Here’s what I recommend you do in order to be up to the monumental task of drinking the two “national drinks” of Hungary.
Step 1) Don’t.
Step 2) There is no step 2.
Buuuuuut, if you insist . . .
You can start at a much younger age than you should really, and you can drink Popov vodka for your teenage and college years, totally destroying anything resembling tastebuds or a gag reflex. That should just about do you. I was going to link to some site which gave some education on just how bad Popov really was, but there are so many ironic sites out there saying that it’s the best there is that I just couldn’t stop laughing.
Suffice to say it’s about $3USD for a gallon of vodka and tastes like gasoline.
So now that you’re done with basic training, let me introduce you to the contenders.
First off, you’ve got Unicum. The flavour that will hit you first is much like Jägermeister, however it is considerably more bitter in the follow up. The aftertaste will leave you very much wanting . . . something else. ANYTHING else in fact. Not water though, as it doesn’t quite give you the scrubby scrub effect that you’re looking for, trust me! I’ve had Unicum twice now and each time I was asked by the provider (with great glee): “Do you like it? I bet you hate it. Everyone hates it. Except for me. I love it. Do you HATE IT?!”
Hungarians are weird.
The second drink is probably more important to the Hungarian people (so I’m told). Pálinka is so rooted in the culture that it has legal protections from the EU, per Wikipedia. When I moved in to one of my AirBnBs, my host said “Great! You’re moved in. Let’s have a proper greeting now!” and poured me a welcome shot. I could get used to a place that welcomes me with hard liquor at 10:30 AM!
Here’s the thing though: it’s rough. That is some ROUGH. SHIT. But you don’t want to insult anyone, so you take it. You take it like you’ve never had anything more delicious. But then this happens (as related by a good friend and colleague and verified by me on Tuesday):
So you have the first shot to celebrate getting together. It’s tradition! You HAVE to have one drink. And then you have another, because otherwise you’re just being rude, right? You don’t want to be rude with these people that you’ve just met. That would be terrible. And then, well, there’s a third drink because clearly you liked the first two.
It’s roughly at that point that you realize that you’re drinking pure alcohol and that someone has started the room spinning.
I guess the moral of this story is that Hungary is bad ass. If I had to guess, America’s national drink is some sort of cheap beer. This place has two liquors that will peel paint (please note that I love America . . . I just really hate beer!).