A meal from every country – Hungary

Warning. The obvious pun will appear in this post..

We are in Hungary for only two days, so didn’t have much time for research or planning.

Unlike in Poland there was an obvious meal I wanted to cook: goulash. Or gulyás to spell it correctly (in Hungarian, a langauge that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to a native English speaker). I am absolutely certain that there are many, many, other delicious Hungarian dishes that I could have cooked, but in my mind gulyás and Hungary are inextriably linked, so gulyás it was.


The recipe

A quick google brings up the inevitable multiple gulyás/goulash/gulasz recipes (spelled all ways and none), but in my quest for authenticity (to be comprehesively ruined later), I went for this one.

The writer is not only Hungarian, but she runs tasting tours of Budapest. Surely if anyone knows their gulyás she does. She’s certainly very adamant that she knows exactly what it should be like (a soup, not a stew). No poor subsitutes here.

The problem was that this recipe (as often seems to be the way with recipes written by or for Americans), catered for a cast of thousands. There are six of us here and we like our food but just as that wasn’t enough to eat a cheesecake made with 1.3 kg of cream cheese, or a gulyás containing 1.5 kg of beef. She does helpfully say that it freezes well, but that wasn’t much use to us. Unless it travels well too.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of me cooking for them in the UK will know that I tend to view a recipe more as a guideline than a hard and fast set of rules to be followed. I amend and substitute as required by how bothered I can be to buy the actual ingredients in the actual quantities required.

So I thought I’d do the same here. I didn’t know exactly how many people “a very large pot of soup” would feed, so I went for broadly, sort of, halving it.

The other problem was that this is definitely slow cooking, and with a hungry (no pun), post Szechenyi bathing family to feed, I didn’t really have the “several hours” cooking time it perhaps ideally would have had.

After swimming you need a chittery bite. Or some gulyas.

The equipment

This kitchen passes muster. Ish. The roasting tins weren’t clean (eurgh) and the dishwasher doesn’t work. But fortunately I brought a dish washer with me. He does roasting tins too.

It has, though, got everything I needed for this recipe – even a peeler. It’s blunt, but you can’t have everything.

The shopping

I was rather nervous about this one. As I’ve mentioned, Hungarian is totally unrecognisable as a language, so ensuring that I bought the right ingredients was trickier than it had yet been. I certainly vetoed the idea of buying anything at an actual market and headed for the supermarket, which was oddly familiar:

Will it take our clubcard?

It was an odd mix of the very familiar and the definitely not. There’s certainly a separate product list for the Hungarian market.

Ingredients-wise I needed the usual trio, onions, carrots and garlic, two of which I had already and the third was easily identifiable. Tomatoes and parsnips I could do too, although I learned in Poland that what looks like a parsnip may, in Poland at least, actually be a parsley root.

Beef was nice and easy. Aldi (yes, they’re here too) helpfully put a nice picture of a cow on on the packet, and even better, it was marked gulyás.

With hindsight (and possibly I could have worked this out before) I think we would translate this as “stewing steak”

Then the spices. Our flat in Budapest had pepper and salt, so I needed caraway and (funnily enough) paprika.

Google translate told me that caraway was kömény and seed was mag. Should have been easy. However, I had four increasingly bored children with me (no leisurely wander round the supermarkets of Hungary sadly) and was looking out for small glass jars. It was only when, Ben was already through the tilll, that I found it. In a little packet. And with many more letters than I was expecting.

What the additional letters mean I have no idea. It definintely was caraway (Google agrees).

And then there was sweet paprika. Now this is where I get really inauthentic. It is probably a good thing we are leaving the country tomorrow. Because I used this:

It looks inoffensive enough…

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a jar of paprika I bought in Brussels (“product of Germany”). It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Hungarian and, most importantly, it does not even say on it whether it is sweet or hot. (As an aside, I’m never sure whether “sweet” and “smoked” paprika are the same thing. And as for “sweet smoked” I’m totally clueless.) At home I have both, but the Belgians clearly don’t differentiate. I should, I know, have bought some more, but although I cook with paprika quite often, carrying two different jars of it round Europe and beyond seemed silly. Perhaps had I known it came in packets I’d have decided otherwise. In addition, though, there was an entire paprika aisle and faced with a difficult choice I went for the easy option: none of the above.

So this is Hungary’s national dish, made with Hungary’s national spice. From Belgium.

The cooking

No sous chef today, sadly. They were too busy washing slightly suphorous minerals out of their hair and arguing about the wifi.

I chopped two largish onions and sweated them slowly in oil (with a bit of water, which is a new tip I learned yesterday to stop them browning). This was supposed to take twenty minutes, but as with everything else in this recipe, in the interests of not letting low blood-sugar (no pun) be the cause of World War Three, I cut some corners on time.

They’re translucent. They really are.

In the meanwhile I chopped up two medium carrots, a large parsnip (both of which I’d peeled), a relatively sizeable tomato five small potatoes and the rest of a pack of cherry tomatoes that were kicking around the fridge. I also chopped a couple of cloves of garlic (we have yet to stay in a house with a garlic press).

Mmm, spicy

Once the onions were sort of vaguely the translucent colour they were supposed to be, I added a tablespoon of paprika (erring on the side of caution in case it was hot), half a teaspoon ish) of black pepper and two teaspoons of caraway seeds. I mixed that around a bit and then turned the heat up and added 800 grams of the gulyás beef (I sort of wanted about 600g or 700g but it came in packs of 400g and I didn’t want left overs. I browned that over a high heat and then added quite a lot of water. More than enough to cover it. I brought it to a boil and turned it down to simmer gently.

Then I read the recipe properly and realised I was supposed to cook it until it was tender. At least an hour. And the ravening (still no pun) wolves were at the door.

After 50 minutes it was sort of there or thereabouts and I decided that feeding the (wait for it) masses was more important than my quest for authenticity. So I added the vegetables and a bit more paprika (because I decided it needed it).

Fifteen more minutes of cooking and the hungary (there it is) crew were ready, as was my gulyás.

It looked much nicer before I smeared it up the side

And while it could probably have done with more time, they loved it. Another one for the home recipe books.


Research into Hungarian puddings tells me they go in for very elaborate gateaux and layered cakes. Now, this house does have a cake tin. It does not, however, have a set of scales, a palette knife or and oven I know and trust. So it was another bought pudding.

This one was from the Spar, I having visited four shops in search of a pudding. Pre-cooked, refrigerated puddings don’t seem to have arrived in Hungary yet. We bought two different versions. They both disappeared: “tastes like Sainsbury’s”. Is that a compliment?

A bit of both, please

On the upside, I now have a load of caraway and nothing to do with it. I feel a cake coming on. Maybe.

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