Pálinka, as the liquid symbol of Hungary
If you think of famous drinks of Hungarian cuisine, you will surely think of the ‘Tokaji’ wine or the palinka. ‘Tokaji’ is one of the most famous Hungarian wines and it’s also called the ‘king of wines’. Palinka is a kind of fruit brandy. In 2004, it received PDO (protected designation of origin) from the EU, so since then, the name ‘palinka’ can be used only in Hungary and in four Austrian regions. In Romania, there’s another brandy which is called pălincă. However, despite the similarities of the names, PDO doesn’t refer to this kind of drink.
From which fruit can palinka be made?
This drink can be made of any kinds of fruit which are grown within the country, but the most common types are plum, pear, peach, sour cherry, cherry, grapefruit, or strawberry. Before the 20th century, plum was the most popular. If the spirit has a good quality, the character of the fruit must be recognized during drinking.
Some moments of the history
Drinks like spirits have been known since the 12th century in Europe. In the Hungarian history, sources say that the mother of Louis I cured her gout with a kind of brandy made of wine in the 14th century. In the next centuries, spirits were made in Bartfa or Pozsony. However, they were only very far predecessors of the drink which is known as palinka today. The first real plum palinka was mentioned in 1684 by Imre Thokoly. In Transylvania, another type (pomace or torkoly) was banned in 1697.
Palinka in the cuisine
Lots of dishes areknown from both international and Hungarian cuisine which contain some wine. However, fewer people know that several food specialties require some palinka, such as sour cherry soup from Fehértó or chicken with salsa made from apple and peach. This unique drink can also make desserts so racy; you should try caramelized pear with mascarpone cream seasoned with some palinka.
Pálinka has even its special glass for drinking, which is shaped to enjoy the taste of the Pálinka even better. Since Hungarian people prefer to drink it before eating, as an appetizer, it is perfect to try before tasting the other famous pieces of Hungarian food, just like goulash, pörkölt or lángos.
Most famous areas which produce palinka
Palinka from eight regions of the country can be sold under the designation of origin. These regions are the followings: Szatmár (plum), Kecskemét (peach), Békés (plum), Szabolcs (apple), Gönc (peach), Újfehértó (source cherry), Göcsej (pear), and Pannonhalma (pomace or torkoly). According to the legend, every sip of palinka from Szatmar makes you a year younger. Lots of people know and like ‘palinka’ mixed with some honey. However, you should know that these drinks mustn’t be called palinka although they are popular.
Let’s see some folksy names! The best-known version is ‘ákovita’ which means ‘the water of life’ and originates from a Latin expression (aqua vitae). Peach palinka is also known as bacillin which refers to its healing power. Unfortunately, this folk belief is not true but at least, the drink is delicious. Anyway, some funny names prove that not every kind of firewater has had good quality. For instance, there was the ‘squatting’. The background of the idea is the following: you should pass under the window of the house squatting to avoid offering.
Palinka in the Hungarian culture
At celebrations, especially at traditional wedding dinners or banquettes of school-leavers it is offered as a welcome drink.
In the countryside, several people make palinka at home even today. Although it can be considered as one of the Hungarian traditions, during some years this practice was forbidden because of its dangers. However, nowadays it’s allowed again – with some limitations, e.g. only the family can drink it.
Some further interesting information
The 6th of December is considered an important day not only by little children but also by the fans of palinka. While children are waiting for Santa Claus in the Hungarian culture, adults can celebrate the day of Hungarian palinka.
Have you ever thought that there are even competitions of palinka? The two most famous events are the HunDeszt and the Gyula Competition.
Knights of Hungarian wine are well-known, but if you prefer fruit brandy instead of wine, you should not be worried! You can join the Hungarian Palinka Knighthood. This quite new society was founded in 2004. Its members promote Hungarian gastronomy, including consuming it in a cultured way. Moreover, their task is representing the professional interests of this Hungarian drink and conserving traditions.