Hungaricums are not completely Hungarian

During the fall of  2011 a whole team within the Ministry of Agriculture was busy preparing a bill that was supposed to protect Hungary’s national treasures. Half a billion forints was set aside for this purpose. The members of the thirteen-member committee went from county to county to gather items deemed worthy of inclusion on this list. These national treasures are varied, from the Holy Crown to the Rubik cube and the puli. According to Zoltán Balog, even József Nyirő is a “national treasure.” Mind you, that was uttered in the middle of May. Perhaps since then he has decided that it might be wise to drop Nyirő from the list.

The law, normally referred to as the Hungaricum law, also aimed at putting certain food items on the list. The Hungaricum designation, the reasoning went, might have the added benefit of raising the market value of the product. Since Fidesz-KDNP politicians like to talk about the superior Hungarian products as opposed to “foreign junk,” if a product is labelled Hungaricum and packaged in red-white-green, the market value of the product might go up because, after all, we all would like to eat wholesome food as opposed to junk. (I’m surprised that I’m still alive after eating foreign junk for decades.)

The guide to the law prepared by the ministry is appropriately grandiose. For example, it has a preamble, just like the new Hungarian constitution, which announces that this law is being enacted because parliament recognized the need for the collection and care of the nation’s treasure “in the interest of national belonging (összetartozás) and strengthening unitary national consciousness.” Therefore “it is necessary to collect the noblest assets of Hungarian history.”

In January, the government put its stamp of approval on the proposed bill and on April 3, 2012 parliament voted it into law. A Collection of Hungaricum will be prepared by the Hungaricum Committee.  Items in the collection will be registered from here on as “Hungaricum.”  Here is the pyramid outlining the setup.

Pyramid of the Hungarian National Heritage

On top there are the real Hungaricums, underneath Hungarian national assets, and at the bottom sectoral national assets, regional national assets, and national assets beyond the borders.

The bill wasn’t carefully prepared. Even in the preamble there are several “mistakes.” Hungary (Magyarország) is referred to as the Republic of Hungary (Magyar Köztársaság), which according to the new constitution no longer exists.  The authors of the document also forgot that anything that is Hungarian but beyond the borders is no longer “határon túli” but “külhoni.” I’m also not sure whether the Fidesz government would approve of the use of a foreign word, “preambulum” (preamble), since that was found inappropriate in the constitution.

But these small mistakes are nothing in comparison to the really serious problems with the bill. A food item is a Hungaricum only if it is created from genuinely Hungarian ingredients. But the “team,” after spending half a billion forints, didn’t pay much attention to whether the components of a Hungarian product can actually be obtained in Hungary. Take, for instance, the famous Pick salami, a Hungaricum, that is supposed to be made out of genuine Hungarian pork. Or, more precisely, bona fide Hungarian-born pigs raised in the country. And not just any Hungarian-born pig, but only pigs born in five counties near Szeged where the salami is made.

It seems that the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture neglected to talk to the managers of the Pick plant because, if they had, it would have been obvious that there are simply not enough pigs in Hungary to satisfy the demand of the meat packing industry that is supposed to produce Hungaricum products. Because not only Pick but also the sausages of Gyula and Csaba would need home-grown pigs.

There are 3 million pigs in Hungary. Just to satisfy domestic consumption the country would need at least 4.5 million. That is, if Hungarians didn’t export any of their livestock. But they do. Thus, there are all these Hungarian specialties with trade names no one else can use because allegedly they are made entirely out of Hungarian products, which in fact they are not. Even the Pick meat packing plant is satisfying about 50% of its needs from imported meat, mostly from Germany. Some of the meat is actually frozen. Pork also comes from Poland and Spain.

Another firm packages its products in tricolor wrapping paper when 100% of the meat used comes from abroad. Yet another uses poults (young turkeys) born abroad because not enough are available at home. The manager of the plant, I think rightly, pointed out that after all the feed is grown nearby, Hungarians work in the plant, and the recipe is Hungarian.

I really wonder whether in a global economy it is even worth talking about products that are exclusively made or grown within the borders of any one country. Most likely not. I don’t think that Pick salami is famous because it was made exclusively from Hungarian born and raised pigs. After all Márk Pick in 1869, when he began his small sausage factory, wasn’t that much of a purist. In fact, he visited Italy, a country famous for its salamis and sausages, to learn the trade. Once he began to expand his business he invited Italian workers to perfect his own concoction that eventually became the famous Pick winter salami. It was a combination of Italian know-how and Hungarian ingenuity and entrepreneurship that produced a new product. And this is how it should be. Meanwhile the basic ingredients of Pick salami are still the same as they were at the time of Márk Pick in spite of Jewish laws, nationalization, hard times in the 1950s until the company again became privatized, and a somewhat unlikely current owner–Sándor Csányi, CEO of Hungary’s largest bank, OTP.

