Bringing home the best of Hungary
We are delighted to welcome guest contributor Nelli from the award-winning Nellicious Travels to Wanderers Compass. We met Nelli in Budapest, Hungary, in the summer of 2022. During our last couple of trips, we started booking food tours on our first full day in a new destination. Finding a local guide that is passionate about food and the place they live is key. Our extensive research led us to Nelli, and what a find!
Food is an intricate part of a culture and provides a gateway to immersing ourselves in that culture. We need to become open to experiencing new cuisines, especially when traveling abroad. People often speak through their food. We make a habit of seeking out and learning local food traditions. Food tours are an incredible way to introduce ourselves to the foods and places we would not likely discover while learning about the history and traditions surrounding food. That was indeed the case with our private tour with Nelli.
Our Budapest food tour with Nelli
Nelli is a wealth of knowledge and is passionate about her homeland. Having lived in multiple countries during her lifetime, she came home to rediscover her roots and embrace the incredible cuisine it offers. In the process, she launched her own company, Nellicious Travels. It is where passionate foodies who love to eat and travel take you on an adventure to discover Hungary’s tasty dishes and drinks in places they know you will have a quality experience. Along the way, you get an excellent introduction to Budapest, learn some Hungarian history, and walk away with great tips for making the most of your visit, such as where to dine and off-the-beaten-path sites to see.
During our time with Nelli, we connected with her right away. A bit into the tour, we mentioned we have a travel blog (we had to explain why we were taking so many pictures). By the end of our tour, we were so impressed we asked her if she would share her vast knowledge of Budapest and Hungarian cuisine with our readers. You can imagine how excited we were she agreed to collaborate with us.
The first dish we tasted on our tour was traditional Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás). It is nothing like any goulash we have ever tried before. The flavors were incredible! As part of her business, Nelli teaches in-person and online cooking classes. We asked if she would share a recipe with us. Nelli kindly shares her authentic Goulash (Gulyás) recipe with the Wanderers Compass travel community, and we are so grateful. You will be blown away. Simple ingredients made into a soup that will wow you.
Are you planning a trip to Budapest? As well as private food tours, Nelli offers sightseeing, wine tasting, and Danube boat tours, to name a few. Check out her website, Nellicious Travels, for more information.
Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás) Is it a soup or a stew?
When Hungarians say Goulash (Gulyás), they mean soup. Soup is loved in Hungary, and Nelli grew up having three-course meals for lunch: soup, a main dish, and dessert or fruit. Of course, the portions used to be smaller in those days.
Pörkölt (beef stew) is one of the most popular traditional Hungarian foods, along with Goulash (Gulyás). You should taste both whiles in Hungary. The stew they eat is mainly served with “nokedli,” i.e., spaetzle or noodles; some call it small dumplings or just hand-made pasta in different shapes and sizes.
Another essential part of most meals in Hungary is pickled vegetables or a good cucumber salad with sour cream on it. You can find pickled vegetables everywhere; some market stands sell only that. They come in the cutest forms, such as the picture. A side of pickled vegetables is on most restaurant menus and is a unique, flavorful accompaniment to any meal.
The Origins of Goulash (Gulyás)
The word Goulash, or in Hungarian “gulyás,” is what the Hungarian cowboys are called. This is why sometimes you find Goulash (Gulyás) called Cowboy Stew. Gulyás (cowboys) were herdsmen that moved cattle. According to our knowledge, they were the first to cook it in the Puszta (the Steppe, a dry grassy plain region of Hungary, east of the Danube) over an open fire in a big metal kettle (cauldron). This is why you often see images of Goulash (Gulyás) cooking over an open fire in a pot.
The gulyás (cowboys) were responsible for trading cattle, so they walked long distances. To keep moving on, at times, they had to slaughter the weaker animals. They would then put the meat between the horse and saddle, so when they were riding, they tenderized the meat. Then they salted and dried it so they could take it on long journeys.
After being on the road for a while, the cattle and the gulyás (cowboys) needed to rest. Often they would cross paths with other herds. In these cases, when the gulyás (cowboys) met up, they would rest together for a few days. As we all know, when people gather, they cook and feast.
They first cooked the pörkölt, the stew. This dish gets better the more you reheat it, as the meat gets more tender, and the flavors come out even more. But it gets reduced and thicker as well.
Now for the soup
And this is how the soup evolved from the stew. They added water and root vegetables to reduced stew, such as potatoes, carrots, and parsley roots. The result is a thick, nourishing soup Hungarians love to eat year-round. In some regions of Hungary, they even add “csipetke” – tiny little noodles or dumplings to the soup.
Of course, every family and every restaurant cooks the soup differently; only the main ingredients stay the same. The core ingredient that gives it exceptional flavor and color is Paprika. In our view, the best Paprika is found in Hungary in volumes you can’t imagine. As a result, we brought quite a bit of this wonderful Paprika home for gifts and ourselves.
