I can’t leave Hungary without mentioning one last thing: Palinka.
Shortly after arriving in Budapest, we were introduced to the Hungarian fire water. I wrote in an earlier post about “Nalewka” in Poland; mostly home made alcoholic concoction, very liqueur like, mostly based on some sort of a fruit.
Palinka seems to be a Hungarian variation of Nalewka, except it closer resembles vodka in that it’s not as thick as Nalewka, it seems to be stronger with alcohol levels starting around 45%, and it definitely knocked us on our butts faster than any Nalewka I ever had.
As explained to us by a local villager, Palinka was always served before a meal, or before plowing the field or any other work on the farm. The latter has changed a little since most people don’t work on farms anymore, yet Palinka keeps on flowing.
Before our meal we were given a “short one”, that’s Hungarian speak for a shot, but this was no ordinary shot glass. Basically it felt like taking a shot from an Ikea candle holder, it was huge and I’m pretty sure had about 2.5 regular shots within. Filled with 50% alcohol Palinka, it put sweat on our foreheads even before we sat down to eat the incredibly tasty Hungarian goulash.
We were also told of a theory why Poles and Hungarians get along so well. In a nut shell, Polish and Hungarian languages are completely different, with no similarities what so ever, not even remotely close. So even if a Pole and a Hungarian would have a dispute, they can’t communicate. Since the only other thing they have in common is drinking, and after a few shots people have a way of getting along just fine, there’s always been peace between Poland and Hungary. That’s actually historically correct, the peace between two countries bit, not the Palinka theory.
There is a tradition of never rejecting a “short one” of Palinka if you’re being offered one. Rejecting it would assume that you’re too good to drink with who ever is offering. Unless you’re driving of course. Hungary has a zero tolerance law when it comes to alcohol blood level and driving, and Hungarians seem to be very respectful of each other when someone says they’re driving. The same law applies in Poland, zero tolerance towards alcohol blood level, but somehow the weekly police reports of pulled over DUI’s leans towards Poles not following the same code of honor as Hungarians.
I brought a few bottles home. It’s been a couple of weeks now since my last “tasting” session with my uncle, but I’m sure I will soon forget about the headache it gave me the following day and will sit down to a “short one” in the near future.
Unicum was by far the worst thing I have ever drank. While still a Palinka, it basically tastes like medicine, maybe worse. But Unicum tends to have a very healing effect especially for stomach aches. So a small shot of Unicum after a meal is advised. Don’t let the Swiss cross fool you, this thing is still Hungarian.