Skip to main content
  • Hungarian Recipe: Puliszka / Ground Cornmeal Porridge

    Blog post main image

    Porridge made of ground corn (or, more traditionally, corn flour) has been documented in writing from as early as the beginning of the 18th century. In Transylvania it remains, to this day, one of the fundamental elements of the rural folk kitchen, very well represented in traditional Hungarian, Romanian, and Saxon cuisine.

    The significant role that this dish played in daily folk diet is reflected by the wide variety of preparation techniques and pairings associated with it. It is commonly prepared as a simple porridge for breakfast, as a substitute for bread or side dish to paprikás. It is often served with milk poured over it. It can be layered or rolled up with tangy sheep’s milk cheese, topped off with chunks of sausage.

    Traditionally it was prepared in a cauldron over open fire. In modern times, families continue to cook the indoor kitchen version of the dish.

    In the region of Székelyföld, puliszka is often served with fresh forest fruits, and in the hilly Dombvidék it is paired with plum jam. In its cold, stiff version, it was wrapped up in a sack and carried to the field or woods by those who worked there. There are two known ways of preparing the base porridge of ground corn which can then be modified with other ingredients. The people of Transylvania typically prepare törtpép (broken porridge).

    Ingredients (4-5 servings)
    18 oz corn meal
    salt (to taste)

    – Boil 1.5 to 2 liters of water and add salt.
    – When water is boiling, add corn flour to the surface of the water without pushing it down into the water or mixing it in.
    – The flour gathers into a large clump in the middle of the pot and cooks there.
    – After a few minutes of cooking, poke a wooden mixing spoon into the middle of the clump so that the interior cooks as well.
    – Finally, mix the clump of corn flour into the water remaining in the pot. This is referred to as “breaking” the puliszka.
    – Pour the thick porridge onto a wooden board or plate.

    In Transylvania, eresztett (gently lowered) puliszka was considered more metropolitan. This type of porridge was made by slowly adding the corn flour into boiling water while stirring constantly, allowing the puliszka to thicken gradually. These days the method used is determined by the grade of the ground corn, the quality and texture of the ingredient.

    It is a light, low-calorie food, and it is often said by the Transylvanian Saxons, “aki azt vacsorázik, lábujjhegyen osonjon ágyba, nehogy útközben megéhezzék” (those who have this for dinner should tiptoe to bed, so as not to get hungry on the way there). As opposed to wheat or rye, puliszka does not contain any gluten, which makes it a great alternative grain for those sensitive or intolerant to flour.

    The Many Variations of Puliszka

    1. Puliszka Layered with Farmers’ Cheese

    This version is popular everywhere in Transyvania and Székelyföld.

    Ingredients (4-5 servings)
    21 oz cornmeal
    3 ½ oz butter, unsalted
    3 ½ oz sour cream
    7 oz quark or farmers’ cheese
    salt (to taste)


    – Melt the oil and add a little bit to the bottom of a glass baking dish.
    – Spread a layer of the puliszka porridge into the baking dish and pat it even with a spoon.
    – >Sprinkle on the farmers’ cheese and the sour cream.
    – Spread another layer of puliszka and sprinkle on another layer of cheese and sour cream.
    – After spreading the final layer of puliszka on top, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese.
    – Score the top of the layer puliszka with a knife and place it in a preheated oven.
    – Bake the dish for a few minutes, just enough time for the ingredients to come together in flavor and for the cheese to melt.
    – Serve it as you would a cake, in slices.

    2. Farmer’s Cheese and Puliszka Roll

    This version is popular everywhere in Székelyföld, especially in the region of Gyergyó.

    Ingredients (4-5 servings)
    21 oz cornmeal
    7 oz quark or farmers’ cheese
    salt (to taste)


    – Pour the still hot, freshly cooked puliszka porridge onto a moist kitchen cloth, and press it out into an even rectangular surface.
    – Sprinkle on an even layer of cheese.
    – Using the kitchen cloth, roll the the rectangular layer up.
    – Let it rest for a few minutes so that the cheese can melt from the heat of the puliszka.
    – Using a piece of string, cut it into 1-inch slices and serve.

    3. Puliszka with Sausage

    Ingredients (4-5 servings)
    21 oz Cornmeal
    11 oz smoked sausage
    3 ½ oz lard
    salt (to taste)


    – Slice the smoked sausage into rounds, and simmer them in a pot with the lid on until it softens.
    – Sautee the sausage slices until all of the water evaporates and the contents of the pan are reduced to the fat of the sausage. If there is not enough sausage grease, add some pork lard to the pan and soften it as well.
    – Dip a spoon into the fat of the sausage, and with this spoon form noodle-shaped pieces out of the prepared puliszka porridge.
    – Add these to a bowl and sprinkle on half of the sausage slices and half of the remaining sausage grease.
    – Repeat the process with another layer of “puliszka noodles” and sprinkle on the other half of the sausage and grease.
    – Place the bowl in an oven until the flavors meet.
    – Shake the bowl every once in a while so that the “puliszka noodles” don’t stick together.

    4. Plum Jam Puliszka

    Ingredients (4-5 servings)
    21 oz cornmeal
    7 oz plum jam

    This is prepared in a way similar to the Puliszka Layered with Farmers’ Cheese or the Farmer’s Cheese and Puliszka Roll. The major difference is the addition of plum jam instead of farmer’s cheese and sour cream. Add slightly less butter to each layer than for the savory version. It can be served for dessert in slices, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and garnished with fresh plums.

    Lili Kocsis is the Participant Assistant for the 2013 Hungarian Heritage Festival program. She graduated from Harvard University in 2011 with a B.A. in linguistics. She dedicates her spare time to purposeful travel, food photography, and writing about regional cuisine.

  • Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.