When I plan a trip to a new country, I always look forward to trying new and exciting food the most. It sounds kinda sad, but it’s not. Food is an important part of daily life and of culture, in general. A great way to get to know a country is just to eat all day long.
For Hungary, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. A very hungover Hungarian Erasmus student, the one who had also taught me some Hungarian, had told me about it, but you can´t really explain food, you have to taste it. Someone suggested it would probably be similar-ish to the food in the Czech Republic, but this was of no use to me, since I’ve only been to the Czech Republic once in my life, and that was more than ten years ago. I didn’t have this foody obsession when I was younger, although I did like to eat very much. I did have some kind of foody obsession that particular holiday, but it was of an entirely different nature. It was centred around this brightly coloured ice cream that was displayed on every ice cream cart (yeah, they still had those over there!) but which wasn’t actually sold anywhere, as it was constantly ‘sold out’. It was quite a cultural-historical experience in that it was a communist-style promise something awesome that would never actually come. It was like a junior version of the history of the Czech Republic, ‘a fun but also educational way to explain to your kids what life under the communist regime was like!’ Fun for all the family. This mythical, technicolour ice cream still haunts my dreams.
But back to Hungary. The one thing I did kind of know about, was goulash. But as with all foreign dishes, it´s always different in the country where it comes from, like Chinese food in China is nothing like what we eat over here, and northern pizza can´t hold a candle to the divine glory of Neapolitan pizza. The same with this goulash, which they call gulyas over there, pronounced goo-yash. Or to be more precise, they call it gulyasleves, leves meaning soup, as Hungarians don’t eat gulyas a a stew, like we usually do, but as a soup. And needless to say, it’s really good.
Like all traditional dishes, everyone in Hungary seems to have their own variation, and I don’t think my variation would be considered authentic by anyone, which is OK because I’m not Hungarian, I’m Dutch, mostly, and I’m a right amateur, and I’m not aiming to make something authentic, but to make something tasty, and the following definitely is tasty. It’s inspired on the first gulyasleves that I ate in Budapest, in a nice place called 400.
– 1/2 kg beef to stew (a piece of shoulder, for example, or, for the Dutch, sucadelappen
– 1 tbsp paprik
– 1 tsp ground caraway seed
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 big onion
– 3 garlic cloves, without the little plant in the centre
– few potatoes, about 5 or 6
– two bell peppers, colours as you wish, I used one red and one orange
– some celery leaves
– couple of tomatoes
– 1 fresh red chili, without the seed, cut in half lengthways, or one dried peperoncino, slightly crushed
– salt and pepper, oil, water and a little flour
Chop up the onion in not too small chunks and fry them in some oil (or lard, if you happen to have some). When they’ve gone softish, add about half of the paprika. You have to keep stirring now, or the paprika will burn. Cut up the meat, cover the pieces in flower and add them to the onions. Gently fry them until the meat gets a nice brownish colour (although you can’t really tell because of the paprika, so check if the meat’s done properly by looking for rawish parts, or by cutting a piece in half.
Once the meat seems done, add the rest of the paprika, the garlic (crushed), the caraway seed, the bay leaf, the chilli and the water. You need enough to cover all that is in the pan, a little under a litre in my case. Put the lid on the pan and leave it to simmer for about an hour.
When the meat is half cooked, add the potatoes and the celery leaves. Leave to simmer for a while more. Also, you may have to add some water, not too much, just a cup or so.
When the tatties are pretty much done, and the meat, too, add the tomatoes, peeled and chopped, and the peppers in chunks. Leave to simmer for a while more, add salt and pepper if you need to, serve with some heavy quality bread.