Cooking Traditional Hungarian Goulash in Budapest
Leah Walker October 17, 2013

When I’m home I rarely cook. It’s not that I can’t cook, but rather don’t see the value in spending all that time making a meal when a sandwich will satisfy my hunger. This mentality must seem odd coming from someone who writes so much about food, but frankly, I’m not a picky eater despite all the world-class meals I get to eat.

Hungarian Goulash Cooking Class Budapest Hungary

What also might seem strange is the fact that I really love taking cooking classes when I travel. I’ve learned how to make pizza in Rome, sushi in Maui, and a host of Italian dishes in my daylong class in Umbria. I’ve attempted strudel making in Budapest, which is very difficult, as it involves stretching dough so thin that one must be able to read the newspaper through it. Cooking classes provide insight into the culture and history of a place, and also allow me to interact with locals. Thus, this summer when I spent 48 hours in Budapest with Kensington Tours, I requested an itinerary focused on culinary, wine, and sightseeing. That’s exactly what my private guide, Sándor, delivered.

Great Hall Budapest Hungary

The first order of my action-packed day was a goulash making class at Fakanál {Wooden Spoon} Restaurant located in the Great Market Hall {aka Central Market Hall}. Found at the Pest end of Liberty Bridge, the market is a beautiful three-story building built in the late 1890s and a must-visit while in Budapest. During World War II, the market was seriously damaged and closed. Extensively restored in the mid 1990s, it’s still an important place for locals to shop. Historical photos can be seen on the walls of the second floor.

Hungarian Goulash Cooking Class Budapest Hungary

At only 9 am, the Great Market Hall was a bit quiet. The ground floor had a smattering of Hungarians buying fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat for the meals ahead, while the second floor was all but deserted. Vendors selling Hungarian souvenirs were straightening their booths, and a few locals sat around drinking coffee and eating lango—deep-fried dough similar to a funnel cake that’s topped with sour cream and cheese. Food stall workers were bustling getting ready for the lunch rush, but other than that, I had the place to myself.

Hungarian Goulash Cooking Class Budapest Hungary

My goulash guru, Erik Baumann, was waiting for me inside of Fakanál Restaurant. This giant of a man with a shaved head and goatee looked more like an action movie hero than a cooking instructor. Located in the dining room of the large restaurant was a stovetop and next to it was a long table filled with all of the necessary goulash ingredients, knives, and cutting boards. All business, Erik was ready to get started.

I was given a brief history of Hungarian goulash. Meaning “herdsman” in Hungarian, goulash gets its red color from the spicy Hungarian paprika, which was brought to the country by the invading Turks.

Hungarian Goulash Cooking Class Budapest Hungary

It was made VERY clear that the dish is NOT the same as in the Czech Republic, which is thicker, uses less vegetables, not as spicy, and served with houskové knedlíky {Czech dumplings}. I quickly figured out that Hungarian goulash also is nothing like my father’s goulash, which is basically all the leftovers in the refrigerator made into a soup. No, I was going to make the Hungarian version—a somewhat spicy stew served with bread on the side.

Hungarian Goulash Cooking Class Budapest Hungary

Once the history lesson was complete, we moved on to the actual cooking. I attempted to cut the vegetables as swiftly and effortlessly as Erik, but losing a finger was not on the itinerary, so I deferred to him. We browned meat, poured in the already measured spices, threw in the chopped vegetables, and voilà—the one-pot dish was on its way to becoming traditional Hungarian goulash.

Hungarian Goulash Budapest Hungary

Not having the two hours to tend to the pot while it simmered, Erik just happened to have a bowl prepared for me. I took my seat at the table covered with a red-checkered tablecloth and had my first taste of real goulash. It was good. Actually, I should say it was really good. It had a real kick of spice, which is something I love and don’t get much of when visiting Europe. I soaked up the liquid with bread and savored the flavors before washing it down with a Hungarian red wine. So what if it was only 10 am. When in Hungary, right?

Hungarian Goulash Budapest Hungary

Temperatures have finally dropped below 90 in Texas, and I think it’s about high time I whip up a pot of Erik’s traditional goulash. If you’d like to do the same, I’ve included his recipe below. Let me know how it turns out, or better yet, send me some.

