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Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Say Goulash, I Say Gulyás

I had really planned to take Sunday off of blogging this week, but I was thinking about this and had to share it with all of you.

When I was in High School, I had a steady job babysitting two kids who lived just three houses down the street from me. In the summer, I worked five full days, and during school, four after-school days and Saturday. I earned a good twenty dollars a week during the school year and forty a week during the summer and it felt great to be earning so much money. That was really good money in those days, and I was proud to be earning it. Every so often, there was an evening of babysitting as well.

One time that I was asked to sit in the evening, Ann said she would make anything for dinner that I wanted to eat; all we would have to do was heat it up. She started naming various things, and finally hit a magic word. It was goulash. Hey, I'm a Hungarian-American, I hear the word goulash, and I am ready to eat. I stopped her right there, and said goulash would be perfect. The evening of babysitting rolled around, and I was eager to eat a delicious serving of goulash. I practically pushed Ann out the door so that the kids and I could start getting ready for dinner. I opened the refrigerator door with excitement. And did not see any goulash.

I stood in front of the fridge for a few minutes, intently scanning every item on every shelf. I looked from top to bottom to top again. I glanced at the contents of the door; maybe the goulash was stashed there. I still came up empty. The kids started asking what was wrong, what was I doing? I told them I was trying to find the goulash, and they said it was right in front of me on the top shelf. I still didn't see it, so the kids pulled the container out for me. It was then that I learned something I never would have imagined. There was an impostor, an American dish called goulash. What the kids saw as a tasty batch of goulash (and it did taste good, by the way), I saw as elbow pasta, tomato sauce, and hamburger. I made the best of the situation and enjoyed what had been so thoughtfully prepared for me, but I had learned that things aren't always what you think they are. But they can still be good.

The dish I was expecting to eat is a delicious traditional Hungarian dish known as gulyás. (Note: the pronunciation of the two is very similar, goulash is said kind of like goo-losh, and gulyás is pronounced sort of like gool-yosh.)There are as many variations as there are regions and cooks, but some basics are always the same. When I make it, I brown cubes of beef, and then add some onions and let them cook a bit. Then the magic ingredient, mild Hungarian paprika, is added, along with water or beef broth. It cooks for as long as you can stand the delicious smell, and the sauce thickens itself and the beef becomes nice and tender. Many of my friends will tell you that although it is simple, it is also quite delicious. It is served with galuska (noodles) and a dollop of sour cream. And, if possible, a lovely salad with thin-sliced cucumbers and onions in a vinegar-based dressing. Just thinking about it makes me hungry.

I don't regret my goulash mix-up. It was a very tasty dish. And I have made variations of it myself on more than one occasion. But that dish of goulash taught me that the world of food was bigger than I realized. And it isn't all about what the food is called. A dish prepared with love feeds body and soul no matter what it is named. If you haven't ever had gulyás, I hope you have a chance to eat it some day. And to my friends who have tasted it it, shouldn't we get together and have some soon?