Water into wine

Am sure that wine puritans come out in a rash at the thoughts of adding water to wine, but in Hungary, it’s almost de riguer in the summer. Far from being a ‘girly’ drink, the various forms of wine spritzers are imbibed by men and women and boys and girls alike.

I remember my first breakfast in America when, on asking for a fried egg, I was presented with a list of choices including over easy, basted, broken, and sunny side up. When the Starbucks craze took root and coffee choice was no longer limited to black or white, I was just as mithered. And when I first came to Budapest, asking for a wine and soda landed me in the same bed of confusion.

There’s a science involved and getting the measures right is all about mood and circumstances.

  • Nagyfröccs (large spritzer) 2 dl wine and 1 dl soda water (probably the most common of all)
  • Kisfröccs (small spritzer) 1 dl wine and 1 dl soda water (as above but on a budget)
  • Hosszúlépés (a long step) 1 dl wine and 2 dl soda water (my usual)
  • Házmester (a janitor) 3 dl wine and 2 dl soda water (good for when the bar is packed and the queues are long or the waiters are ignoring you)
  • Viceházmester or háziúr (an assistant janitor or landlord) 2 dl wine and 3 dl soda water (a polite nod to sobriety)
  • Kisházmester (a little janitor) 1 dl wine and 4 dl soda water (great for a long night)
  • Polgármester (a mayor) 6 dl wine and 4 dl soda water (only if the walk to the bar takes more than 10 minutes)
  • Alpolgármester (a deputy mayor) 4 dl wine and 6 dl soda water (as above, but you’re being careful)
  • Mafla (sheepish) 5 dl wine and 5 dl soda water(and so you would be, if you publicly demonstrated this amount of gluttony)
  • Sóher fröccs (a stingy) 1 dl wine and 9 dl soda water (why bother?)
  • Lófasz (a horse prick 0.5 dl wine and 4.5 dl of soda water (adding injury to insult)

And it’s not all about wine and soda. Add the juice of a pickle and you’ll have újházy fröccs. Use red wine, soda, and raspberry syrup and you’ll have a macifröccs (aka a teddy-bear spritzer). (By the way, for those of you still in metric denial, 1 dl is about 3.5 ounces.)

IMG_2262 (800x589)

Collectively these are known as fröccs and Austria and Hungary both claim the rights to this particular phenomenon. I was in Győr a few weeks ago wandering around on a summer Saturday that was doing an excellent job of pretending it was still stuck in February. We came across what might well be indisputable proof that the whole fröccs thing did indeed originate in Hungary – a commemorative fountain with a very, very large soda water bottle in the middle. The engraved legend says that a chap by the name of Jedlik invented soda water, ‘a cult drink in Hungary’.

Mind you, an Internet search says thatBritish clergyman Joseph Priestley invented carbonated water in 1767. Interestingly Ányos István Jedlik was also in the church – he was a monk – although not born until 1800, well after Priestly first infused water with carbon dioxide. And more trivia: the first company to sell soda water was Thwaites’ Soda Water in Dublin, set up in 1799.

What to believe? Whom to believe? Perhaps there are variations of carbonated water that each could lay claim to. Perhaps Jedlik discovered it having never known Priestly had gotten there before him. Who knows? And who cares? Suffice to say that the fröccs phenomenon makes summers in Budapest bearable.

First published in the Budapest Times 13 June 2014

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