Goulash by any other name is not the same

I’ve been around enough to know that sometimes when you are having a conversation with someone regarding a topic you are both familar with from your own culture and experience, while you may be agreeing, what you are actually agreeing to, is miles apart from what the other fellow thinks.

photo from messyandpicky.com

photo from messyandpicky.com

I’ll never forget, I was building a team for a large project, and I proposed a potluck so that we might all gather outside of the office setting and get to know each other in a casual environment.  At the time, my team consisted of my four managers, several engineers, an invaluable administrative assistant, and me.  One fellow of Cuban American discent and raised between Miami and New York, (not sure if all that detail is relevant, but I wanted to set the stage) was very enthusiastic.  I mean REALLY excited about this potluck.  I suspected it was because he was single, and perhaps did not like to eat out or cook for himself, but his enthusiasm was a bit too extreme even for that situation.  So I asked him if he knew what a potluck was.  He said, “of course” and gave me a look as if to say I was crazy for asking.  A pot luck according to “Dave” was a gambling party.  To be fair, having been to many a potluck, I agree with that assessment, but since I was not about to allow money to cross palms, because at a minimum it was against company policy, I had to set him straight.  Needless to say his enthusiasm cooled, but we still managed to enjoy the party, just without the pleasant extracurricular activities.

traffic jam (photo from baltimoresun.com)

traffic jam (photo from baltimoresun.com)

Another time, “Dave” gave me nothing but grief, when I arrived at the office late because of an accident on the interstate and resulting rubber necking.  He then informed me, his manager, that I really had to come up with a better excuse.  Now anyone that has lived in the Washington, DC metro for any length of time knows this sort of situation is all too common, and I believe it was about a 6 mile back-up for that accident, so I was not sure how to answer.  Based on his response, I had the sneaking suspicion that we were again talking cross purposes.  I asked what he thought “rubber necking” was, and I’ll quote:  “what  a couple that has the hots for each other does in a car”.  It took some doing, but I finally convinced him that rubber necking is when drivers of other cars come across an accident and slow down to stare and assess the situation.

Now I am not providing these examples to make fun of my former colleagues,  If I wanted to I need look no farther than myself.  I recall going out to dinner with my friend Sepideh at a Persian restaurant, and the waiter stopped by our table to take our order.  I wanted the delicious yogurt drink that goes so good with Persian food, called dugh.  I, and before I go much farther must confess that I have no talent for accents, placed too much emphasis on everything and to this day have no idea why it came from my mouth sounding like “douche”, or to wash   The waiter, bless him, sucked in his cheeks, and bit the insides of his mouth to keep from laughing, but Sepideh had no such compunction.  She burst into giggles.  Ok, I deserved that, but did I deserve the ribbing the waiter gave me later when he offered me soap with my drink?  Ah well, it made for a memorable evening.

Where am I going with this rambling?  In my research on paprika and Hungarian food, I found that goulash is more than just goulash – many cultures have their own versions, so to be sure we are all “speaking the same language” I wanted to make sure we understood what the other options were.

photo from motherearthbeats.com

photo from motherearthbeats.com

As mentioned in the previous post on paprika, goulash isn’t just goulash in Hungary, there are many variations on this dish, and once you pass beyond Hungary’s borders, many other nations have stamped their own unique twist to this classic dish.  Thick stews similar to goulash abound in the region that was the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which stretched from Northeast Italy to the countries containing the Carpathian Mountains (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Romanian and Serbia).  Here is a sampling of their versions of this tasty soup.

Croatia

Goulash is very popular in Croatia, especially north (Hrvatsko Zagorje) and Lika, where it is considered part of the traditional cuisine. In Gorski Kotar and Lika deer and boar frequently replace beef as the protein - Lovački gulaš. There is also goulash made with porcini mushrooms (Gulaš od vrganja), and bacon is a common ingredient.  Gulaš is often served with fuži, njoki, palenta or pasta. In Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian ciganski gulaš, green and red bell peppers and carrots are often added.  A variety of meats are mixed and matched depending on availability, e.g. pork loin, bacon, or mutton.

