is an all-day celebration. Most families make or buy colortul eggs to decorate their home for the holiday. Easter Sunday starts with a brunch that includes a braided loaf made of sweet dough. The Easter ham is served on a big platter surrounded by eggs that were boiled in the liquid in which the ham was cooked to get a special flavor and color. Some colored eggs are also added to the platter. Freshly grated horseradish root, either by itself or made into a horseradish sauce, and strong mustard are a must to serve with the ham.

The holiday continues on Easter Monday. It features an old folk tradition called "sprinkling" or "watering that is anxiously awaited by Hungarian youngsters. Traditionally, in the villages, boys went to the homes of young girls and dumped buckets of water over the girls heads. The water was meant to have cleansing and fertilizing power. Boys, in turn, were supposed to get a gift from the girl they sprinkled. Traditionally, this gift was a painted egg that the girl had made herself. In modern days, boys visit girls and sprinkle a little cologne or perfume on their heads. Girls then present boys with an egg or with chocolate eggs and store-bought Easter candies or other gifts.

Popular girls take pride in having many boys sprinkle them on Easter Monday Hungarians also hold festivals built around local specialties. Kalocsa Paprika Day, for exanmple, celebrates the red spice that is the national flavor. Kalocsa is a small town that is famous for its paprika. During September and October, the thousands of acres of flaming red pepper fields are ready for harvesting. Visitors coming for the two-week festival, which is held in mid-September, may help with the paprika harvest. They also taste typical Hungarian dishes prepared with lots of paprika, sometimes sweet but most often quite hot. Paprika Day always closes with Hungarian folk dances and shows. Visitors may also visit Kalocsas paprika museum, the only one in Europe, to learn of paprika s long journey to Hungary from the Americas through Turkey.

Fans of sausages tlock to Békéscsaba in late October for the Sausage Festival of Csaba. The festival features the preparation ot all sorts of meat products according to traditional methods. Kolbász is the name of the pork sausage for which Békéscsaba is famous. It is similar to the Polish kielbasa well known in the United States. Its main ingredients are different cuts of pork, paprika, salt, a little caraway seed, and garlic. The final touch is smoking. During the four-day festival, student butchers compete to see who can make different types of fresh sausage the best. At the same time, folk groups present music and dances. Just to keep things lively, there are also pickle-making contests and quizzes about folk traditions.

Just as the residents of Csaba compete to see who makes the best Sausage, the fishermen of Baja compete to see who can cook up the best fish soup. The contest is the main event of the Fish Soup Festival in Baja, a city on the bank of the Danube River in southern Hungary. The soup, called haliszlé, along with other fish dishes, is traditionally made by the man of the house, The soup festival takes place in the huge main square of the town, where cooks prepare the soup in large kettles. Lively folk music plays in the background, and festival goers sample the local wine and dance. At the end of the day, judges taste the soups and the winning cook is announced. The festival ends with fireworks at midnight.

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