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  • Gulyásleves: The Great Ancestor of Hungarian Cuisine

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    Literally translated as “herdsman soup,” but commonly known as goulash, gulyásleves can be traced back to the ancient nomadic tribe of Magyars, who settled the Carpathian Basin in the ninth century. It is an ancestral stew from which many traditional Hungarian dishes have been derived.

    Gulyásleves became popular in the Middle Ages among herdsmen tending cattle in the Hungarian Puszta (Great Plains) and leading them to distant markets in Venice, Moravia, and Nuremberg. Along the way, they would slaughter animals deemed too feeble to sell, and these provided the beef for the stew, which they would cook in a cauldron over an open fire.

    Over the years, the dish has evolved, as different communities have adapted it. In the late nineteenth century, Puszta cooks added paprika powder to season and preserve the meat, producing a spicier gulyásleves, which evolved into a dish known as pörkölt. Upper-class chefs softened the paprika’s strong flavors with sour cream, and diluted the stew into a soup. They also varied the gulyásleves by turning the paprika-based broth into a sauce, pouring it over chicken and serving it with side dishes such as galuska/nokedli or tarhonya (egg noodles). Thus was born paprikás csirke or chicken paprikash.

    Moreover, gulyásleves has served as a symbol of national cohesion in the struggle to preserve Hungarian identity against attempts to homogenize various peoples within the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867 to 1918). Gulyásleves was eventually adopted as Hungary’s national dish. While indoor cooking pots have replaced cauldrons in urban households, outdoor cauldron cooking remains popular for social gatherings in Hungary today, not unlike family barbecues in the United States. Hungarians all over the world also prepare indoor variations of these traditional dishes. Indeed, there are as many versions of gulyásleves as there are Hungarian grandmothers.

    Gulyásleves, in its more modern soup form, will be available for sale at the Budapest Bistro concession during the Festival. The soup contains cubes of beef, smoked bacon, onion, carrots, potato, tomatoes, caraway seeds, paprika, and pepper. Paprikás csirke, as a stew of creamy, rich paprika sauce poured over slow-cooked chicken, will also be served. Stop by and enjoy these tasty expressions of Hungarian heritage.

    The culinary portion of the Hungarian Heritage program will showcase cauldron cooking in general and gulyásleves in particular.

    Lili Kocsis is the Participant Assistant for the 2013 Hungarian Heritage Festival program. She graduated from Harvard University in 2011 with a B.A. in linguistics. She dedicates her spare time to purposeful travel, food photography, and writing about regional cuisine.

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