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pörkölt or paprikás?
“A pörkölt paprikás hús szafttal,
a paprikás ugyanez tejföllel,
a gulyáspörkölt hosszúlével és krumplival,
gulyásleves is a soup,
a tokány hús szafttal de nem jellemző rá a paprika.”

This all makes sense in Hungarian. Except I call my csirkepörkölt paprikás csirke. My father would have said “mert trehány vagy fiam”. Except that I am still not sure how to translate csirkepörkölt into English without adding to the confusion. I call my csirkepörkölt chicken paprika when in fact it isn’t a paprikás. If you can figure out the differences... I welcome a different opinion.

So what is it pörkölt or paprikás? And what is gulyás? Is it a soup or a stew? Both actually... And what is tokány?  The paprika cuisine all starts with meat, fat, onions, salt and of course paprika. Later on other stuff can be added or not. The essential difference between paprikás and pörkölt is that paprikás has sour cream and maybe flour for thickening, while pörkölt does not have thickening or sour cream. However sour cream is always served alongside the pörkölt as well. But I still don’t know what to call my csirkepörkölt.
This is the type of dish that the whole world calls “gulash”. But this is incorrect. Pörkölt is always cooked on the stove. You can use beef, veal, pork, chicken, lamb; it has to be dry stewed with minimal additional liquid. Basically you are aiming to cook the meat in its own juices. Pörkölt is NEVER thickened; the sauce should be quite thick though and never add anything else to the sauce. But this is not a stew. The thick juice, what we call “szaft” is just thick juice and not a gravy. Always serve pörkölt with sour cream on the side.
This starts out being a pörkölt, but in the end sour cream and flour is added for thickening.
Gulyás, gulyáspörkölt or bográcsgulyás is not a soup, it is a stew. This is essentially pörkölt with vegetables. It can be cooked on the stove or in a cauldron. Always serve them with sour cream on the side.
GULYÁSLEVES This is a soup, that starts out as a pörkölt and then considerable water or stock is added along with various vegetables and chopped potatoes. It can be cooked on the stove or in a cauldron. Always serve it with sour cream on the side.
TOKÁNY This is like ragout. The meat is cut into long, thin slices. The spice is usually black pepper, marjoram and very little paprika if any. Once again, this is cooked with the dry stewing method, just like pörkölt.

All of this aside, I still don’t know how to translate csirkepörkölt into a language that has no paprika culture to speak of. The confusion continues.


  1. I'm just glad I was able to read the Hungarian! If live to be able to prepare an authentic Hungarian dish from my Mom's early 1930's cookbook, but the long hand recipes are so difficult to follow.

  2. Thank you, Zsuzsa, for these exhaustive explanations. I always found these differences tricky... Even more since I learnt that my friend's Hungarian father hates cream in Paprikàs Csirke... and apparently he is not the only one.
    Can you believe I had gulyàs leves only once in my life??? I have to prepare it one day! I am starting to crave Hungarian cuisine again!

  3. Well, I can't read Hungarian, but I think I got the drift of this post. Of course the picture is worth a thousand words. I see chicken and a lot of paprika and I love it! Anything with a lot of paprika has my vote!

  4. It's quite confusing and there is even disagreement among Hungarians as to whether or not to serve sour cream in the dish or with the dish in some cases. :) I seem to recall that whether the meat is on the bone or not determines what it's called.

    It all tastes so good though.

  5. Eva, if your mom's writing was anything like mine... Hungarian longhand can be quite individualistic. And if you don’t use the language often that too can be a problem. About 10 years ago I tried reading a novel in Hungarian and I had to put it down, it required so much concentration. The Internet improved my language competency, since I read a lot of Hungarian news on line. I am very political and I loath the last two leaders Hungary had. Hungary is now a fascist dictatorship and this brought out the absolute worst of the Hungarian psyche. My motherland is in the grips of xenophobia but the nationalism they exude with so much pride does not feed, clothe or provide shelter for the weakest among them. I could not have imagined Canada being a socialist country in comparison. If I was starting this blog today… I may have distanced myself from the Hungarian emphasis, I am a less proud Hungarian these days and my appreciation for Canada has grown exponentially.

  6. Sissi, my husband does not like sour cream either, unless it is mixed into the dish. Then he seems unawares of the sour cream’s presence. The interesting thing I noticed if the sour cream is not mixed into the sauce, the chicken porkolt retains its flavour better for reheating. I didn’t want to add to the confusion, but my grandmother actually served chicken paprika with large dollops of thick sour cream among the meat, but not mixed into the sauce. What would you call THAT – well I have no idea.

  7. Yes Peach Lady, pictures would have helped. I was thinking of adding them to the write up, maybe I will do that yet. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Yes Maria, there is disagreement; that is why I put up this post. The boneless, skinless chicken was an unknown entity back when the paprika culture evolved. Chickens have bones and more, at least they used to be – heck they struggled in the bag and pooped themselves as I carried them home from the market…

  9. My parents raised chickens for a while, as I think I have mentioned ... many times ... and I used to be the recipient of more than a few chickens with surprises inside that were missed during the butchering process. My dad made my mom kill the chickens (he was too tender hearted to do so) and she finally got tired of it all and made him give it up.

  10. Zsuzsa, one thing I know for sure, that for Kosher Chicken Paprikás, this is the way they make it, without the sour cream. Kosher or not, not everyone likes sour cream in the paprika sauce. Great looking csirke pörkölt, now I am craving it for sure. I just purchased a new container of authentic Szeged paprika from our local gourmet supermarket, and will for sure be making it this weekend. I too prefer the paprikás without the sour cream!
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Maria, my grandma couldn't kill them either, we had a neighbour who killed the chickens for us in exchange for the blood. If it is left to congeal, apparently it can be prepared like liver. Our family never ate the blood; I think I would have to be starving before I tried it.

  12. Elisabeth, my husband refuses to eat sour cream. The only way he will eat it if it is mixed into the sauce and I found that if there is sour cream in the chicken paprika, [it doesn’t seem to affect any other meat] the taste is altered by next day. So I tend to make mine without the sour cream. My grandma swore the best paprika came from Szeged.




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