Tibor Bognár, the fearsome Slovakian gangster respects his adversary Mark Kent, our hero in Mark to Murder. After his men capture Mark, while interrogating him, Bognár says, “if I may say so, I kind of like you. If circumstances were different I wouldn’t mind sharing some of my homemade pálinka with you. I make good pálinka. Strong. Apricot flavor. Did you get to taste some pálinka while you were here?”
“Yes,” answers Mark, recalling the poison-like drink he sampled a few days earlier. He then lies. “It was very good.”
I discovered Pálinka while researching Hungarian drinks. It is a distilled fruit brandy, found under similar sounding names in various Central European countries. Hungarians consider it a national drink, many households making their own homemade versions. In Communist times they banned this practice with little success.
During my research trip to Budapest, I sampled Pálinka in some of my story sites, the bar at Gresham Palace Hotel and at Lotz Terem Café. They were upscale versions of the drink, served in special glasses. Despite their high alcohol level, they did not taste like poison.
Then came my most memorable Pálinka experience. My old High School classmate and police advisor Loni Arditi, a retired Israeli Interpol agent, made me a special shakshuka breakfast in Budapest. It is a spicy Middle Eastern dish of eggs and vegetables. For Israeli men shakshuka is a badge of honor, a special sign of masculine prowess.
We were staying at an Airbnb apartment there, researching my novel together. We also invited his colleague Aggie Lantai, retired Hungarian policewoman, a native of Budapest, another advisor to the novel. Aggie arrived with a special bottle of Pálinka. At first we balked. Alcohol for breakfast?
“It’s good for you,” she said. “Cleanses your system.” We had no choice. Instead of coffee or orange juice, we had Pálinka with the shakshuka. The drink was strong. It took some time to recover from that breakfast.