The Legendary Gulyás Soup (Goulash)

One of the legendary dishes of Hungarian gastronomic folklore became widely popular both in Hungary and the neighbouring countries only in the Reform Era. The filling food which is not only pleasing to the eyes but of great taste, originally comes from the Great Plain (Hortobágy, Nagykunság) but nowadays it is served everywhere.

Though the name first appeared in the Academic Thesaurus only in 1886,  the origin of the dish dates back much further. The Gulyás style meat and vegetable soups used to be filling delicacies and provided hard working people with sufficient energy so no wonder that it was one of the main dishes of Hungarian peasant cuisine. Even then there already existed several varieties. The first known description is from 1790, as prepared for the writer Count József Gvadányi by his host who offered him Gulyás on the Hortobágy. 

Turkish Pepper, Buckwheat Pepper, Pagan Pepper

In the description by the Count, red pepper or as we call it “paprika” is not yet present as an ingredient, Gulyás soup had taken the form as we know it today only later. The herb was brought to our country already in the middle of the 16th century, in the era of Miklós Zrinyi, and was known as Turkish pepper, buckwheat pepper and pagan pepper. But the first mention of a paprika dish as a special national dish appeared in 1794 when a traveller from Saxony wrote about „ein ungarisches National-Gerichte von Fleisch mit türkischen Pfeffer” i.e., about a “Hungarian national dish prepared from meat with Turkish pepper”.

The popularisation of Gulyás

The dish, which in our days is prepared mostly from beef, has become increasingly popular from the middle of the 18th century, first in the cooking of commoners and later as part of the restaurant menus. In its original form it was probably cooked using mutton and poultry since beef was very precious and expensive and it had to be precisely accounted for. And yet, the name of the dish originates in the Hungarian word for herdsman which is “gulyás”.

Gulyás soup, as we know it today, was mentioned by István Széchenyi himself in the preface of his work “Credit,” published in 1830, in which he wrote the following: “as only those are considered master chefs who use paprika in great amounts and only those are acknowledged as real Hungarians who love this taste”.

Neither Paprikás nor Pörkölt

Gulyás implies a kind of stew or casserole outside Hungary prepared with a thick sauce. But the original Hungarian dish is, as Károly Gundel the legendary restaurateur described, is:”...  a soup dish rich in liquid, onions and paprika, prepared with cubed potatoes and csipetke (i.e., pasta). Pörkölt is also made with paprika but in this case finely chopped onion plays a greater role, giving a thick sauce-like juice and the dish itself is more like a stew”. “Paprikás” is prepared from white meat, for example chicken, using less onion and paprika with a little bit of cream or sour cream added. 

Diversity of Tastes

Yet, the brand “Gulyás” does not cover only one recipe. A number of well-known recipes have outlived centuries. It is prepared with a lot of vegetables in the Great Plains, with sweet cabbage in Cluj –Napoca, with pasta in Szeged, with sauerkraut in the land of the Csangos and one should not forget about the tasty bean Gulyás, either. Whether it is prepared from mutton or poultry, one thing is sure: real Gulyás is never thickened with roux and excellent paprika is an essential spice used to the greatest delight of Hungarians and foreign guests. 

Recipe of Kettle Gulyás from the cookbook of Károly Gundel published in 1934

  • 1 kg lean beef
  • 80 g lard (pork)
  • 20 g paprika, salt
  • Caraway seeds, garlic
  • 1 kg potato
  • 140 g green pepper
  • 60 g fresh tomato
  • 6 portions of “csipetke” (special home-made pasta)

 “We cut the preferably juicy type of meat (shank, shoulder, neck) into 1.5-2 cm big cubes. Then we stew the finely chopped onion on the melted lard until golden yellow. We reduce the heat and quickly mix the paprika with the onion and lard and add the meat and the salt and braise it further. When the juice of the meat cooks up, we add the finely chopped garlic, together with the caraway seed, cover it and let it simmer for a while on medium heat we stir it occasionally and adding a little water from time to time, if needed. – The meat should not cook rather it has to be braised in little liquid, in steam. In the meantime we cut the potato (should be a type that does maintain its consistency), green pepper and tomato into 1 cm cubes and prepare “csipetke”. – Let the juice evaporate, leaving behind the lard and before the meat is completely tender, add the potato, stir it thoroughly and let it stew till it starts to be transparent. Then we pour in the broth (prepared with bones), add green pepper and tomato. We cook “csipetke” in the soup just before the potato becomes tender. We can regulate the final amount of the soup with adding broth or water and additional spices, if needed.”