The celebration of Szvilveszter takes place in Hungary on what we would term New Year’s Eve. From the 4th century Saint Sylvester who supposedly saved the world from a dragon.
Similarly to the revelry around the world on the eve of the New Year, Hungarians take great pleasure in food and drink. A spicy punch called Krambambuli is served. It is made from chopped fruit, candied orange peel, walnuts, sugar, rum, brandy and red wine. Alongside the obligatory popping of corks at midnight of champagne there is also the local firewater pálinka. This is a form of schnapps, a potent and double distilled fruity brandy available in many flavors including Alma palinka, made from apples, Barack palinka, made from apricots, Cseresznye palinka, made from cherries, Korte palinka, made from pears and Szilva palinka, made from plums.
The traditional dishes of this night include cold pork in aspic, served as a main course and eaten cool with bread. The trotters, snout, rind and ears of a pig are cooked slowly with a lean piece of pork for a few hours before being allowed to cool so that the natural gelatine can form. Another dish is wienerwurst with horseradish or mustard. This is a hot dog sausage that originated in Vienna, Austria. Often there are beigli left over from Christmas which are made from a sweet yeast dough that are rolled out thinly with a filling of spices, poppy seeds and walnuts.
At midnight Hungarians open their champagne and stand up and sing the Hungarian national anthem and similarly to nations around the world they greet each other with BUEK or 'Happy New Year'.
In the morning after a night of excesses the hangover cure is korhelyleves. This is basically a cabbage soup made from sauerkraut, paprika, ham shank and Debrecen sausage which is made of pork and paprika and stays soft after cooking.
On New Year’s Day it is traditional to eat a meal including lentils or beans to increase wealth in the coming year, so Lencse Főzelék is often made. This thick lentil broth can be made vegetarian or with a meat stock and is swirled with sour cream. Hungarians are very superstitious about their meals on New Year’s Day. Fish can’t be eaten as they swim away with your luck, similarly chickens will scratch away your fortune. Whereas eating pork on New Year’s Eve or Day is good as the pig will root out your fortune.
Another Szvilveszter tradition is the burning of an effigy called Jack Straw which represents all the evil and bad luck in the world. So if you’re visiting Hungary and your name is Jack Straw watch your back on St Sylvester’s Day.
Photos courtesy of flickr - atilla fozo, samgolden, postcardsmn and rikkis refuge.