Goulash! Even the name sounds cool. I've loved this stuff ever since the ripe old age of 12, when I drove all the way across Germany with my Dad. We use to stop at Autobahn rest areas to grab a bite to eat, and nearly all the restaurants had Goulasch-Suppe on the menu. I still remember looking at my first paprika-scented bowl of fiery red soup with puzzlement -- now what on Earth is this? But it was love at first taste, and I ate goulash whenever I could the rest of the way up to Finland, despite Dad's exhortations to try some steak tartare or Eisbain or whatever jellied pig knuckles were the specialty of the German hamlet we happened to be in. I later pestered Mom to cook up goulash at home, but while she tried her efforts never quite captured that elusive autobahn taste -- perhaps she was just too nutrition-minded to use the necessary amounts of lard and salt?

My next goulaššic catharsis came 6 years later when I was interrailing through Europe for the first time. I'd just hiked back from the Škocjan Caves in lovely Slovenia and had a few hours to kill before my train to Venice, so I scouted out the only restaurant in Divača open in the middle of the day to grab a bite to eat. And what was the only thing I recognized on the menu? You guessed it: golaž, as the Slovenes call it. Half an hour later, granny brought me a flat plate containing three (3) large but dubious chunks of meat covered in thick brown sauce, and a basket of bread. (Potatoes? Vegetables? Who needs 'em?) Despite feeling ripped-off -- you call this soup? -- I went ahead and tried it... and even after all these years (and many trips to Hungary) that goulash is firmly enshrined in my mind as the best I've ever had anywhere. Someday, I'll have to return to Divača just to see how it has stood the test of time.

But how can "goulash" then mean both red soup and brown stew? For the answer, we have to look back to the ancestral homeland of the dish, Hungary. In Hungarian, the soup is called gulyás (pronounced "goulash"), while the stew is called pörkölt (pronounced, um, exactly the way it's written). Both recipes call for meat and lots of paprika, so the deciding factor is the amount of broth: pörkölt is prepared with almost no added liquid and is eaten with a fork accompanied by rice or pasta, while gulyás has lots of liquid added in and is eaten with a spoon. But such fine distinctions seem to have been lost on the rest of the world, which has simply decided to equate "goulash" with "paprika and meat".

So. Here's a simple recipe for traditional Hungarian goulash stew.

Simple Beef Goulash Stew (Marhapörkölt)


1 large onion, minced
1 lb (400g) beef (cheaper cuts recommended), cubed into half-inch (1 cm) chunks
2 tbsp lard or oil
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional -- goulash may be spicy, but it should not be fiery hot)

Note: The only spice in traditional goulash is paprika, so make sure the stuff you're using is fresh: it should be red, not brown, and have a strong, pleasant smell. Use more and/or up the amount of tomato paste if your paprika is old. (Conversely, if you have excellent paprika, you can get rid of the tomato entirely.) In Hungary, you can also buy tubes of stuff called gulyáskrem, which is a ready mix of the last four ingredients (and then some?) -- about a tablespoon will do for this recipe.


  1. Heat the lard/oil in a saucepan and fry the onion on low heat until translucent.
  2. Take pan off heat for a moment, add the spices and stir.
  3. Add the beef and stir well, coating all pieces thoroughly.
  4. Return to heat. Cover and cook gently until done, about an hour should do. The longer it takes, the better it tastes. The beef juices should usually suffice, but add water or broth if needed, and add flour when done to thicken the sauce.
Serves around 2-3 people; you can easily double or quadruple the quantities and make a big batch, as goulash freezes very well. Serve with tarhonya, pasta or rice, maybe with some sauerkraut or other savanyusag (Hungarian pickles) on the side.


Pork goulash (sértespörkölt) is a very popular variant of this. Lamb, venison and even rabbit goulash are also spotted occasionally. Using chicken requires the addition of sour cream, see csirke paprikás for a recipe.

If you must corrupt the pristine purity of your Magyar meat with effeminate homosexual vegetables, the least unacceptable way to do it would be to add yellow or green sweet bell peppers, preferably of the thin-skinned Hungarian variety. Replacing the tomato paste with real tomatoes is also acceptable, although many goulash recipes dispense with the tomato entirely.