Goulash originated in Hungary in the Middle Ages. The Hungarian word gulyás means "shepherds" or "herders." Herdsmen from Central Europe invented this dish, originally using dried meat that they reconstituted over a fire. Some cooks still make goulash in a large iron pot over an open fire. Though Hungarians consider goulash one of their national dishes, other Central and Eastern European countries have similarly spiced stews.
The defining spice of today's goulash is paprika, but other ingredients vary depending on what's available. Goulash is traditionally a beef or veal dish, but lamb and pork are also common. Some recipes include potatoes, other root vegetables, or pasta (though elbow macaroni is an American phenomenon). Some versions call for sauerkraut or a souring agent such as vinegar or cooking wine. Though eaten year-round, the heavy, hot, and protein-rich stew is ideal for wintertime dining.