independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Hungry in Hungary at Xmas?

Dr Zsuzsanna Zarka

CHRISTMAS turns us all into scientists. Hungarians are no exception. Year after year, we repeat a familiar experiment we like to call "project festive cheer" with the same passion and dedication.

Christmas Eve is the most important part of the holiday season. In common with other eastern European countries, we have our traditional dinner of carp, a freshwater fish, that evening. It is usually a quick affair, as by that time everybody is eagerly anticipating the highlight -- no, not Christmas carols, the opening of presents.

Hungarians also eat industrial amounts of a national festive treat called parlour candy, or szaloncukor, a must-have decoration on every Hungarian Christmas tree.

Szaloncukor has been used to decorate Christmas trees for over 100 years. The candies are made of fondant, then wrapped in colourful paper and foil and tied on to the Christmas tree. They come in many flavours: including Zselés Szaloncukor (gum-like filling covered with chocolate), marzipan, caramel, cognac-dipped sour cherry and coconut.

Traditionally, Hungarian children like to eat the candy before the end of Christmas and tie the empty szaloncukor wrappings back onto the tree to trick their parents!

No good Hungarian Christmas is complete without a visit to the local Christmas market to sample the mulled wine. This is a popular hot beverage, usually in Hungary from a red wine called Egri Bikaver ('Bull's blood from Eger') with cinnamon, sugar and cloves.

Project Festive Cheer is usually followed in January with an equally popular experiment called "New Year's Resolution Diet"!

QDr Zarka has a PhD in History from NUI Maynooth and currently works at the Higher Education Authority as a research policy intern.

Irish Independent

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