Czech Republic

Here goulash is made with beef, and dark bread and beer are often added to the stew.

Germany

Gulasch, Rindergulasch or Gulaschsuppe is a beef stew with potatoes in a rich tomato based broth.  Definitely a different take than Hungary which sometimes left tomatoes out entirely.

Italy

Goulash is found in Italy, in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the autonomous Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region, is often found on the table for Sunday dinner.

North America

In the United States and Canada, customization and tweaking have made the dish more suitable for local preferences.  Consequently, American goulash is often nothing like the Hungarian original.  The amount of paprika is often drastically reduced or even excluded, and ground beef frequently replaces stew beef.  The concept of the original dish is lost, as expediency is the name of the game – as it becomes a fast, cheap and tasty one dish meal.  Nothing wrong with that, but this goulash is not anywhere close to the Hungarian original.  American goulash commonly tops a next of noodles, with elbow macaroni being the most frequently cited in most recipes.

Poland

Gulasz is a popular in Poland dish usually eaten with buckwheat kasha.  Some versions, such as the recipe here, contain sauerkraut.

gulasch (photo from wikipedia)

gulasch (photo from wikipedia)

Gulasz Wieprzowy (Pork And Sauerkraut Goulash)

adapted from Hot and Spicy by Marlena Spieler, Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 # pork butt, cubed
  • ½ C flour  for dredging
  • ¼ Cup Olive Oil
  • 4 med onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 sm Green Pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 T Sweet Paprika
  • 2 T Hot Paprika
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 1 c diced tomatoes
  • 4 c sauerkraut, rinsed, squeezed dry
  • 1 med celeriac — finely chopped
  • 1 pinch of sugar
  • 1 med bay leaf
  • S+P, to taste

Directions

Dredge meat with flour. Heat oil in skillet, when hot, add meat and cook until well browned. Remove and set aside. In same skillet, saute onion, garlic, and green pepper for 5 minutes. Add both paprikas and cook for 2 minutes. Add meat to onion mixture and stir. Add broth, tomatoes, sauerkraut, celeriac, sugar, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with sour cream and parsley.

Slovenia

In Slovenia, the soup is often referred to as perkelt, or of course just “goulash”.  A special version is called partizanski golaž, partisan goulash, favoured by Slovenian partisans during World War II, and still served at public events.  The meat is replaced with quartered potatoes, and it is not as thick as goulash.

New Orleans, photo from planetware.com

New Orleans, photo from planetware.com

One final note on culinary confusion, in that same team was a fellow from New Orleans, and we frequently spoke about food.  He mentioned a favorite dish and how he would like to order just the dish and not all the accompaniments, as in a prix fixe meal.  Knowing the restaurant, I said, I was sure they offered his favorite as an à la carte option.  To which he replied, that he wanted to eat it there – at the restaurant.  By now, fairly sure we were not on the same page, I asked him what he thought à la carte meant.  To which he responded with a gesture as if he were revving an engine “bbrrmm.. brrrmm…to go, you know – on a cart”.  Again, I felt compelled to explain the version of à la carte that apparently everyone outside of New Orleans knew, to which he told me that “we use the phrase differently here”.  Subsequent conversations with other New Orlean citizens have confirmed this is not the case.

Now, whenever I think back to that time, I have a visual image of Google Earth punching through the cumulus closing in on the landmarks of New Orleans before pinpointing the single house in New Orleans that uses “a la carte” as “to go”, or “take out”.

So whatever way you like your goulash, and however you want it served, in a prix fixed meal, à la carte or take out.  Just make sure you know what you are getting and enjoy this truly savory dish.

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20 comments for “Goulash by any other name is not the same

  1. June 24, 2009 at 10:37 PM

    Oh, I thought goulash was only Hungary’s national dish, now I know I was wrong, haha. Thank you so much for the info!!

  2. June 24, 2009 at 10:50 PM

    It’s amazing how one name of a dish can develop so many variations.

  3. June 25, 2009 at 5:33 AM

    You are amazing!
    Thank you for all that info. I love goulash and I didn’t know one thing about it.

