The Story Of the Goulash

Called Gulasch in German, guláš in Czech, and gulasz in Polish, it is great comfort food, not to mention the ideal beer grub.

Traditional Hungarian goulash (Gulyásleves).
It originated in the Middle Ages in the Hungarian plains as shepherd food. Originally, it was a simple soup with roasted meat and onions but no peppers. The Hungarian gulyás of today is a spicy soup, cooked and served in a kettle with various additions such as potatoes, beans or small dumplings. The Hungarian goulash is thin, compared to its Austrian/Czech/German descendant, and tastes light as there is no roux (thickening) in the sauce.

At the annual Goulash festival in Szolnok, we tasted a number of excellent goulashes, including Székely Gulyás (pork goulash with sauerkraut), a bean goulash (no potatoes, kdiney beans instead), Likócsi Gulyás made of pork and thin vermicelli with a hint of lemon juice (almost like the Goulasch della Val Pusteria from north Italy), and Birkagulyás made of mutton and flavored with wine. All of these goulashes have one in common: they are soups.

Vienna-style beef goulash with Spätzle.

Viena Fiakergoulash served with dumplings
and Sacher sausage.
However, what the majority of the goulash-eating world understands under the term "goulash" is a thick savory sauce and stew made from beef or pork, served with crusty bread or dumplings. This is the Vienna-style goulash, which originated in Vienna in the 19th century. This was the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the 39th Hungarian Infantry Regiment was stationed in Vienna. Viennese chefs adapted the Hungarian gulyás soup recipe brought in by the troops and made into a thick sauce. This became known as the Wiener Saftgulasch (Viennese goulash). This is often incorrectly regarded as "the original" goulash, although it is wrong because the original goulash is from Hungary.

A fiaker carriage.
An interesting evolution of the Viennese goulash is the Fiakergulasch (Coachmen's Goulash), which a Viennese goulash served with fried Wiener Würstchen, a fried egg, a fan-cut pickle and possibly a round bread dumpling. The name is derived from the iconic Viennese open-top fiacre carriage.

Pörkölt served with potato gnocchi.

Vienna-style goulash from Prague, served with
Czech dumplings.
The Viennese goulash became such a success that the Hungarians re-imported it under the name "pörkölt". Goulash continued to spread beyond Vienna throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire and beyond. It was typical army food and transferring regimental troops spread the recipe along with them. It found its way to Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bavaria and Tyrol, but also east to Ukraine, Russia and Poland.

Goulash did not make it in the United States. Although there is a dish of that name first mentioned in cookbooks in 1914, goulash in America has evolved into something completely different. What is understood under "goulash" in America is a casserole made with ground beef and pasta. An Italian ragù milanese meets Texas chili con carne sort of a thing. The only connection with the Vienna Goulash or the Hungarian Goulash is the name, and the use of beef and paprika. Nothing else.

Red Hungarian peppers.
The most important ingredient of both the Hungarian and the Viennese goulash is obviously Hungarian paprika. Hungarian paprika powder is bright red, and generally sweeter than paprika made from the same peppers grown in other soils and climates. Hungarian paprika is produced by drying and grinding the fully ripened pods of the Hungarian Wax Pepper. This is a cultivar of the species Capsicum annuum, the same species most Mexican and American chile peppers belong to. The heat and flavor of Hungarian paprika can vary from mild to hot depending on variety and maturity of the

Ground Hungarian Paprika (left)
vs. ground New Mexico Ancho Chile (right).
pods if was ground from. The heat will intensify significantly if the fruit allowed to ripen fully. Generally, the hottest pepper have a Scoville heat range of 5,000 – 15,000 units, making them comparable to the hottest NuMex varieties, or jalapeño and serrano peppers in North America. Hungarian Wax Peppers can be hotter than the New Mexico Chile, but never as hot as the serrano, piquin or de arbol chiles from Mexico.

Just like chile peppers in America, Hungarian paprika is also a world of its own. It is available in grades ranging as follows:

  • Különleges - the mildest, very sweet with a deep bright red color
  • Csípősmentes csemege (Delicate) – color from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor
  • Csemegepaprika (Exquisite, Delicate) – similar to Delicate, but with slight heat
  • Csípős Csemege, Pikáns (Hot, Exquisite Delicate) – a hotter version of Delicate
  • Rózsa (Rose) – pale red in color with strong aroma and mild heat
  • Édesnemes (Noble Sweet) – bright red with slight heat, still considered mild; this is the most commonly exported paprika, the typical Hungarian Sweet Paprika fround in American grocery stores
  • Félédes (Half-Sweet) – A blend of mild and hot paprikas; medium heat
  • Erős (Strong) – light brown in color, the hottest Hungarian paprika

Hungarian paprika powder from Kalocsa.



