The Internet Is Divided On What To Call This Classic Dish

Photo credit: Twitter
Photo credit: Twitter

This week, a tweet by @TimmyTwoShirts gained traction for a surprisingly controversial question: what is this dish called?

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While the mixture of ground beef, macaroni, and tomato sauce seems simple enough, thousands of users responded with a slew of different names. Beefaroni, goulash, slumgullion, Johnny Marzetti, American Chop Suey—the list goes on. But how did this casserole come about, and why can nobody agree on its name?

The dish as we know it has a few different origins. For those who call it goulash, your recipe may have descended from an 1914 edition of The Woman's Educational Club Cook Book. This iteration called for stewing cubes of beef before adding tomatoes, paprika, Tabasco, and onion juice. While it may share a name with the classic goulash from Eastern Europe, its Hungarian connection is flimsy at best.

Around the same time, the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks published their recipe for American chop suey. Rather than using paprika, chunks of meat were braised in stock and barbecue sauce. The stew was typically served over rice in an attempt to resemble its inspiration: the Chinese-American dish chop suey.

These dishes may have been the starting point, but over time they took on lives of their own. Later versions of the casserole played with different aromatics and ingredients like cabbage, peppers, and olives, before the dish started to streamline in the 1960s. Instead of tough cuts of stew meat, recipes began calling for quick-cooking ground beef. The traditional accompaniment of rice was also swapped out for spaghetti, and later macaroni. The dish became a catch-all casserole that could give new life to leftover ingredients.

What didn't streamline, however, was the name. In fact, even more nicknames for the pasta casserole were coined over time. Some names were tied to a region, like the Johnny Marzetti casserole out of Columbus, Ohio. Others were portmanteaus of the ingredients, like beefaroni and chili mac.

But some of the most popular names follow the early 20th century trend of borrowing names from existing dishes. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink notes the pattern of American one-pot dinners taking on the names of mixed plates from around the world, like goulash, chop suey, and slumgullion (from the British salmagundi).

While they may have come from different sources of inspiration, the names represent the same concept in spirit. However you grew up making this pasta casserole and whichever nickname you use, you're still enjoying an important piece of American food history.

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