Word of the Week: Gulaschkanone

Jan 24, 2014

modern-day Gulaschkanone Enlarge image A Gulaschkanone provides food in Grimma after a flood partially destroyed homes in Saxony in 2002. (© ZB - Fotoreport ) The word Gulaschkanone might sound funny at first: directly translated, this German word means "goulasch soup cannon". So does this define a cannon that fires off homemade stew? Not quite. To understand the modern-day use of the word Gulaschkanone, let's first take a look at its origins.

In 1892, Karl Rudolf Fissler, who worked at a company he called Firma Fissler, invented a type of field kitchen that later became known as a Gulaschkanone. His invention was a type of apparatus that had the capacity to prepare, heat up and carry large amounts of food – often soup. The formal name for the apparatus was Feldkochherd or Feldküche (in English: “field kitchen”). The devices often took the form of a trailer that could be attached to a vehicle or pulled by a horse.

Gulaschkanone Enlarge image Cooks use a Gulaschkanone to prepare food during the International Exhibition of Culinary Art in 2008. (© dpa - Report ) The convenience of the portable soup kitchens led to their widespread use in the German Army in the early 20th century. Black smoke would waft out of the chimneys of the field kitchens when a fire was heating up the stew. When disassembled and stored on the portable canteens for towing, the devices sometimes looked like cannons. Containing soup – often goulasch – the field kitchens humorously became known as “goulasch cannons.”

Armies across the globe continue to use Gulaschkanonen to provide food to soldiers, but the apparatus has also gained popularity for recreational purposes. The so-called Gulaschkanonen can be found at street festivals and marketplaces where hot stew is served. In Germany, the agencies such as the fire department and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief also have Gulaschkanonen that they use for both large events and relief efforts.  Many Gulaschkanonen are still used to prepare goulasch, but others are used to serve a diversity of soups and hot drinks. Some of the devices are even designed to bake bread, roast chestnuts or prepare other types of solid meals.

Gulaschkanone Enlarge image A so-called Gulaschkanone is used to provide food for the Austrian Army in 1909. (© picture alliance / akg ) But regardless of what’s inside or where it is used, Germans still call the mobile canteens Gulaschkanonen – a colloquial nickname that is widely used to describe any portable kitchen that prepares food on the go. If you’ve ever been to a German street fair or marketplace, you can be sure you’ve seen a Gulaschkanone – whether or not you knew what it was!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

© Germany.info

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A food vendor in Germany sells Gulasch and split pea soup straight from her Gulaschkanone, which can feed up to 500 people.