The air was thick with the smell of cooking stew, the buzz of a crowd’s conversations, and a tinge of wood smoke, as contending teams vied for the coveted ‘best goulash’ award.
The other weekend we attended a goulash cook-off in our village. Lined around the brick laid yard were cauldrons of various sizes and types, all containing variations on goulash. Even though the basic idea of goulash is the same, each competitor had his own style or twist on goulash.
Goulash is of Hungarian origin but, like many dishes of Slovakia’s southern neighbour, is immensely popular in Slovakia. Caramelized onions, meat, paprika, tomatoes, peppers, and marjoram are the crucial ingredients, with anything else being optional.
It’s easy to feed a large number of people with a huge pot of goulash. Friends call my husband to cook goulash for their celebrations, sometimes for more than 100 people (he trained as a cook, although he no longer works as one). Someday, I’ll get his secret recipe up here on Almost Bananas.
Of first interest were the different ways the goulash was cooked. Some were set in barrels, like the ones used at my inlaw’s pig slaughter. Others were simple pots, hung on chains within a tripod stand over an open fire. Still another had a propane cylinder.
Each person bought a tag with three points attached and after tasting as much goulash as she could stuff down the gullet, gave her points to her favourite cook(s). We had some American friends visiting and they were astonished that the entrance fee was 2 euro. In addition, one beer is 80 cents – budget food and fun at it’s cheapest!
Some goulash versions were spicy, others mild; some used pork, others wild boar; some had potatoes, others not. One friend unknowingly got some made with tripe and wasn’t quite able to finish it. I’m normally up for that sort of thing, but as I had a stomach bug I didn’t have any goulash at all.
Interestingly enough, most of the competitors were men. Perhaps cooking over an open fire appeals to the masculine vibe, the Slovak version of a man grilling over a barbecue.
Towards the end we were treated to live folk music and dance, with the proceeds of the day going to them. My older daughters are in the dance group and I’m very grateful for the opportunity for them to learn more about their Slovak roots and traditions. I’ll write more about them soon.
First prize went to the cooks our table had agreed was the best. The goulash cook-off provided enough lunch that nobody was hungry for supper.