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Kingfisher
Guest

Taking pride in sourcing food locally is a huge thing in Europe at the moment, just think of the Slow Food Movement. The thinking is that it is ecologically questionable to bring your food from half way across the world, even if it is cheaper that way. And certainly in the UK, people get very passionate about it and I think it is a good thing. So I don’t see that the general idea behind promoting Hungaricums (which incidentally has been around for at least a decade, even if Fidesz are trying to Fideszize it) is a bad or dishonorable one. And it scandalous that Pick are not using local pigs. But that raises the question, if there is a demand for Pick salami, why on earth does Hungary not raise more pigs. I don’t think it is because it is uneconomic. So I’d be interested to know more.

Pick salami is a pretty poor product, by the way. It is based on a very old Italian recipe and frankly, it can’t compete with contemporary Italian or Spanish salamis. It is stuck in time, and a rather poor time at that.

Member

I order my salami from Bende ( bende.com ), from Illinois. I swear it’s better than the Hungarian. You can trust me on this, I’m an expert. I worked as a part time electrician in the Hertz factory in Budapest while I was in college. I saw the the whole thing: they ground the meat, added salt, pepper and paprika and then cured them in huge smoke rooms. Ok, the “part time electrician” is a bit of illusion of grandeur. My job was cleaning the light fixtures in the smoking buildings. The darn things got black so quickly from the smoke.

Kingfisher, the post doesn’t say that the idea of Hungaricums is bad. It just shows again the incompetent stupid way how the whole thing is executed by this government. To me it seems nowadays only stupidity and incompetence are the real Hungaricums.

What’s a Hungarian pig anyway? I know Laszlo Kover (zing), but seriously? The one that was born and raised in Hungary. Greater Hungary? How many generations should the pig family be Hungarian? What if the piglet was imported or adopted? I think we have serious immigration issues here.

petofi
Guest

Pick salami is no longer what it once was. Apparently, the experts have long died off and the salami has now different ingredients. All I now is that it’s now full of nitrates and tastes different than what I remember from years back…

Guest
London Calling! Salami in England – together with other processed meat – has been the subject of a cancer scare. ‘Processed’ meat has been shown to be carcinogenic in anything other than quite small portions. Yes I know – cancer is caused by all sorts of foods – so what’s new Charlie? Well pancreatic cancer is the hardest cancer to cure and Swedish scientists have shown a causal link to ‘big’ eaters of processed meat. (For the purposes of definition – All bacon, (English) sausages and salami are deemed ‘processed’) The recommendation is just 70g a day! (I’ve had more that 70g in a bacon sandwich – and two for breakfast was not uncommon!) In addition (Mutt) there will be no requirements to clean the lights in the smoking sheds – apparently all smoking causes harmful substances to be deposited on and in the meat, not to mention the people who work on the process. So what now? Well – little do you know! The EU has banned the ‘smoking’ of meat and other foods on safety grounds – and it has altered the (tiny) meat processing economy in England. It must be affecting Hungary? Or will do. So-called ‘smoked’… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest

No Charlie, I won’t say that 😀
But if you have a look at this analysis of the study

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/01january/pages/pancreas-cancer-risk-processed-meat.aspx

you can put the scare into a bit of perspective.
Processed meat increases your risk of pancreatic cancer by 19%. That means if let’s say the risk is 1%, if you eat a lot of it, it will increase to 1.19%. It is still very low.

Vegetarians in general have always had a lower risk of many cancers – and becoming a part-time or semi-vegetarian /meat-reducer is also becoming quite popular among the British middle classes.:-D

gdfxx
Guest

Talking about Pick salami: there was (and I think still is) a similar product made in Transylvania, in the town of Szeben/Sibiu. It was called szebeni szalami/salam de Sibiu and in my opinion it competes in taste with the Pick. So now what? Is this a casus belli?

My understanding is that the palinka (made of prunes) is also a similar category of Hungaricums. What happens with the sliwovitz made by the Romanians and Serbs (and others?)?

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
CharlieH MMMM yes some of these ‘findings’ are a bit suspect. I read the paper on Cyclimates. One rat in the test died so the stuff was condemned. Mind you they has been fed nearly ¼ of their body weight of the stuff per day. There was also a huge Hoo-Hah about BFK some years ago. (BFK – Brown for Kippers). One should also think about the effects of food fads on children. Remember the large outbreak of rickets in Hampstead. It was amongst the children of the well to do who had been fed in accordance with the current food fad at the time (no meat/cheese/milk/sugar etc). I think the poor little beggars were given old Copra floor mats to eat. As pepper is one of the ingredients of many ‘processed foods’. It comes from the Piperaceae family which cannot be grown in Hungary. There are also Capsicums which are members of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family. Some of these grow in Hungary. So I suppose the parts of India are claimed as being ‘Hungary’. Actually I do not like PICK Salami as it has a nasty ‘after taste’. Gdfxx you wrote ** “My understanding is that the palinka (made… Read more »
GW
Guest

Is this part of, or intended to be above and beyond the existing three EU schemes for geographical indications and traditional specialities (protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), and traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG))?

