It’s true when they say that food brings friends and family together. This series of stories about food focuses on young people and their favourite dishes passed down from their mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles and grandparents. It celebrates the connection between food and culture, and how food can often act as a gateway to stories of yesteryear. The dishes in this series are particularly special to our storytellers; all of whom have migrant parents or grandparents, and use food as a firm foundation for their understanding of their family’s history and culture, and connects them to foreign yet familiar lands. I’m Johanna, I’m 25, and I was born in Hungary but I grew up in Australia. At home we always spoke Hungarian and always ate Hungarian food. One weekly dish we would make, which was never anything fancy, but a pretty standard comforting dish is called csirke paprikás. Paprikás is a stew that’s made with paprika and you can make it with different meats. My mum also makes a vegetarian/vegan version with gomba, which is mushroom. Csirke means chicken, that’s the most common meat we would use for this dish, and we would always eat it with nokedli, which is handmade dumplings, and uborka saláta. Uborka means cucumber and saláta means salad, and that’s just thinly sliced cucumber in a vinegary sauce with sour cream –everything has sour cream in it.
The warmth, saltiness and squishiness of csirke paprikás makes it really comforting… Paprikás csirke is a dish that is really simple to make.
My mum taught me how to make csirke paprikás. I only recently learned how to do it because it was a dish my mum or my aunty would make and I would enjoy. It always seemed like way too much work, and then my best friend Alina and I visited my parents in Tasmania and Alina fell in love with it. She would send me weekly messages like “ughh I really feel like nokedli. I loved it so much, can you make it for me?”. I got my mum to email me the recipe and I set up this little dinner party, but I had no idea how it was going to turn out because I never made it by myself. It turned out really well, surprisingly.
My parents live in Tasmania and I don’t get to see them super often, but every now and then my mum gets sent to Perth for work. I am moving back to Hungary so I don’t know when I will see my parents and my friends again, so we did this huge Hungarian feast and I invited all my friends to my house while my mum was visiting and she cooked up a huge batch of csirke paprikás, nokedli and vegan versions for my friends. We were all freaking out because I didn’t expect so many people to come. You know when you invite 30 people and expect maybe 15 to come? But everyone was so keen, so we had 25 people at my house. There was literally just enough for everyone, but it was a really beautiful night. My mum slaving away in the kitchen!
The warmth, saltiness and squishiness of csirke paprikás makes it really comforting. It doesn’t feel like a particularly festive dish or something I would make to celebrate an event, it is just if I miss my mum or my family, if I want to feel warm, it has that kind of warm feeling in your belly. It’s so soft and not very acidic so you just feel content and full afterwards. Also, the smell. Paprika is so important in Hungarian cooking -it’s a huge part of the culture- it’s in so many dishes and this dish in particular is paprikás, not paprika. It’s the star ingredient. Just the smell of it in the house just feels like home.
Paprikás csirke is a dish that is really simple to make. I go on about how it is a bit of an involved process, but at the end of the day it’s actually quite a simple dish -it’s an everyday dish. It’s a comforting dish that is a symbol of home and home cooking. For me, I think of my mum, I think of my parents.
I think it’s probably the best dish to introduce people to Hungarian cooking. Everyone thinks of goulash, and goulash is great, but I think whenever a friend would come over and with this specific intention of, “I want to get to know Hungarian food. I would like your mum or you to make me a Hungarian dish”. We would make csirke paprikás because it’s a crowd pleaser, you can make a vegetarian version, it’s simple, it’s got paprika, it’s got sour cream. It ticks all the boxes.
Csirke Paprikás with Nokedli (in Johanna’s own words)
1.5-2 hours total
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil (to cover the bottom of the pot)
- 1 medium onion
- 2 chicken thighs
- 2 chicken breasts
- 1-2 tsp mild Hungarian paprika
- Pinch of salt
- 1 capsicum
- 1 tomato
- 2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes (we recommend the Massel brand!)
- 1/2 cup light sour cream
- 1-2 tbsp cornstarch
- 500g plain flour
- 1 egg
1. Dice the onions finely, and fry them in the oil until they are translucent.
2. Add the chicken pieces, salt, and paprika, and mix it quickly so that the paprika doesn’t get bitter.
3. Cover the chicken with water, and add the stock cubes and vegetables. Cook covered for approximately an hour, or until the meat is tender.
4. Mix the cornstarch with sour cream and a little water and pour it into the paprikas. This will make the sauce a bit thicker and creamier. Leave to simmer on low while you prepare the nokedli.
1. Put flour into a bowl, and make a well in the middle. Break the egg into it, add salt, and start mixing. Slowly add water as you mix, until you have a thick and gloopy consistency.
2. Boil a large pot of salted water and push the dough through a nokedli maker, or alternatively through the flat side of a coarse grater, using a flat instrument such as a spatula. Once the dumplings are in the water, wait until it boils up again. When it looks like the water is about to boil over, take the pot off the heat, and drain the dumplings.
Serve the csirke paprikás with nokedli and cucumber salad. Alternatively, you can serve the csirkepaprikás with pickles.The beautiful illustrations in our Soul Food series are courtesy of Emmi Kerkham at Elks. Emmi loves to create beautiful things that share her ideas and experiences with others. If she’s not at her desk, you’ll probably find her exploring new places, whether it’s roaming through her own back yard or wandering around on the side of a mountain 7580kms away from home. She’s always on the hunt for new inspiration and experiences that she can share with others through her practice. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @hello.elks
Copyright © 2018 Johanna Acs
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.