War gastronomy – not only the goulash is fake sometimes

It is not a novelty that work goes better when the stomach is full. But what can you do, when you do not have enough provisions? Egg-powder, tinned food, instant coffee, these are not the shopping list of a family that goes camping. Indeed, food substitutes appeared already in the First World War, to cater not only soldiers but also the civils, thinking about the lean times. We are going to look into the secrets of war cuisine this week.

VF_2015_101_1.jpgIn the propaganda photos that were taken at the beginning of the war, you can see women saying farewell amorously and touched men heated by pride. It is generally known that you cannot win a war with hungry soldiers, thus supplying the army was a primary task. However in WW I, they were lucky if the comrade appointed as cook had a smattering of cooking, and ingredients were not wasted due to inappropriate preparation. A bit later in 1938, even a military cook school operated in the barrack Kilián.

The wonder of war cuisine

15263.jpgThe mobile kitchen did never proceed on the frontline, but behind it; even so it was hit rarely. Food always had to be simply preparable and nutritive. Several records survived, which show that cooks did not work on the basis of given menus. They cooked whatever they had. Nevertheless, coffee and tea for breakfast always had to be available. What did they cook with? With a military field kitchen that really looks like a cannon with its turned-down chimney. Its Hungarian name is “goulash gun” but it had several names like “baby cannon” or “anti-hunger cannon”. As cooking was done farther from the battles, food-carrier soldiers had to deliver dishes. It was especially important when impassable roads made proceeding difficult. If the catering unit dropped behind for days, soldiers ate tinned food. Sometimes, the cook found the camp already fallen asleep, thus they slept to the detriment of eating.

Short supply – substitutes

KF_7048.jpgThe war dearth forced also the food industry to be creative. The coffee substitute was not a novelty, because it was very expensive before the war too, and many people used coffee substitute instead of the real bean coffee. They used fig or chicory that is well known nowadays as well. The famous Franck coffee substitute of Nagykanizsa, which advertised itself as “real”, served well Hungarian coffee consumers even at the beginning of the 20th century. Interestingly, they tried to emphasize the positive physiological effects of the substitute, for example, there is no caffeine in it, thus those who are sensitive to it can also drink it; not but that consumers could have had many other choices.

Those days without meat

VF_10913.jpgThose particular days without meat started as early as in 1916. Not much had been said about vegetarians before that. Although painter Vince Weixelgartner – leader of Hungarian vegetarians – founded his association in 1897, and what is more, they had three restaurants in Budapest. Not only the meatless meals came to the fore, but also the potato – as a significant source of vitamins – and the importance of taking a liking for the millet and barley bread. During the Second World War, there was a massive lard shortage, and as the army needed corn, the pig-farms exhausted slowly. However, margarine appeared, and was advertised with its easy digestibility. We cannot forget the so-called “Hitler bacon” – the mixed jam that might have contained traces of fruit, but did contain some tar allegedly.

20_dkg_margarin_11_19692.jpgThe most important discovery became the spreading of tinned food. In Hungary, it was Manfréd Weiss, who provided the army with tinned food. It is interesting, that the well-known brand name Globus was registered by the Weiss only in 1924. Opinions about the conserve food still split and they did back then as well. Frugality or not, hunger is the best pickle. A good example for that was the 102 days of siege in Budapest, when the black market did not work either, people spent their whole days looking for food. The food-rationing system – that was operated already in WW I – and all its injustices got worse in WW II. This is how starving people ate the animals of the Zoo. And without any exaggeration, the thirty thousand horses that belonged to the army saved the population of Budapest from dying.

What remained from the happy and proud faces by the end of the war? Women summoned to work and men struggling in fire-trenches tried to win the war. If they survived, they did it.

Special thanks to Béla Fehér and Noémi Szécsi for their book “Hamisgulyás” that gave the inspiration to this virtual exhibition!


Béla Fehér – Noémi Szécsi, Hamisgulyás – Hadikonyha a 20. századi Magyarországon, Helikon, 2015.


Translated by Zita Aknai



More thematic virtual exhibitions