Archibald Constable and Company first published Dracula in London on 26 May 1897. The first edition was a pretty cheap read at six shillings, had a yellow cover (which was pretty racy at the time), and contained a review by Stoker’s mother that was, unsurprisingly, glowing.
Professional reviews, on the other hand, were mixed. Some said it was a masterpiece of horror, while others argued it was sensationalist and lacked higher literary qualities. Regardless, Dracula was a popular read for the late Victorians, who loved their horror novels.
Cleverly, Dracula was written as an epistolary novel, which means readers are introduced to the story’s protagonist, Jonathan Harker, through his own words. His meticulous journal starts with his first trip to the Carpathian Mountains to meet Count Dracula. Harker has been travelling for over a day when he finally arrives at a hotel for dinner:
We left in pretty good time, and came after nightfall to Klausenburgh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale. I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.
So things start well – Harker gets a hearty culinary welcome to Transylvania through a spicy paprika chicken stew. He mentions a few other wonderful traditional dishes as well, happy in his early travels. Things go downhill from there, but at least the stew was good.
Interestingly, Harker wasn’t the only 19th-century traveller to be captivated by paprika hendl. The dish also appears in a popular travel journal from 1839, Hungary and Transylvania, written by agriculturalist John Paget. Paget talks about paprika hendl a number of times, but here it becomes absolutely clear that he is a bit obsessed with the dish:
I do not think I have yet enlightened the reader as to the mystery of a paprika hendl; to forget it, would be a depth of ingratitude of which, I trust, I shall never be guilty. Well, then, reader, if you ever travel to Hungary, and want a dinner or supper quickly, never mind the variety of dishes your host names, but fix at once on paprika hendl. Two minutes afterwards you will hear signs of a revolution in the basse cour… [the chicken is] cut into pieces, thrown into a pot, with water, butter, flour, cream, and an inordinate quantity of red pepper, or paprika, and very shortly after, a number of bits of fowl are seen swimming in a dish of hot greasy gravy, quite delightful to think of.
I love how fiction and non-fiction meet in paprika hendl. Stoker undertook extensive research on the Carpathian Mountains prior to writing Dracula, and as Paget’s travelogue was first published in London in 1839, it is entirely possible that Stoker came across it. The fact that both the fictional Jonathan Harker and very real Paget thought the dish so important to merit recording in their journals suggests it’s something special. I can’t help but wonder if Bram Stoker ever had the pleasure of trying it himself.