When we think of Hungary, Goulash and Tokaji spring to most people’s mind, however traditional gastronomic culture doesn’t stop at these two staples of Hungarian heritage. Kolbász (sausage) and pálinka (fruit brandy) are just as important to Hungarians. So much so that both appear in often cited centuries-old Hungarian proverbs and sayings.
“Jó a hosszú kolbász és a rövid prédikáció”
“Long sausages and short sermons are good”
Sausage making plays an essential part in Hungarian cuisine and Hungary produces many different types of sausages. Different regions in Hungary have their own recipes and unique tastes when it comes to sausage making. Hungarian sausages come in a variety of forms and are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They can be fresh, cured, smoked or dried. Fresh sausages are either cooked or fried and are best served with mustard, sauerkraut, pickles, horseradish and fresh bread. A favorite variety of fresh sausage is hurka, which comes in two flavors. Májas hurka, which is liver mixed with rice stuffing and véres hurka, which is blood sausage. The 2nd floor food court in Central Market Hall in Budapest is a great place to taste a selection of Hungarian sausages. Most vendors sell them by weight, so you can order a tasting platter of many different varieties for a low price.
Sausages are an integral part of Hungarian cuisine and have a wide variety of uses. They can be used as the main ingredient or as flavoring in main courses or soups, but they are even more popular as cold cuts. Soups, like Jókai bableves (a hearty bean soup), potato soup and dishes like Goulash all get their flavor by adding kolbász. A favorite sausage-based, homemade dish is paprikás krumpli, a stew with spicy sausage and potatoes. Smoked and dried sausages are most often consumed as cold cuts. Famous brands include Gyulai and Csabai and they range from mild to spicy depending on the type of paprika added.
In the countryside traditional pig slaughter is widely practiced even today and making sausage is the highlight of the event. Almost every family has their own recipe and if you are lucky enough to be invited to a local family gathering you will likely be offered a taste of their homemade sausage (házi kolbász) along with a shot of pálinka. There may be no better combination of Hungarian food and drink, than sausage and pálinka.
"Pálinkás jó reggelt!"
“Have a good morning with a shot of pálinka”
Pálinka is to Hungary as tequila is to Mexico, Jägermeister is to Germany and grappa is to Italy. Pálinka is a traditional Hungarian, pure fruit brandy most often made from apricots, plums, pears and peaches, but it can also be made from apples, cherries, mulberries, or quince. The consumption and culture of pálinka has played an important role in Hungarian traditions for hundreds of years. Evidence of its production dates back as far as the 14th century, when the spirit was most likely used for medicinal purposes by King Charles I and his wife to help with their arthritis pains.
Pálinka has a clear taste with a distinctive flavor and a light, fruity aroma. Certain types of pálinka, especially ones with very high alcohol content, are not for the faint hearted. Pálinka is best served at room temperature in a wide-bottom glass with a narrow opening to magnify that aroma. It is a popular aperitif on social occasions for whetting appetites, as well as a digestive after dinner drink. In rural traditions it is customary to start the day with a shot of pálinka, hence the saying "Have a good morning with a shot of pálinka".
Once known as a cheap, homemade distillate, the image of Hungarian pálinka has significantly improved over the past years, as more high-end producers are coming up with top quality brands. Premium quality pálinka is available in many restaurants and can be found in more and more countries around the world. Pálinka, the brand, is recognized and protected by the European Union as a Hungarian specialty. Their regulation states that an alcoholic beverage may be called pálinka in the European Union only if it is made 100% from fruits or herbs indigenous to the Carpathian Basin and grown in Hungary. It must be produced and bottled in Hungary and its alcohol content must be between 37.5% and 86% alcohol by volume.
There are festivals in Hungary celebrating both pálinka and sausage making. The Budapest Pálinka and Sausage Festival, held annually on Castle Hill in October, is a great place to experience and sample both in one event.