Hungarian Goulash Budapest Hungary

Traditional Hungarian Goulash

Serves four people

400 g shin of beef

2 Spanish onions

10 cl oil

pinch of salt, pepper, caraway seeds

1 teaspoon paprika {Hungarian spicy, not sweet}

5 cloves of garlic

1 carrot

1 parsnip

¼ celerac

1 bunch of celeriac leaves

500 g of potatoes

1 sweet pepper

1 tomato


Cut the meat into small cubes.

Finely chop the onion and garlic.

Cube the vegetables.

Fry the onion in hot oil until it becomes transparent.

Sprinkle with paprika and add a little water.

Add the meat, and flavor with salt, pepper, garlic, and caraway seed.

Place the sweet pepper and tomato on top.

Simmer for an hour, and then add the vegetables and potatoes.

As soon as the potatoes are tender the dish is ready to serve.

Serve the goulash with thick, rustic bread and a full-bodied red wine.

Hungarian Goulash Budapest Hungary

I was a guest of Kensington Tours. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review by the personalized and exclusive itinerary, Erik’s giant muscles, or the spicy goulash. As always, opinions are mine.

Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for five years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.


    1. There’s so many European cultures that have their own version of goulash. The fact that you haven’t tried it really surprises me.

  1. The first time I had goulash in Hungary I was so surprised at how thin it was. Everyone describes it as a stew, but I would say it’s more of a soup. Either way, it’s delicious and no matter how much I try, I can never make it the same way as all my Hungarian friends.

    1. Thank you, Abby. I think food and drink are the easiest to photograph for me. If you can teach me landscapes, I’ll return the favor with food.

    1. It’s been far too long since I’ve had it too. I guess I’ll make this recipe or surely, there’s a Hungarian restaurant in Houston. We have ever other kind of restaurant here.

  2. I have two things that I’ve taken away from this post.

    1. I want to bend over for that chef. Holy Daddy. Check out those arms.

    2. That goulash looks soooo goooood! Seriously, any food in any culture that can be described as a spicy meat stew is good in my book, so this looks divine. I tried some when I was in Budapest, but the memory is a bit of a blur as I ended up doing shots in a ruin bar that night. Pretty sure it was delicious though.

  3. Leah, you look like a pro chef in the pic! What a fun experience and great photos. I have a Hungarian connection in the family, so I guess it’s no wonder that I use A LOT of paprika. Can’t go wrong with that.

    1. Yeah, Pola, looking the part was just about the extent of my chef experience. I figure there’s a lot of intermingling with Polish and Hungarian. Y’all are so close in proximity.

    1. I’m absolutely kicking myself for not buying more paprika. I just can’t find the good stuff here in Houston. Let me know how this recipe works for you.

    1. Thanks so much! I guess I didn’t realize so many people hadn’t tried goulash. I just figured it was a pretty common thing.

  4. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had goulash… I’ll have to share the recipe with the hubs so he can make it. Because, as you know, he’s the cook around here. I’m with you: if I can eat a sandwich and not be hungry anymore, then a sandwich it is!

    1. Well, I suppose coming from an Italian family, you might not have ever been exposed to goulash. I bet there is something similar from Italy, however. It reminds me of something that might be found in Tuscany. It’s rustic and uses lots of root vegetables and great meat. If your husband makes it, let me know how you like it.

    1. I do have one they gave me that uses beans. There’s still the beef in there, but you could take it out. Everything else is the same.

  5. Well, I think you need to make this delicious looking dish for me some day – I mean, just to make sure you really learned how to make it 🙂 I have had goulash before but in Bavaria so likely a little different from this one. Now I am hungry…

    1. Cooking classes are a unique and sometimes inexpensive way to get to know a culture and location. I’ve recently really gotten doing them. Although I’ve yet to replicate the dishes, it sure is fun to try.

  6. Looks delicious!! I could use some right now to help me finish fighting this cold! Thanks for the recipe. 🙂

  7. I am glad to know goulash is more than mixing leftovers in the fridge into soup. Mine would be a hot dog, pizza, bread, beer goulash. I think I would much rather just go to Hungary and eat there than improvise from my fridge.

  8. I have been to this cafe/restaurant in the market hall and in the four day in the lovely city of Budapest, myself, husband and two friends said this was the best goulash – and we had it at least once more here. Elsewhere it was good, but this was just the best. I want to replicate it at home.

  9. It is a great recipe! I am very glad you made this dish in Hungary, as it is originated from Hungary, and cooked different. I cook it similar, but with more paprika (actually 1 teaspoon mild and half teaspoon spicy), and less garlic. It is also nice with small noodles (csipetke:)

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