Guest
When will we ever find a law made by Fidesz which is logically consistent and thought though? With the speed and idiocy of their law-making this will probably never happen. We have similar laws in Germany (and all over the EU) but they have been discussed for years before being formulated and applied. Of course the idea of “Think global, buy local” has a lot of appeal, so we have local products (and fights over them!) all over the EU. The situation is similar everywhere: The famous Black Forest Ham is just cured there – the meat comes from all over Europe like with Pick and the same goes for the Nuremberger Virsli. Anyway Pick Salami is not the best imho – we only buy Gyula Kolbasz (not the sliced and packaged variety!) and sometimes Csaba which comes from the same factory but is rather spicy (too hot for my Hungarian wife!) My wife’s nephew who lives in the USA and travels to scientific congresses all over the world also thinks that Spanish Chorizo is better than the Hungarian sausages – but has the small problem that US customs usually take them away when he returns … OT a little… Read more »
Guest

@GW: Just read your post, yes, the Hungarian law “should conform” to this EU rule – but who knows if it does …

LwiiH
Guest

A large % of Italian olive oil comes from olives imported from Crete. Don’t know what the number is and I’ve no verification for this number but I’ve heard it’s been more than 1/2. It get’s blended with Italian olives.

Guest
London Calling! Odin! £2 10s 9d? Blimey, old English currency I thought that was in a parallel universe. And that was 10yrs of salary then! Cheshire Cat – I take your point, it was put in perspective too in the BBC link I gave you. But I have one reservation: It is well known that Hungarians eat at least one salami a day – and some fry them in breadcrumbs, like they do everything else? In addition a half bottle of Palinka-a-day and a pork fat and salt sandwich is a bit excessive too. Btw the Palinka I’ve had has been made from |Apricots, plums (prunes?) and other suspicious substances! And the best it seems comes in a suspiciously unhygienic lemonade bottle with the old label still left on. Anyway all Palinka is made from plums from Serbia – ask Mutt about the Serbian Plum Stone mountain? And yes Chorizo (from Spain or Portugal) is the best – and definitely contains donkey – I think that’s what gives it the ‘kick’? Us? Passionate about food? Hands off our Melton Mowbray pork pies – you’ll only spoil them trying to make them with poppy seeds – and paprika! (I’m told you… Read more »
Trifty
Guest

“It is well known that Hungarians eat at least one salami a day”

What??? One rod? That’d be impressive…

I think London’s calling the wrong number here…

Paul
Guest
I don’t think Hungarians need to worry about salami too much, their diet is killing them anyway – a salami or two on top won’t make any difference! But, as a long time veggie, I laugh all the way to my appointment with dementia in 20 years time. Although us veggies don’t do too much laughing in Hungary – more deep-fried cheese sajt anyone? My mother-in-law still doesn’t understand how anyone can cook, let alone eat, without eggs in everything… I’m not entirely convinced of this ‘eat local’ argument. For one thing, if you live in a place like the UK, you end up eating a lot of cabbage and potatoes and not much else – and no fruit for half the year. Also, what about all those economies that depend on food export? What would New Zealand do if the UK stopped buying their lamb and apples? not to mention Hungary – eat local and the Hungarian balance of payments goes down the toilet. We live in a world economy – it may not look too green, but trading, exporting/importing, is what keeps us going. As I may have said before, Pálinka is the piss of the devil.
Paul
Guest

Where my in-laws live is an ex-village, which has now more or less become a ‘garden suburb’ of Debrecen. But it still has quite a villagey feel about it in some parts, people still grow sunflowers and corn and some still keep animals. When I first visited, nearly 12 years ago, many still kept pigs. And there are two things people who have no experience of pig-rearing should know about pigs: they smell terrible, and pig fly bites make mosquito bites feel like a mild itch in comparison.

If Orbán gets his way, not only will most households keep a pig, but there will be at least a doubling in commercially farmed pigs to provide all the ‘hungarikum’ salami makers with their genuine Hungarian pork.

Not only is Hungary going to stink, but no one will be able to sit outside in the summer!

Paul
Guest

And one last one from me today – why is their no cider made in Hungary?

