Palinka: Hungarian Hooch
Hungary is probably best known for its wine, but on this last trip I decided to try another homegrown specialty: palinka. Palinka is a fruit brandy typically made with plums, pears, apricot, or peaches. Sounds rather like rakija, doesn’t it? Most countries in this region have some sort of local distilled brandy, but Hungary has cornered the market–or marketing, to be more precise–on the name palinka.
My glass was at Bor La Bor, an upscale wine bar/restaurant. We started our meal with glasses of palinka made from cranberries, apricot and plum. The waiter informed us that there was honey mixed with the palinka, and that we would find pieces of fruit in our glasses. Fancy.
My first sip was good, but as the drink became sweeter my interest waned. It was more like a tiny cocktail than brandy. After way too much rakija drinking here, I like my brandy to have a little bite.
The next night we took Muz’s parents to the wine bar we found on our first trip here–you know, the one owned by the lady with the glass eye who served wine by the ladle? Exactly. Muz’s parents were surprisingly game for a glass of wine there despite the inch of dirt on the floor and the cloud of cigarette smoke lingering in the air. Did I mention they’re awesome?
I thought the owner would have palinka here, and I was right. She took a half-empty bottle off the dusty shelf and poured me a glass of Barack (apricot). I played some Elvis on the jukebox and inhaled the sharp aroma of 60-80 percent alcohol, burning my nose hairs in the process. This was brandy.
Remember her? We do.
I enjoyed palinka, but it wasn’t as good as the rakjia we’ve had in Serbia. Maybe I’m biased, but I like how good rakija balances the sharpness of the alcohol and the flavor of the fruit. Brandy, in my opinion, should smell and taste like its base fruit without any added sugars or articifial flavors. My palinka didn’t have that quality. Then again, I was ordering it from a dive bar in Budapest, so it probably wasn’t the best palinka out there. Still, I consider myself lucky to live in the land of delicious homemade rakjia…and to still have a healthy liver after eight months of living here.