Opinion: What’s all this about goulash?

by Ian Johanson
for The Beacon

HUNGARIAN GOULASH with a dollop of sour cream is a basic stew distinguished by a liberal dose of Hungarian paprika.

Let’s talk about Hungary.

Why, you ask. Other than for goulash, which is delicious, why should I invest any time thinking about that country? I could maybe point it out on a map, but then again maybe not. 

It’s worth thinking about Hungary because somehow Viktor Orbán, the prime minister, has become a model for some, including former President Trump, who recently endorsed his re-election saying, “He has done a powerful and wonderful job…He is a strong leader and respected by all.”

Fox tv host Tucker Carlson spent a week broadcasting from Hungary, saying it is a “small country with a lot of lessons for the rest of us.”

Hmm. What lessons, exactly?

David Pepper, author of Laboratories of Autocracy, described in a Twitter video what Orbán has done to Hungary. (Partisan context: Pepper was chair of the Ohio Democratic Party from 2015-2020.)

Pepper says Orbán has perfected a system called “competitive autocracy” – “a system where you maintain power, even when you’re in the minority, by rigging every aspect of grabbing power, so it’s predetermined, but you do it in a way that looks legitimate, it looks sort of democratic.”

Orbán has accomplished this in three primary ways, according to Pepper.

1) Gerrymandering keeps his party in power even when voters vote the other way. This has resulted in a supermajority in parliament even though they received a minority of the votes.

2) Attacks on the judiciary and stripping away its jurisdiction over issues like elections, so there won’t be an independent check and balance.

3) Attacks on the election process itself, so they are not run independently. 

Sound familiar? “Everything I just described actually exists in statehouses across America, right now,” Pepper says. “By legitimizing Orbán, what they are doing is legitimizing the broken democracy in state after state.”

So yeah, there are lessons to be learned from Orbán’s Hungary:  Let’s not let a strongman and his party put themselves in charge of our elections – our precious and fragile right to govern ourselves through our own votes. As one of our readers wrote in a letter, “Why on earth would a democracy put one party in control of elections?” 

But let’s get back to goulash. Doesn’t food bring people together? Doesn’t the appreciation of other people’s food make clear the distinction between the people, and whatever odious government they might be suffering under? I think it does. 

So in that spirit, enjoy this dish in solidarity with a proud people whose desire for democracy has been corrupted and usurped by a self-serving authoritarian. 

Egészségére! (Cheers!)

Authentic Hungarian Goulash

(adapted from, by Susannah)

Servings: 6


2 tablespoons butter

1.5 lbs. arm chuck roast, cut into 1/2” cubes

2-3 onions (3/4 to 1 lb.), diced

3 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 lb.) 1/2” cubes

2 carrots (about 1/4 lb.) diced

1/8 tsp. ground caraway seed

1 clove garlic, minced

4 Tbsp. Hungarian paprika (yes, tablespoons, that’s the goulash vs. stew difference!)

2 cups beef stock

sour cream


Brown all sides of beef cubes in butter over medium heat, add onions, sauté until soft.

Combine beef and onions with all other ingredients (except sour cream) in a soup pot, stir.

Cook on a very low simmer for 3 hours or until everything is tender.

Salt to taste and serve with a dollop of sour cream.

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