A hungarikum is (theoretically) something unique, special that is peculiar to Hungary. Virtually anything can be a hungarikum: music, literature, animals, plants, buildings, food, drinks etc. Some hungarikums are relatively famous beyond the borders of Hungary (e.g. Hungarian gulasch), but most of them are only known by Hungarians (though tourists inevitably meet some of the hungarikums even if they don’t know they’re called that). Although Hungarian law doesn’t define “hungarikum”, it protects all products that are considered to be hungarikums. In the case of food and drink products that belong to the “elite” category of hungarikum, the recipes are mostly secret. The law of the European Union doesn’t include hungarikum as a separate legal category; nevertheless, EU law offers protection for certain products on a geographical basis, so, theoretically, the brands of the products that the EU recognises as peculiar to Hungary are protected by law.
Besides Hungarian gulasch, Csárdás (or sometimes Czárdás) is the most well-known hungarikum outside Hungary. It is a folk dance that can be traced back to the 18th century. The term “csárdás” is an archaic word for “tavern”. There are relatively many Hungarian practitioners of the dance as of today because it is an integral part of Hungarian folklore. There are practitioners of Csárdás in most (if not all) neighbouring countries of Hungary largely due to the substantial number of Hungarians who live beyond the borders of Hungary.
Túró Rudi is a hungarikum that is not meant for those who cannot tolerate lactose. “Túró” is the Hungarian term for “curd”; “rudi” can mean “rod + diminutive (rody) or stick + diminutive (sticky)”; however, it can also be the Hungarian diminutive for the name “Rudolf” (English Rudolph). Despite the fact that Túró Rudi originates from the late 60’s (so it’s a relatively young hungarikum), there are no conclusive evidence that would prove the origins of “rudi” (of course, “túró” is pretty straightforward). Túró Rudi is basically a small stick made up of curd in an almost cylindrical fashion, which is coated in chocolate (it’s super-yummy).
Rubik’s Cube is an even “younger” hungarikum than Túró Rudi; however, it may well be the most famous of the hungarikums although non-Hungarians usually are not aware of the Rubik’s Cube being a hungarikum (to tell the truth, foreigners usually don’t know about the concept “hungarikum” at all, which is not a surprise). There is a great chance you’ve already seen the original or some modern version of the cube. It is a 3D puzzle game invented by Ernő Rubik. It was originally called “Magic Cube” (or Hungarian Magic Cube).
As you can see, it has six faces (like a traditional cube); each face has its own colour; each face is divided into nine small cubes. You can turn the faces of the cube (you can see this on the picture), and after only a few turns, you can totally mix up the “colour scheme” of the cube (as seen on the picture). The aim of the game is to turn the faces of the cube in a way that all faces return to their unitary colour. Actually, this is the way the cube is when you open the package. I’ve never understood why people bother with it when all they have to do is not to turn the faces! 🙂 However, there are many people who (luckily) disagree with me and have endless hours of fun (and sometimes frustration) playing the original or some modern version of the cube.
The list of hungarikums is extensive. We’re not going to go into any more details about them, but here is a concise list of food and drinks (naturally, all hungarikums) that you might want to try when you visit Hungary:
- Pick szegedi téliszalámi “winter salami from Pick Szeged”
- Békési szilvapálinka “plum schnapps from Békés”
- Egri bikavér “bullblood from Eger” (arguably the most famous Hungarian red wine)
- Csabai kolbász “sausage from Csaba”
- Szatmári almapálinka “apple schnapps from Szatmár”
- Makói vöröshagyma “red onion from Makó”