Meals of the Mundo: Hungarian Palinka

On July 21, 2014 by Oren and Cassie

Just as I try to eat whatever the locals eat, I try to drink whatever the locals drink. In Hungary, that means drinking a lot of palinka. You can find it everywhere in Budapest and probably the rest of the country. How much you drink depends on how adventurous you want to be. 

We started with some foods that many of you may find abhorrent. The tail of the cow and duck tongue. I may have alienated a few of our awesome readers. If so, I apologize. Let’s mend fences over a shot of palinka. One shot and we’ll be friends. Two shots and we’re family. Three shots and we’re hammered. This stuff is strong.

budapest-palinka

WHERE TO DRINK PALINKA

Palinka is a fruit brandy that can be made from a few different fruits like apricots, plums, or apples. Hungarians take their palinka seriously, and there a few laws that make sure that the stuff you’re drinking is legit if it’s labeled palinka. They even have a National Council of Palinka.

Like I said, the stuff is strong. Seriously strong. The weakest palinka you will get is nearly 80 proof, and it only goes up from there. Hungarians have been brewing palinka for hundreds of years in distilleries and at home, so it’s very easy to find some to drink. Any of the tourist shops will sell all sorts of flavors in interesting bottles.

budapest-palinka-bottles

WHAT DOES PALINKA TASTE LIKE?

There are a number of Hungarian websites that will tell you palinka has very distinct flavors with a tremendous amount of complexity and depth. The first time you have the stuff, that apparently doesn’t come through. I described it as flavored turpentine. And I didn’t buy any mass-produced junk. I had good homemade palinka.

The stuff burns. And then it burns some more. I had plum palinka, and, I admit, a bit of plumminess came through at the end. If you know you’ve signed up for an incredibly strong drink, you’ll be fine. But be ready for the bite. I’ll try to write more about the different characteristics of palinka when I learn how to appreciate it. Maybe I didn’t drink enough, and I promise to drink more the next time I’m in Budapest!

Would I consider it great? No. Would I drink it again? Absolutely.

budapest-palinka-cass-family

Cass’s family in Budapest gave us palinka to take back to our hostel!

WANT TO DISTILL YOUR OWN PALINKA?

I’ve never made my own alcohol, whether it’s through a still or a home-brew, so I can’t offer any real advice on how to make your own palinka. The best I can do is point you to this webpage, which at least seems to give a good overview of the process. From there, it’s up to you. By the way, if you try making some, I want a sample!

-O.L.

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4 Responses to “Meals of the Mundo: Hungarian Palinka”

  • Lovely! I’ve had the ex-Yugoslav version, and you are 100% correct. Why didn’t we introduce you two to grappa while you were here? Or re-introduce you? You’ll simply have to come back …

  • I’ve tried so many different versions of palinka homemade and the produced ones and they still all taste like burning to me. I can definitely smell the difference and there are varying degrees of burn depending on the fruit, but it’s not my favourite thing. I’m happy my (Hungarian) boyfriend doesn’t like the stuff and I don’t have to have it too often 🙂

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t think the world of palinka. I think it’s an “acquired taste,” which is a euphemism for “you have to drink it so much that your taste buds become numb to it.” We’ll have to share some palinka when we meet on the road!

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