I stopped, always curious about the printed word. Suddenly, I fixated on one of the paperbacks – it was a mysteriously interesting cookbook: the Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes. I opened it and started to scan some recipes – vegetable broths, French onion soup, Quiche Lorraine, cold salmon mousse, beef goulash…every page seemed to have something that was enticing and delicious. I decided that I had to have it and at the price of £1, I thought I could manage it. I can smile now but I only made £35 per week at the time, nine of which went to taxes, twelve to rent, four for an underground pass and the rest for food and miscellaneous expenses.
It was the first cookbook that I had ever bought. I took it home and read it from cover to cover. I wanted to cook every recipe in it. However, I did not have the means to do so. Consequently, I judiciously chose the first recipe that I would try. Consulting with my German boyfriend, we agreed that Beef Goulash would be a good place to start.
I followed the recipe, slicing, chopping, and stirring. I substituted butter for the bacon drippings, stewing meat for chuck steak and green pepper for the red pepper. I omitted the sour cream altogether as I could not afford it and I used dried herbs instead of the fresh ones in the bouquet garni. I stood by the stove and sniffed the aroma of paprika, meat broth, onions and garlic. These were new to my senses; I had never smelled anything like it before.
- Cut the meat into large cubes. Slice the onions, chop and crush the garlic to a cream with a good pinch of salt.
- Heat the dripping in a stewpan, brown the meat in this and then take out the pieces; lower the heat and put in the onions.
- Fry for a few minutes then add the paprika and, after 1 minute, the flour, tomato puree, garlic and stock.
- Stir until boiling, replace the meat, and add the bouquet and a little salt and pepper.
- Cover and simmer gently on the stove-top or in a moderately slow oven for about 2 hours.
- In the meantime, shred and blanch the pepper, peel the tomatoes, removing the hard core and seeds, and then slice them.
- When the meat is tender, add the pepper and tomatoes, simmer 2 or 3 minutes, and then turn into a casserole for serving.
- Spoon the cream over the top and serve with nouilles or plainly boiled potatoes.
When the meat was tender, I nervously served up the goulash with noodles. My boyfriend consumed his meal without saying anything. I held my breath while waiting for his comments. Finally, he put his fork down and said, “You know, this is really good. It is what I would like you to cook if my mother were to come to London for a visit.”
I sighed, having found my signature dish.
I cooked beef goulash whenever I had friends over for dinner. I cooked it when my parents came to visit from Canada. On returning to Canada, I brought the cookbook with me and continued to serve goulash to friends and family, all of whom heaped praise on my culinary prowess. Whenever I returned to London for a visit, my English friends asked that I cook beef goulash for them.
Goulash is not an ancient dish as it dates from the early 19th century. It comes from the word gulyas which in Hungarian means cattle driver. While cattle hands had been preparing a stewed dish of meat, onions, spices and a small amount of liquid for approximately 300-500 years, they had not had access to paprika, a ground red spice made from dried sweet peppers. Red peppers were first brought from Mexico to Spain and then their use spread across Europe to Poland.
Around 1820, red peppers were introduced to Hungary, where the local population perfected the making of paprika. This became Hungary’s national spice and goulash was born. It is the only Hungarian stew that is made with a roux of flour and fat. Cubed meat (beef, pork, veal, rabbit or poultry) onions, paprika and broth are added.
In Hungary, the dish is known as paprikas if it is made with sour cream and porkolt without. Because of its popularity, these two dishes were served at holidays and festivals as well as to visitors from other areas of Europe. These outsiders brought goulash with them when they returned home. Outside of Hungary, paprikas and porkolt became known as Hungarian Goulash, a dish associated with Hungarian national identity.
Theoreticians view national and regional identities through the lens of differentiation. Cultural identity is a process which distinguishes “us” from “them” and sets up social boundaries.
In the case of goulash, the centuries-old meat stews with the added ingredient of paprika created a unique dish which became popular in Hungary and which other cultures associated with Hungarian identity. Gradually, it spread to neighbouring countries under the moniker of Hungarian Goulash.
Specific dishes, such as goulash, contribute to the perception of identity as they act as “cultural apparatuses, i.e. a particular tool or device which communicates cultural distinctiveness to individuals both within and outside the cultural setting, thereby contributing to national or regional identity.
In the period of social and political upheaval in the 1960s, people in North America and other western countries rejected the existing French model of fine cuisine and highly processed “plastic” supermarket food. Instead, they took an interest in ethnic cuisine which was considered to be more authentic than what they had been eating.
