An appetite for Goulash

Just got back yesterday from a couple of nights inBudapest. What a place!

I went to shoot a little film about Goulash, trying to find the essence of the dish, to find out how they cook it. It often happens that an English-language cookbook version of a meal will be wildly different from any authentic local version. And I certainly found this to be true. Without giving anything away, I promise you that the six bowls I was filmed eating, were significantly different. Similar, obviously, but clearly different to varying degrees.

I had three different bowls of Goulash in the morning – breakfast, elevenses and ten-twenty-fives, all upstairs at the Central Market. There’s a row of little food stalls all selling simple, brilliant, inexpensive food. You take your bowl of soup and sit perched at a bar on a stool overlooking the market. Lunch was goulash in a tiny neighbourhood restaurant, crowded with local pensioners getting an inexpensive hot meal, or working-men eating huge platefuls of stewed meat, cabbage and potatoes. Tea-time, and I was the scruffy odd-one-out eating goulash in The New York Café; an utterly extravagant froth of renaissance and baroque gilded plasterwork with marble columns and floors. Cherubs frolicked across the ceiling as I ate. Dinner was Goulash at the director’s favouriteBudapesthangout – The Calgary Bar. It’s a tiny place, the walls crammed with objects and curios. Viky, the owner, former model and reputed beauty-queen, had made the goulash herself. Just as we were about to start filming, a piano player she had arranged walked in. Completely unexpected by us, and straight out of a casting director’s dream, he played everything we asked for – from Hungarian Folk to Tom Jones. It’s just that kind of place.

I haven’t got a recipe for goulash yet. I went with the intention of trying out as many as I could in one day. Seeing what I could learn from them, glean some little special details, taste them, and form an opinion. Looking back now, they all had something to teach me. That’s how good food-writing starts, I hope. I’ll begin cooking and writing early next week, assuming I have the appetite for another bowlful by then.