What bothers you about cultural appropriation?

Goulash or gulyás: cultural appropriation in the kitchen

As a Viennese you have a pretty concrete idea of ​​what a goulash should be like. You don't necessarily know the recipe in detail, but everyone knows that it contains beef and onions and peppers. And you also have very clear ideas about how creamy the sauce should turn out, how tender the meat, how spicy the whole thing.

You also know that warming up is good for him and that a beer goes best with it. When it comes to goulash, we Viennese are not fooled, we know our way around. Especially since it is our second national dish - right behind the undisputed number one, the baked pork schnitzel.

It's just stupid that the dish, just like its name, comes from Hungary (as everyone knows) and there is something completely different under a goulash. In Hungary, the term Gulyás, as it was originally written, denotes a goulash soup; and there what is known in this country under the Germanized name falls under the term Pörkölt.

Until recently, however, hardly anyone cared about these not insignificant differences in naming and preparation. The Hungarians had their Gulyás and the Viennese their own - albeit derived from the original.

Especially since the goulash serves as a culinary import for the Viennese in an ideal way to exemplify the alleged multiculturalism and the richness of their own cuisine. A kitchen that, according to the myth, once emerged from the numerous influences and cooking styles of a decayed multinational empire.

In the devil's kitchen

But now everything could change. To blame: the accusation of so-called cultural appropriation. After the arts, fashion and hairstyles, this has long since reached that of the kitchen. The latest example is a Haitian soup called "soupe joumou", the recipe for which is published in the US magazine Bon Appetit was published - but with strong deviations from the "original". Which caused protests among a section of the readership, namely those with Haitian roots.

But what exactly is it, cultural appropriation? Well, to put it simply, this occurs every time members of a "dominant culture" make use of the cultural achievements of minorities without respecting the value of the respective culture. For example, by adopting the hairstyles or clothing of the said minority in order to increase the sales of their own work. Katie Perry was accused of that when she performed with cornrows. Or the fashion label Gucci, which sent models in turbans down the catwalk.

In this sense, taking up and modifying Haitian soup undoubtedly constitutes cultural appropriation.

The British superstar Jamie Oliver, one of the top earners in the industry, came into the devil's kitchen, so to speak, when he presented a microwave dish called "Punch Jerk Rice" two years ago.

In the former British colony of Jamaica, the term jerk is understood to mean a marinade that is exclusively reserved for meat in its country of origin (mainly inhabited by Africans who were displaced by the British) - and which is also prepared very differently than in Oliver's recipe. For which the rock star among the chefs was immediately reprimanded by the Jamaican member of parliament Dawn Butler and accused of cultural appropriation.


And "our" or "their" goulash? One could also speak of appropriation here - insofar as a dominant culture made a court of an oppressed minority (and this is what the Hungarians, at least until the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867, can be called their own).

However, it should be said that the most important ingredient of all goulash, namely paprika, comes from Central and South America. And it was grown and eaten by the local people long before the arrival of the Europeans.

As a result, Iberian seafarers and traders "appropriated" the spice and brought it to Asia and Turkey. And since the Turks ruled parts of Hungary for almost 150 years, historians assume that it was they who introduced the chilli / paprika to the Pannonian Plain.

Incidentally, the Turks got there via the Balkans. This is where the term paprika comes from, which is derived from the Serbo-Croatian "papar", which in turn refers to the Latin "piper", which means pepper. And, as is well known, this grows somewhere very, very far away.


The example shows one thing above all, namely that hardly anything is more unsuitable than the kitchen for reflecting cultural or even national identity. And that a kitchen style that was not created through exchange, trade, travel, but also conquest, migration and appropriation is hardly conceivable.

Just as little as a world of uniform cultures surrounded by insurmountable barriers, in which genuine dishes are created whose purity needs to be preserved. In addition, the kitchen reflects the constant change in society by changing itself - and under natural circumstances never getting stuck in time.

Now it is of course clear that food, probably more clearly than most other cultural assets, unites two completely opposing forces - namely what divides on the one hand and what connects on the other. Those who try to set themselves apart from others by what they eat or not eat opt ​​for what separates them - in many cases with the associated stigmatization of supposedly foreign eating habits (keywords: spaghetti eater, frog eater, cider skull).

The unifying factor, however, lies in sharing the meal. If it is true that you are what you eat, as it is so often said, then the food of the other also becomes part of you, also in a cultural sense (and not only in a metabolic sense). And so it is actually less about cultural appropriation than much more about cultural incorporation. Also, there is hardly a more symbolically integrative act than offering one's meal to the guest or the stranger - apart from that of sharing the food of the guest or the stranger.

Which is why, especially when it comes to the kitchen, the terms that are so often overused in this context such as originality, origin, provenance and authenticity are largely devoid of meaning.

Devour the foreign

One of many telling examples in this context is the supposedly Indian dish Chicken Tikka Masala, which former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook once referred to as the British national dish. And that is offered in almost every Indian restaurant in the world outside of India (but also in numerous there). In truth, it is a dish that classic Indian cuisine does not know. Since it originated somewhere in the UK, probably sometime in the second half of the 20th century.

It becomes particularly problematic when terms such as purity, authenticity or loyalty to the home are used in connection with the kitchen. In truth, goulash, Wiener Schnitzel, Bohemian pastries, Bosnian Ćevapčići, sushi, pizzas, crepes, hamburgers, but also Haitian soups and all the other dishes that come to mind do not belong to anyone.

Or all those who like them. But you can also say it differently, namely freely after Goethe. He attested to the language that its power was not to reject the foreign, but to devour it. The same may apply to the kitchen. (Georges Desrues, RONDO, 6.5.2021)