Friends from America were in town a couple of weeks ago, and one night we enjoyed dinner in our home before they hopped back across the pond. Culinarily exhausted from an epic four hour preparation (!) of Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse two days earlier for the family, not counting the time spent in search of fresh mussels in a landlocked country, I sought a relatively casual Austrian-ish menu for this dinner.

The cool autumnal weather called for a warm and hearty main course, and my favorite butcher suggested Goulash. Goulash is Hungarian in origin, and after all, they were the other half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire! Perfect!
Hungarian Goulash photo courtesy of the Internet
“Gulyás” is the Hungarian word for “Herdsmen,” and the dish is thought to have originated about 150 years before the Ottomans invaded. (This being an important point.) Herdsmen, having access to a great meat source, would create stews that could sit in a kettle all day and endure harsh weather conditions across the Hungarian Puszta (plains). But the stews did not contain paprika!
The paprika actually comes from the New World (namely, Argentina!), and made its way up through the Balkans along Ottoman trade routes. The Ottomans carried the dried pepper spice with them on their invasions, and after their defeats the Austrians took the coffee and kebabs; and the Hungarians, the paprika. So now you know.
In the late 1800s Goulash was made a fashionable menu in Vienna, the Emperor wanting to perhaps “spice up” otherwise dullish Viennese cuisine? The provinces followed suit…the Czechs and Slovaks added caraway seeds and bread dumplings to their version of Guláš; and the Poles tossed in their beloved mushrooms and called it Gulasz. Even the Viennese fancied up this “herdsmen’s stew” with sausages, salt potatoes and a fried egg, and rebranded it as “Fiaker Goulash” (Coachman’s Goulash).
So where does the concoction known as, “American Goulash” sit on the Goulash Family Tree?  Well, there is beef and paprika in the mix; the rest, elbow macaroni, tomatoes, and, cheese?  Must be a distant cousin several times removed.
American Goulash photo courtesy of the Internet
The evening began with Liptauer and Krustenbrot. In researching the origins of my planned menu (call me a food nerd, I do not mind), I learned that Liptauer, the much-loved paprika-infused soft cheese spread that is a staple at every Viennese heuriger (wine tavern) is, well, not all that Austrian. Its origins lie in Slovenia, a country that once was part of the former Empire.
But whatever. Together with our American friends, we enjoyed a supper of Austrian beef goulash with Hungarian paprika and Slovak Halusky on Polish dinnerware; and served with a round of Czech Pilsner beers, naturally. With a little French cutlery and Bulgarian table linens thrown in for fun!