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The Christmas Dish Dividing Hungary: Fisherman Soup – With Recipe!

Adrienn Vass 2020.12.11.

Fish soup is arguably the most controversial dish in Hungarian gastronomy, but it is also an important element of the Hungarian Christmas table. Basically, we define three main types of fish soup in Hungary: the Tisza, the Danube, and the Balaton-type fish soup. Among these, the fish soup of Szeged is the most famous within the Tisza sub-group.

Translated by Fanni Kaszás

The main difference between the different types of fish soups is that the Danube fish soups are not puréed and offered with pasta, while on the other side of the country, the base of the fish soup is a much more dense, puréed mix. Believers of the two different methods have been fighting each other for centuries to see who lays claim to the real, traditional method.

According to Hungarian ethnographic literature, fish soup is the same as fish paprikash, but with more juice. A contemporary “gastroblogger,” a certain Count Hoffmannsegg had already mentioned “halászly” in a Hungarian travel guide in 1799. According to his description, the dish is carp “cooked in Turkish pepper juice.” Turkish pepper is the old name of ground paprika, and therefore it is probable that the food may have been born when the use of paprika found its way into Hungarian gastronomy.

In 1871, in the cookbook of Aunt Rézi in Szeged, we can already find the first recipe written down. In the cookbook, the dish is called “Halpaprikás halászosan” (Fish paprikash Fisherman style). The essence of the “fisherman” type of fish soup is that all the ingredients are put into the  at once. Traditionally, all versions are made in a cauldron, but of course they can also be made at home on the stove.

Fish soup
– ingredients for 4-5 servings –

  • 2 kg carp
  • 3 onions
  • 3 L of water
  • 3 tablespoons red pepper
  • salt
  • hot pepper to taste

We’re making a puréed version of fish soup, prepared from carp. It’s a smaller portion, but you can safely make a bigger one if you have a sizable pot (maybe a cauldron) and you can even use multiple fish at once. The soup can be further enriched with offal (eggs, fish milk), and it can be served with pasta or bread. Some believe that only fish, onions, and red pepper can be used in a traditional fish soup, while others also add other vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and other spices).

To prepare the fish soup, first salt the cleaned and cut carp one day before cooking. Set aside from the nicer slices as much as you want to put in the soup whole. Then cook the rest with the diced onion and as much water as it covers the mix. If it has boiled and foam has started to form on top, stir in the red pepper and if you like it spicy, add the chili pepper as well. Then cook over high heat for about 30 minutes.

Once the fish is cooked, grab another dish and pass the whole mix (including the fish) through a metal soup filter with a spoon. You can also purée the mix with a blender if you want, so you can make sure that no splinters are accidentally left in it. Next, add the fish slices that were set aside before to the soup. Boil the whole mix again and cook for about 10 minutes until the carp slices soften. In the end, you can add more salt, sweet, or hot peppers. And in fact, adding 1-2 tablespoons of sugar will help the flavors blend even better.

A Traditional Hungarian Christmas Dessert: Poppy Seed Bread Pudding - With Recipe!
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In most households in Hungary, one can find at least one traditional Christmas food on the table with old peasant, superstitious roots: back in the day, foods prepared with poppy, peas, beans, and apples meant prosperity, abundance, and wisdom. Although the most popular dessert with poppy seeds is probably the famous bejgli, many Hungarians also […]Continue reading

photos and featured photo: Péter Csákvári/Hungary Today

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