Editor’s note: For our next issue, which hits streets March 1, Maureen Brennan visited the 60-year-old Hungarian Meat Market on the Upper East Side. Brennan’s husband is Hungarian, and as a result she has the scoop on a little-known Hungarian culinary custom that runs until the end of this month, one that’s rarely celebrated in the United States. Yet.
Hungarians celebrate their passion for pork every year with an age-old custom called the disznotor: the pig’s funeral feast. Haven’t heard of it? If you’re pork lover, it’s time to take notice. The disznotor is an extravagant commemoration of the pig farmer’s annual slaughter – the disznovagas — held between November and February. Friends and families can participate in the disznovagas to varying degrees – from actually assisting in the butchering of the hog to helping prepare the end-result: sausage, bacon, specific cuts of ham, the latter often squirreled away for the coming months.
The disznotor is accompanied by music, dancing and glasses of Palinka, a fruit brandy. The menu usually consists of rib soup, various sausages, and black pudding. A special cabbage dish made with meat from the pig’s head is often served.
Even though there are fewer small pig farmers in Hungary today, the tradition continues. City dwellers head out to the countryside during disznotor season looking to preserve ancestral customs, albeit with the assistance of tour companies. You’ll be hard-pressed to find die-hard celebrants here in the U.S. Hungarian-Americans take a more laid-back approach, enjoying a traditional meal of hurka – blood and liver sausage — red cabbage, paprikas potatoes and pickled vegetables at their local community center, church hall or home.
But change is afoot. The Hungarian-American Foundation has been holding a disznovagas and disznotor every February since 2002 on a small farm in Maryland, this year’s has already happened, sadly, but it’s never too early to start planning for a feast.