A bit about Paprika
Paprika is a spice made from dried and ground red peppers. It is traditionally made from Capsicum annuum varietals in the Longum Group, including chili peppers. Still, the peppers used for Paprika powder tend to be milder and with thinner flesh.
All capsicum varieties are descended from wild ancestors in North America, particularly Central Mexico, where they have been for centuries. The peppers were then introduced to the Old World when peppers were brought to Spain in the 16th century. The seasoning was used to add color and flavor to many dishes.
The trade of Paprika expanded from the Iberian Peninsula to Africa and Asia and ultimately reached Central Europe through the Balkans while under Ottoman rule. This may explain the Hungarian origin of the English use of Paprika. Despite its presence in Central Europe since the beginning of Ottoman conquests, it did not become popular in Hungary until the late 19th century. It is now a defining element of Hungarian cuisine.
Paprika can range from mild to hot – the flavor also varies from country to country – but almost all plants grown produce the sweet variety. Sweet Paprika is mainly composed of the pericarp (the fruit coat), with more than half of the seeds removed, whereas hot Paprika contains some seeds, as well as stalks and other components.
A Medicinal Component
Paprika contains capsaicin, a compound found in peppers, which is reputed to have a wide range of health benefits. For example, it has antioxidant properties, which can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, improve immunity, and even alleviate gas. It is also reputed to aid pain relief, maintaining a healthy weight, and UV protection.
Now let’s get to
what we all came for,
Traditional Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás)
Jó étvágyat (Bon Appetit in Hungarian)
Traditional Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás)
- 1 Deep Pot
- 3-4 meduim Onions
- 4 Hungarian Yellow Bell Peppers If you can't get Hungarian yellow peppers use 2-3 California yellow bell peppers or 6 yellow banana peppers. For thicker soup add more peppers.
- 1-2 cloves Garlic
- Sunflower or canola oil to cover the base of the pot Do not use any flavored oil such as olive, peanut, sesame etc., since it does not go well with the goulash flavors
- 1 1/2 lbs Beef (chuck roast, flank, or stew meat) Flank steak worked well. Pork is also an option.
- 1 tbsp Tomato paste
- 2-3 tbsp Sweet Hungarian Paprika Powder You can use more if you prefer. As Nelli told us, you can't ever add enough Paprika.
- 1/2-1 tsp Hot Hungarian Paprika Powder Only use it if you want some spiciness. We loved the added touch of spice.
- Water As needed
- 1-2 medium Tomatoes
- Ground Black Pepper
- 2-3 Potatoes We used Yukon Gold
- 2 Carrots
- 1 Parsley Root (Parsnip can be substituted) We used parsnip and it worked well
- Sour cream – optional Added as a topping if desired
- Chop the onions, garlic, and yellow Hungarian bell peppers. If you cannot get Hungarian peppers, you can use yellow bell peppers or yellow banana peppers.
- Take a deep pot, put the oil in it, so the bottom is covered. Use sunflower oil or canola oil, or even better, lard. Do not use oil with a special flavor like olive, peanut, sesame, etc., these don’t go with the flavors of the goulash.
- Sauté the onions, bell peppers, and garlic in the hot oil until they get a bit soft.
- Add a teaspoon of caraway seeds and two bay leaves into the hot oil and stir it.
- Add the diced beef. Stir it until the meat becomes greyish.
- Add a tablespoon of tomato paste into the hot oil.
- Add 2 tablespoons of mild paprika powder to the pot. (adding more is an option) If you prefer it spicy, add the 1/2-1 tsp of hot paprika powder.
- Immediately stir well and fast, and then add quickly as much water so everything is slightly covered.
- Add 1-2 chopped tomatoes, salt. and a tiny bit of ground black pepper.
- Cover the pot and simmer it for 1-2 hours on low heat. Check the water level often and replace the evaporated water.
- When the meat gets tender and soft, you have the pörkölt (the stew). To make the soup, pour as much water into the stew until you get a soupy consistency. Add more salt to your desired taste.
- Put the veggies you have cut into the pot:: 2-3 medium-sized diced potatoes, two sliced carrots, and, if you wish, a small sliced parsley root or parsnip.
- Cook it until the veggies are soft (al dente). Remove the bay leaves.
- Serve with a slice of bread and a dollop of sour cream.
Traditional Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás)
Images from Nellicious Travels and our recipe practice
Is a Budapest adventure on your bucket list? Check out our blog post on our Budapest visit, and before you know it, you will find yourself planning your next trip.
© 2023 Wanderers Compass All Rights Reserved
Budapest Photo Gallery
Check our most recent blog postsView All
“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And…December 5, 2023
May you never forget what is worth remembering, nor ever remember what is best…September 13, 2023
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” Robert H. Schuller It is all…September 11, 2023