This emerging interest in ethnic cuisine and the fact that goulash had been appropriated into the cuisine of other European cultures may be how the recipe for Beef Goulash found its way into the Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery which was first published in 1963 and primarily contained recipes for French dishes.
When culinary practices are absorbed into another culture as its own, the process is known as appropriation. When original dishes come into contact with different culinary traditions, the initial recipes often become hybridized, incorporating ingredients from the local culture. This has been the case with goulash both in Europe and North America.
The 1990 version of The New York Times Cookbook, written by the esteemed food writer, Craig Claibourne, represents the best of quintessential American cuisine. The cookbook includes four different recipes for goulash, including recipes attributed to Prague and Budapest styles of cooking. In addition, there are recipes for Veal Goulash and Venison Goulash. Each of the recipes has distinct ingredients besides the fact that they are made with different types of meat.
The following table lists the ingredients for each of the four recipes:
|Prague Three Meat Goulash||Budapest Beef Goulash||Veal Goulash||Venison Goulash|
The Budapest Goulash uses vegetable oil as the fat, another 20th century change. In other ways, it is similar to the Hume and Downes’ recipe with the exception that it does not use a roux and it adds the potatoes to the stew as it cooks whereas the Cordon Bleu recipe calls for the goulash to be served with potatoes after the cooking process has been completed.
In addition, the recipe does not require a basic roux made with flour. It does, however, include dry white wine which would give the dish an upscale appeal. Oddly, the recipe omits the key ingredient, paprika, thereby calling into question whether it should be called a goulash or just a stew.
The ingredients for Veal Goulash used a new combination of caraway seeds, dill seed and peppercorns to complement the taste of the paprika. This is a move away from the bouquet garni which is called for in the Cordon Bleu recipe. There is no roux which is a key method in the original Hungarian recipe.
In contrast, this recipe does use flour but only for dredging the meat prior to frying it. Furthermore, the recipe calls for two fats, vegetable oil and butter. The first is used to brown the meat while the second is used to sauté the onions.
The Venison Goulash also uses flour for dredging the meat rather than making a roux. It relies on the flavouring from the onions and paprika but also incorporates red wine as well as water or stock.
Together, these four recipes from a highly regarded American cookbook along with the one from the Cordon Bleu Cookery show how hybridisation of ingredients results from the borrowing of ingredients and cooking techniques following cultural contact with other countries.
While the original paprikas, calls for a roux of flour, fat and liquid, combined with meat, onions and paprika, the Cordon Bleu recipe incorporates two culinary practices common to French cuisine, i.e. garlic and a bouquet garni (described as a bay leaf, thyme and parsley). The Craig Claibourne recipes incorporate some specific American ingredients such as shortening as well as adding different spices and wine.
I have personally made some changes in the way that I prepare my dearly loved goulash. I can now afford red peppers and chuck steak. In keeping with the healthful principles of the Mediterranean diet, I use olive oil instead of butter or bacon drippings when making the roux. I also rarely use sour cream as most of my guests think that it has too much fat and do not wish to eat it – another health consideration.
Based on skills I learned from Chef Marc at the Ottawa Cordon Bleu Institute, I dry the beef before browning it for a better and more succulent result. I also use fresh herbs in a bouquet garni instead of simply throwing dried herbs into the pot.
I serve goulash with rosemary roasted potatoes or garlic mashed potatoes rather than the plain boiled potatoes suggested in the recipe – an influence from the late 20th century general interest in gastronomic practices. My cookbook, the Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery is now tattered and the pages have yellowed. However, it is of great sentimental value to me and I often use it as a reference.
This article has shown how specific dishes can contribute to the development of a regional/national identity. It also shows how regional dishes can be appropriated by other cultures and how the original recipes undergo a process of hybridization whereby the ingredients change in the context of the new culture and culinary traditions.
Finally, it tells a story of one young person’s timid first steps into the culinary world which has turned out to be a very satisfying journey indeed.
- Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities, (London: Verso, 1983), cited in Bob Ashley, Joanne Hollows, Steve Jones & Ben Taylor, “The National Diet” Food and Cultural Studies, (Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2004), p.81
- Ashley, Bob, Joanne Hollows, Steve Jones and Ben Taylor, “The National Diet,” Food and Cultural Studies, (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2004) pp.75-89.
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- Claiborne, Craig, The New York Times Cookbook, revised edition, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990) pp. 293, 314, 364.
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