I feel like I’ve been living under a rock because I have never tasted goulash until a recent visit to Hungary. I’ve heard of goulash, who hasn’t? But honestly, it never sounded appetizing to me. Maybe it was the name? A food for ghouls? Maybe it was because I thought it was stew? I was never a fan of beef stew and, as a kid, I would intentionally miss dinner the nights my mom was making it. Obviously, my lack of desire for eating goulash stems from my childhood some way or another.
However, one of the best things about traveling (and maturing) is the opportunity to try and appreciate new foods, and what better time to try my first bowl of goulash than when in Hungary? After all, it’s a national dish and a symbol of the country. So, after doing a little online research, I decided that I would go to Castro Bistro in Budapest for my goulash experience.
Castro Bistro – Great Goulash in Budapest
Castro Bistro is a small unassuming café, and if you blink, you might miss it. Don’t expect a fine dining experience here, as it is very casual and laid back. Instead, what you will find is a solid meal, good cold beer, and a low-key relaxing environment.
Castro Bistro feels more like an old coffee house from the 1970s with a bohemian look and vibe. Typically the type of coffeehouse that existed before Starbucks came on the scene, a dying breed. I think eating your goulash here will totally fit into your overall Budapest experience quite nicely.
It was a little challenging to find this little gem at first, but it was worth the effort at the end. If you are spending some time shopping on the Vaci Utca where it meets Vorosmarty Square or are close to the Dohany Street Great Synagogue, then you should work Castro Bistro into your schedule. It’s easily accessible from both these areas.
What is Goulash?
Goulash in a traditional and popular Hungarian meal. It is considered a soup in Hungary, not a stew, made of beef and vegetables. The key ingredient is none other than paprika, which is a powdered spice made from capsicum annum peppers.
Paprika – Hungary’s Red Gold
Besides the nice bright red color that will enhance the appearance of your dishes, Hungarian paprika will enhance the flavor, too, with heat, sweet or smoked options available. If you have paprika on your spice rack, take a closer look at it and taste it. Typically, basic unlabeled grocery store paprika is mixed with other peppers and is a brownish color with a bland taste. Think of this paprika more as a garnish for maybe deviled eggs, but not as a core ingredient for your goulash.
If you are planning a trip to Budapest, you’ll have no trouble finding paprika, as it’s produced in Hungary. If you are on the tourist trek, you’ll eventually find your way to the Central Market Hall at the end of Vaci Utca. Here, vendors will be selling different types of paprika, packaged for both souvenirs and practical use.
The stalls selling paprika are about a block long so there are plenty of vendors to choose from, all selling pretty much the same thing at about the same price point. You can also buy paprika in the grocery store in Budapest but you’ll get better prices at the Central Market Hall.
You’ll also see paprika paste in the market and grocery store. I could not resist buying this because I’ve not come across it in my local grocery store, and I was told that most Hungarians actually use the paste for their goulash instead of the powder. Now I have two large tubes at home, and I’m not quite sure how to use it, but I will experiment with it as soon as I use up all my powdered paprika.
Let’s Get Cooking!
With all the paprika I bought while in Budapest, I’ll be making this dish quite a bit over the next year before my paprika expires. Don’t worry if you are not planning to go to Budapest any time soon, you can still make this recipe by picking up some Hungarian paprika in your grocery store as well as varieties of it online (but the prices are better in Budapest!)
Goulash can be made as a stew or a soup, but if you want traditional Hungarian Goulash, then you are going to be making a soup. Make sure you have some good bread to sop up the broth! This will make a hearty meal that will surely warm you up during the cold winter months.
Hungarian Goulash Soup
2 medium yellow onions, chopped finely
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1.5 lbs cubed beef chuck roast
¼ c sweet Hungarian paprika
2 tsp dried marjoram (fresh is better, if you can find it)
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 medium parsley roots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds (or you substitute parsnip here if you can’t find parsnip roots)
3 medium new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium Hungarian peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or you can use banana peppers)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot or 5 qt. Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes, being careful not to let the onions brown or burn. Lightly salt the onions to help tenderize them. If the onions start to stick to the pan, add a small amount of water. About 8 min into the cooking, add the garlic.
Turn the heat to high and add the beef, seasoning it with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, stirring only once or twice, until the meat is lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the sweet paprika, marjoram and caraway seeds and continue cooking for about another 2 minutes. Once again turn the heat up to high, and add 5 cups of water with the carrots and parsnip root, bring to a boil. Reduce heat back to medium, cover and simmer for 50 minutes.
About 30 minutes into cooking, add more water, if necessary, to keep a soup consistency, about 2 cups. After a total of 50 minutes simmering time, add potatoes, hot paprika and again, additional water, if necessary. Bring back to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Add the peppers, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Serve with hearty bread.