Goulash – a tasty history (8)

In the counterpart of the Dual Monarchy, Austria, after -and perhaps thanks to- the 1867 reconciliation with the Hungarians, goulash became increasingly popular, especially through the many Viennese Wirtshäuser, Kaffeehäuser and Beisl, where high and low, rich and poor used to take their lunch. The dish fits very well in with the Viennese culinary tradition, of which the base is not roasted, but boiled meat. It is also an extremely practical dish. It is fairly easy to prepare with a minimum of cooking utensils and ingredients and has the added advantage of what could not be sold today tastes even better warmed up the next day.

goulash - a tasty history

In the increasingly popular cookbooks of the time, recipes for goulash were taking up more and more pages. Did the Prague cookbook give only one single recipe, in 1893 Babette Franner in her “exquisite Wiener Küche” (exquisite Viennese cuisine) under the heading “Verschiedenes Gollasch” (several goulash) devoted a whole chapter to the dish. “Die Österreichische Küche” (The Austrian cuisine) (1899) by Marie von Rokitansky presents us with no fewer than 14 recipes: for beef-, bacon-, farmers-, Gypsy-, Pester-, pork-, Szekely-, Szegediner-, lamb- (2x), veal-, rabbit-, venison- and fishgoulash, plus a recipe for “Ungarisches Halàss-lé” (Hungarian fisherman’s soup) and one for “Kalbspörkelt” (veal pörkölt).

That goulash towards the end of the 19th century had managed to secure a permanent place in the repertoire is evident from the description of Robert Habs and Leopold Rosner in their “Appetit-Lexicon” of 1894: “Gulasch, correctly: Gulyás, pronounced Koeljaasj, national dish of the Magyars of which the main condiment is paprika. (…) For the rest, less a fine, as a coarse dish, a true bivouac-feast, still the goulash since thirty years has conquered the continent and occurs even canned.”

In the women’s magazines and journals of that time regularly appeared recipes for goulash and articles in which mention was made of the vast quantities that are daily consumed in the Viennese eating-houses, and how the experience of cooking thousands of pots of goulash had so perfected the art that it has become the basis of their commercial success. And so it has remained to this day. The traditional Viennese Saftgoulash, which is actually a Hungarian runderpörkölt with beer instead of wine, is to this day served in every self-respecting Viennese Wirts- and Kaffeehaus and has become for millions the very image of what a real goulash should be like.

However, some caution was still called for, because the Hungarian paprika initially only came in the superlative of the taste “hot”. A mild variant was developed not before the end of the nineteenth century when ways were found to effectively separate the seeds, which are responsible for the spiciness, from the pods. To quote the “Appetit-Lexicon” again: “A real Hungarian stomach tolerates a teaspoon full of paprika as suited, a German, however, burns with the same dose like hellfire, which neither Bacchus, nor Gambrinus are able to quench – reason enough to watch any Wirtshaus-goulash so long with suspicion, until it has proven to be moderately papricised(¹)”. Or, as the “Greatest Hungarian” Count Széchenyi(²) stated:. “… because only they are regarded as master chef who use paprika in large quantities and only those who love this taste are recognized as true Hungarians”.

(¹) “Paprizieren”, “to papricise”, is still the common Austrian expression for seasoning a dish with paprika.
(²) István Count Széchenyi of Sárvár-Felsővidék (1791-1860) was statesman, writer, economist, engineer and the driving force behind the modernization of Hungary. He was one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences and builder of the Chain Bridge in Budapest, for the use of which the nobility, too, had to pay toll, at that time a revolutionary novelty of great importance.

© 2016, Marcellus Wick

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