Want to test your cooking skills? It's time to try making the most warming and hearty of meals, goulash, the national dish of Hungary.

A close-up shot of a metal ladle being dipped into a large bowl of goulash, which appears like a reddish-brown soup with chunks of meat in it.
Goulash is the national dish of Hungary © Sharomka / Shutterstock

What is it?

Hungary’s national dish – a filling feast of tender beef chunks and root vegetables flavoured with local paprika – has been sustaining everyone from Magyar cattle-herders to restaurant-goers for generations.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tbsp vegetable oil 
2 medium onions, peeled and diced 
450g (1lb) stewing or braising beef, cubed 
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 
3 tbsp Hungarian paprika 
1 tsp caraway seeds, ground 
pinch of cayenne pepper 
2–3 cups water 
400g (14oz) potatoes, peeled and cubed 
3 medium carrots, peeled and cubed 
salt, to taste 
crusty bread or fresh egg noodles, to serve

A bowl of Hungarian goulash as seen from above. The red, meaty broth is held in a white bowl, with a spoon dipped into it. Potatoes and carrots are also visible as part of the soup.
Goulash was the staple meal of herders who drove cattle on Hungary’s plains as far back as the 9th century © Sharomka / Shutterstock

How to cook

Step 1: Heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole pan. Add the onions and cook until soft and golden.
Step 2: Add the beef and stir-fry until the meat is no longer pink and any liquid has evaporated.
Step 3: Add the garlic, paprika, caraway seeds and cayenne pepper and fry for a few minutes to coat the beef. Add enough water to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil.
Step 4: Add the potatoes and carrots. 
Step 5: Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook the goulash for at least an hour or until the beef is tender and the potatoes and carrots are cooked.
Step 6: Season the soup as required with salt and more caraway.
Step 7: Serve with crusty bread or fresh egg noodles

Top tip: This is an easy dish to replicate at home, but do try to use Hungarian paprika, which gives the dish its characteristic warmth and bittersweet taste. Chop the meat and vegetables to the same approximate sizes for even cooking.

An aerial view of Budapest's Castle District on a sunny day. The old stone buildings are surrounded by pockets of greenery.
You'll find goulash being served up in restaurants and cafes throughout Hungary, including its capital Budapest © ZGPhotography / Shutterstock

Tasting notes

Long, cold winters in Hungary require nourishing slow-cooked foods such as goulash,  which goes perfectly with noodles or dumplings. Not to be confused with that other Hungarian staple pörkölt (a dry-fried meat stew), a bowl of goulash is a one-pot wonder of beef and vegetables that becomes a complete meal when cooked with egg noodles called csipetke. Unlike the smoky Spanish version or the mild, generic versions found in most supermarkets, the Hungarian paprika lends an intense red-capsicum flavour and deep-red colour to the dish. It comes in mild, sweet, semisweet and hot varieties, depending on the type of capsicum, but even the hot versions will have a more complex aroma and taste than cayenne or chilli powder.

Other recipes in this series:
Goan vindaloo
Bangkok phat thai
New Mexico breakfast burrito

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Bowl Food.

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