  • Gulyás - a Hungarian cattle-herdsman
  • Gulyásleves - Hungarian kettle goulash with soup-like consistency. It is made with peppers, braised meat, onions and paprika. Unlike the Viennese goulash, this dish is not thickened by flour and tastes quite light. Note that this is not what is known as "goulash". outside of Hungary. When the rest of the world eats "goulash", they eat Viennese goulash, which would be called "pörkölt" in Hungary.
  • Pörkölt - Same ingredients as in Gulyás, but boiled down to a thicker consistency. "Goulash" to the rest of the world.
  • Paprikás - Pörkölt made with chicken and thickened with sour cream.
  • Wiener Saftgulasch (Viennese Goulash) - A savory stew consisting of even amounts of chopped onions and meat (usually beef) cut into bite-size pieces, slowly braised with sweet and hot paprika powder, salt, pepper, caraway, marjoram, garlic and tomato paste, thickened with flour. Viennese goulash has a typical deep, dark color. Here are some of its varieties:
    • Fiakergulasch - Viennese goulash garnished with fried Vienna sausage, fried egg and a pickle cut and spread into a fan, served with bread dumplings
    • Prague Goulash - Same as Viennese goulash
    • Znojmo Goulash - Viennese goulash with sweet-and-souor Znojmo pickles
    • Zigeunergulasch - Viennese goulash using beef, pork or lamb, with diced tomatoes, potatoes and green peppers
    • Esterházygulasch - Beef goulash with sour cream, capers and julienned carrots, turnips and celery root, served with boiled potatoes
    • Karlsbad Gulasch - Beef goulash with sour cream served with gnocchi
    • Kaisergulasch - Goulash of beef tenderloin or beef sirloin, served with noodles
    • Andrássy Goulash - Beef goulash with halušky (spätzle) and bacon)
  • Trieste Goulash - Viennese beef goulash served with polenta instead of dumplings
  • Gulasch della Val Pusteria - Beef or pork goulash from South Tyrol in Italy, made not with the typical goulash seasonings, but with uniquely Italian ingredients such as oregano, rosemary and citrus peel, served with crusty white bread.
  • Bean Goulash - A stew called Bableves in Hungary, prepared similar to the Potato Goulash except mixed beans are used in place of potatoes. Sounds a bit simialr to New Mexican Chili, except paprika is used instead of ground chile.
  • Szeged Goulash - Pork stew with sauerkraut and sour cream.
  • Debrecin Goulash - Goulash made with Debrecin sausage instead of meat.
  • Potato Goulash - Goulash of chopped sausage (Braunschweiger or Kielbasa) and onions fried in hot fat, with paprika, cumin, salt and pepper, deglazed with vinegar, and cooked with chopped potatoes.
  • Sausage Gulasch (Wurstgulasch, Buřt guláš) - Low-budget potato-and-sausage goulash with tomato sauce.
  • Mushroom Gulasch - Low-budget goulash made with wild forest mushrooms instead of meat.
  • Goulash po komunisticeski (Communist Goulash) - Kazakh goulash that uses any kind of meat, because, as our friend Vladimir once said, "during Communism only Communists had meat" :)
  • We will tactfully omit the Hundguláš, a beggars' recipe for dog-meat goulash and leftover vegetables from 19th-century Prešporok (Bratislava).
A final note has to be said about the Goulash soup (Gulášová polévka, Gulaschsuppe). This is a soup popular in Austria, Germany and the Czech Rrepublic. However, even though this is also a soup, it tastes completely different from the other soup in this essay, the Hungarian Gulyásleves. For one, the Hungarian soup is not thickned by flour and tastes lighter. It also has ingredients not found in the Viennese goulash or in the Goulash soup, such as beans, carrots or small pasta. Goulash soup is cooked like the Viennese goulash, but boiled in a large amount of beef broth.

Here are our collected favorite goulash recipes:

Pikáns Gulyás (original Hungarian goulash)
Feldkurat Otto Katz's Goulash (Vienna-style goulash)
Fiakergulasch (Vienna-Style Goulash topped with fried Sacher Vienna Sausage, a pickle and a fried egg - a Vienna classic)
Bayrisches Biergulasch (Bavarian beer goulash)
Székely Gulyás (Szeged pork goulash)
Tiroler Wildschweingulasch (wild boar goulash from Tyrol)
Prešporský Guláš (Slovak goulash with pickles and horseradish)
Gulasch della Val Pusteria
(a unique goulash from the Italian Dolomites, infused with lemon zest)
Radim and Lisa's Guinness Goulash with New Mexican Chile Chipotle.
Created in Pearl River, Louisiana

Goulash Gallery:

Original Hungarian gulyás.

Szeged Goulash with Czech bread dumplings.

Vienna Goulash with Czech bread dumplings.

Feldkurat Katz Goulash (Vienna Goulash) at Schweik Restaurant in Prague.

Our take on the Feldkurat Katz Goulash with bacon dumplings.

Vienna Goulash at Restaurace Pod Slavínem (this menu has not changed in 30 years!).

Vienna Goulash with Czech bread dumplings and potato dumplings.

Vienna Goulash with lard (bacon) dumplings.

Vienna Goulash with lard (bacon) dumplings.

Pork goulash served with Czech bread dumplings (left) and raised dumplings (right).

Goulash with Bavarian potato dumplings.

Deer goulash with Bavarian bread dumpling at Gasthof Hanselewirt in Schwangau.



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Last updated: September 20, 2014

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