  4. June 25, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    We made goulash in Russia/Ukraine and it was also different, in particular missing paprika but perhaps it was an adaptation of not having paprika available. I love this recipe for goulash with Sauerkraut!

  5. June 25, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    We did a trip to many of these Eastern European countries a few years ago. Croatia was the highlight. Thanks for the flashback! GREG

  6. June 25, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    I would like to try all the variations of goulash, especially the Czech Republic version with beer and dark bread, mmmm!

  7. June 25, 2009 at 11:40 AM

    The word ‘goulash’ doesn’t convey how tasty a dish this truly is, as I found out for myself when I finally made it. If it Pizza Night Thursday, I’d be tempted to make a pot of this for dinner!

  8. June 25, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    Isn’t it incredible how one word, term or even dish can have so many vastly different meanings? It’s so interesting! All of the lovely goulash dishes sound amazing. Thanks for sharing your wonderful knowledge!

  9. admin
    June 25, 2009 at 4:11 PM

    Kenny – I was surprised to at the shear number of versions, and just think these are only the ones I could find via a web search, imagine if I put real backbone into it?

    Jenn – totally agree

    Erica – its a learning adventure everyday!

    Natasha – very interesting, and you’re right, the difference was probably due to availability.

    Greg – Ah… Croatia. Sounds like a great trip.

    Reeni – I agree, that just sounds like a good combo.

    TN – Shock and amaze Mr. Noodle with a goulash night instead =)

    Lisa – I agree, the combos are very interesting.

  10. June 25, 2009 at 9:41 PM

    Who knew there was goulash in Italy! Once again, you are a wealth of foodie information.

  11. June 26, 2009 at 8:12 PM

    And this idiot thought ghoulash is a purely Russian dish. haha! I like the Czech Republic version best with the dark bread and beer! Sounds really deep and flavorful. Which is your fav?

  12. admin
    June 27, 2009 at 6:26 AM

    Carolyn – who knew indeed?

    Sophia – definitely not an idiot. I had always thought goulash was purely Hungarian, but like curry it grew beyond its borders.

  13. June 27, 2009 at 3:55 PM

    haha. Having been committed so many of those cultural mishaps myself, I completely understand your former colleagues.

    The different concepts of goulash among Eastern Europeans are, as you’ve pointed out, are confusing. But you can see some common themes running through them. But have you seen “Goulash” according to Paula Deen? It has ground beef AND elbow macaroni. (I’m just reporting …) :)

  14. admin
    June 28, 2009 at 3:27 PM

    Leela – I know and Paula’s not alone. Its the common themes that are so interesting – curry is a classic example.

  15. June 30, 2009 at 5:16 AM

    MMMMM..your goulash recipe looks so tasty! A must try!
    I loved reading about this! I have been visiting Poland, Croatia, Slovenia & Hungary over the recent years & I love eating goulashes in every country to find the differences!

    Thansk for bringing back lovely memories!

  16. July 1, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    This “dave” character sounds like a riot. I have the same issues with my Long Island hubby sometimes (does being from Long Island qualify as a different culture?!) even though English is his 1st language :)
    I’ve always associated goulash with Hungarian cuisine, but I don’t think I’ve ever had an authentic one, the recipe passed down from my mother-in-law has been ‘Americanized’. But I’ll definitely be trying the simple recipe you had in your paprika post. And I love goulash in any form, so I’m thrilled to find out there are so many versions!

  17. admin
    July 1, 2009 at 8:35 AM

    Sophie, It is tasty and fun to check out the variations on a favorite dish

    Phyllis – he was a riot. Life was always full of unexpected surprises around him.

  18. July 3, 2009 at 12:31 PM

    I quickly learned in the food world exactly what you have conveyed here in the post…no goulash is the same, and even my own sister and I beg to differ, yeah we cannot even agree to disagree on how mom made hers, but paprika goes in many of my dishes!…I love your post!

    Now I want a plate of the real thing for which I have had…

  19. July 6, 2009 at 2:43 AM

    Brilliant, love this! Hilarious too!!! Check your award on my blog :)

  20. July 27, 2009 at 6:08 AM

    testing,

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