You grow enough apples, and, to be honest, most of these are a lot more suitable to being turned into cider than eaten. I enjoy a lot of Hungarian food (we even get sent food parcels when in the UK), but, with the exception of the ‘summer apples’ you get in August, I have rarely eaten worse apples than in Hungary.

cheshire cat
Guest
Well, I haven’t laughed this much for a long time on this forum! London, I think it is quite rare even for a Hungarian to eat a whole salami a day with half a litre of palinka. Maybe some country folk. I have never heard of anyone putting paprika in their tea or frying salami in breadcrumbs. It is true that we don’t know so much about tea (although Hungarian middle classes in Austria Hungary USED TO drink strong English tea with cream!, yummy, try it if you want to put on weight). But Hungarians are better when it comes to coffee – 90% of English people seem to just drink instant. Wolfi – I think you have put your finger on it. It’s not the idea which is the problem, but the sheer and transparent incompetence with which they rush everything through. Paul, oh, staying a vegetarian in Hungary must have been some challange. 😀 Fried cheese, fozelek that still has the fat from the bacon that was in it a minute ago, pasta with walnuts and sugar, soya brassoi are all sold as “healthy reform options”. I have heard of a German teenager, who, upon a visit to… Read more »
Thomas
Guest

Mutt:”I order my salami from Bende ( bende.com ), from Illinois. I swear it’s better than the Hungarian. You can trust me on this, I’m an expert.”
Sorry Mutt, I totally disagree. Bende’s salami does not even come close to the taste of a real Pick Salami. Trust me I am an expert as well, my taste buds are well developed. 🙂 I also think it is a personal preference. Bende’s may be less fatty, and that is good, however, the taste is totally bland

Thomas
Guest

I should ass to all this that i eat salami maybe once a year!:)

Thomas
Guest

maybe add would have been better!

so now i made an ass out of myself! 🙂

Louis Kovach
Guest

Pick was and is the best kosher salami ever made!

gdfxx
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :

gdfxx :
My understanding is that the palinka (made of prunes) is also a similar category of Hungaricums. What happens with the sliwovitz made by the Romanians and Serbs (and others?)?

Apparently it just cannot becalled pálinka. Pálinka is only the Hungarian made concoction. If I recall pálinka is palinca in Romanian and there was quite a controversy over it but I don’t remember the details.

Actually they call it tzuica, except in some parts of Transylvania, where they adopted the Hungarian name but the end vowel is an a that is pronounced somewhat like a in English (like in “a house”) and the accent is on the second syllable.

petofi
Guest

Louis Kovach :
Pick was and is the best kosher salami ever made!

Louis,
you wouldn’t know what ‘kosher’ was if it bitch-slapped you in the face…

Paul
Guest

CC – “Hungarian women sending their men to an early grave with their cooking” Quite possibly! And it works – you don’t see many elderly men in Hungary.

Being a veggie in Hungary is quite funny, most Hungarians, especially mothers, just can’t believe that anyone can possibly live without meat, eggs, etc. What I eat is regarded as “not proper food”, and my wife had to stop her mother from slipping meat, fat, eggs, etc into my food (she was trying to ‘help’ me!).

These days, I know enough about Hungarian food to know what I can eat and people aren’t quite so puzzled by my ‘madness’, but in the early days it was a nightmare. Fish and even chicken were regarded as ‘vegetarian’ by many restaurants, and trying to explain that eggs were animal products just met with incomprehension and much shaking of heads. The concept of vegetarian cheese still baffles most Hungarians, but that’s the only compromise I’ve had to make.

I don’t drink much either, and look after the kids and do the ironing and washing, so to most Hungarian men I’m also a lost cause – they probably think I’m gay!

Guest
I didn’t know that Louis had humour! Maybe it’s the heat – here near the Balaton we had 37 degrees (99 Fahrenheit) today … Re pálinka: That has been one of the good rules in Hungary (probably demanded by the EU) that only spirits made from fruit can be sold as pálinka – everything else is “szeszes ital”, even some well known brands, and they even have to list all the ingredients like caramel and other artificial colouring etc … Re food in Hungary: Imho at least part of the problem is the tradition – many Hungarian women still cook as if their husbands and boys (and they too!) had to do hard work and long hours in the fields (“toil” is the expression I remember) so they “cook them to death” … Since fat intensifies taste people maybe eat even more than they need in calories … So we have that joke: What describes a real Hungarian ? It’s easier to jump over him than to walk around him … I’m so lucky and happy that my wife cooks “light ” – more in the Mediterrenean style, especially after we’ve been on holiday in Spain a few times. Mostly… Read more »
enufff
Guest

Good to know that I’m not the only one that didn’t get the Pick salami fame; which is my hub.’s favourite. To me Gyula Kolbasz is way tastier!

By the way, when shopping with MIL the other day, she was surprised that I buy szalona only when I cook fish soup + túrós csusza!

Louis Kovach
Guest

I have a collegue at the IAEA who is from the state up north. He always gives me a present of of Slovak Tokaji and I give him a Hungarian Tokaji. (They are both very inexpensive in the PX.) He gets upset with me, when I call his the Totokaji…..

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