A New World Of Moonshine

(More stories from my recent Transylvania trip.  If you missed the other stories you can read them here:  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

The Székely people have gates like this at the entrance to their houses. They were all over the place in eastern Transylvania. (Click to see larger)Here’s an interesting problem, you get offered pálinka (Hungarian fruit brandy).  If you don’t drink it down, you offend your host.  If you do drink it down, your host refills it.  If you don’t drink the second one down, you offend your host.  If you keep not offending your host, you become very drunk.  Your host is pleased.

Most of the nights of my recent trip to Transylvania, we stayed with Hungarian families.  They would feed us dinner, breakfast, and pálinka.  Since we spent the majority of our days crammed into our little white bus that was driving on winding, bumpy roads, pálinka hangovers weren’t something I was striving for.  This meant that dinner (and in some cases, breakfast) became a sort of game to drink as little pálinka as possible without offending my hosts.

Typically, as we pulled up to the neighborhood where we were staying, these kind Hungarians would dash out of their houses with a tray full of pálinka.  The etiquette was to leave your bags on the bus, and worry about your accommodations later.  First things first.

As a matter of fact, I don’t think I ever took a picture of this ritual because I was too busy drinking.

I’ve seen a lot of pálinka consumed during my time in Hungary, but I typically see it out of legitimate bottles .  However, Erdély (the Hungarian name for Transylvania) tends to be rather remote and follow its own rules.  I became quite used to drinking házipálinka (homemade pálinka – or Hungarian moonshine).  Big unmarked plastic bottles would appear, and the fiery substance would be poured into glasses for the masses.

They have very intricate wood carvings, and sometimes they are painted. (Click to see larger)Most of the time, pálinka is clear and colorless.  The homemade stuff tends to be cloudier, and occasionally it’s colored because it has a lot of dark fruit in it.  I’ve started to associate color with a lot more fruit flavor and a lot less misery.

Sometimes it was good, and sometimes it was bad.  A few batches tasted like battery acid, while others were closer to fruit juice.  Some of it burned your throat so bad that you worried about the alcohol content your were feeding to an empty stomach.  You may end up too drunk to find your room and you’ll have to sleep with the sheep.

My favorite instance was the aforementioned breakfast incident.  There was only one village that we stayed in for two days, and when I went down to the breakfast table the first morning, my roommates and I were offered some pálinka.  It was explained that it’s a tradition to have it before your morning coffee as a sort of eye-opener.

My companions politely refused the strong alcoholic beverage and sat down to start eating their bread.  The host looked quite disappointed, and I don’t like to ignore local customs, so I stepped up to the plate.  I think I was the only one who was warm during that cold rainy morning.

This is the house I was staying in with the good pálinka - even for breakfast. (Click to see larger)That night, we were sitting around the dinner table and the host pulled out a bottle of wine (after the pálinka of course), and he offered it only to me – he seemed to be used to the refusals from the others.  He either thinks of me as a drunk or a polite guest.  I believe it’s the second one.

Here’s the moral of the story:  when you go to Erdély, you’re going to be offered a lot of pálinka.  For God’s sake drink it!  Don’t be rude to such kind people.  They’ve lived there for over 1000 years, and they understand how to be happy.


Hungarian word of the day:

Pálinka and Házipálinka

You already know the meanings, but I’m concerned about your pronunciation.  Pálinka is “PAL (like your friend) eenk – aw”.  Házipálinka is the same except “HAS – ee” comes first (just think “has ‘e had his pálinka yet?”).