10 May 2015

Meandering in Hungary: How to Kill a Pig (Disznóvágás) in Debrecen

As my last leg in my three-week trip, I spent a few days in Hungary to spend time with my partner's parents. So I flew from Bangkok to Budapest on New Year's Day earlier this year. While I was there, I also met up with another friend of mine, László, who I originally met through Couchsurfing. He visited Berlin in 2013 and I hosted him in my apartment, and we kept in touch from that point onward. So in turn, he invited me to visit him in Debrecen, for the weekend, so I took the train from Budapest and headed east. While I was there, I participated in a disznóvágás, or a pig-killing ceremony. The disznóvágás was being held in his friend's farm, and it is basically a big project for an extended family. Hence, it is definitely a very Hungarian experience.

I was warned beforehand that it would be intense. I was told that there would be ugly things. I was also told that there would be plenty of alcohol. They said that palinka (a Hungarian spirit) will show up pretty much every time. I was looking forward to it.

I arrived the night before, and we woke up early to get dressed. Yes, it is in the middle of winter, and it was cold, and so we had to dress appropriately. My friend had plenty of farmer clothes, so he dressed me up in the most interesting farmer clothes I have seen. After the makeover, I looked like a Hungarian farmer.

We started at 7:00 AM, when my friend's friends picked us up. We went to the farmhouse, and we were about to head towards the farm where the pig is, but before we went out the door, we drank a shot of palinka. We drove about ten minutes to the farm (it was huge), and when we found the pig, we held it together. We were going to shoot the pig, but before we shot him, we drank another shot of palinka. This is just the first two of many more shots to come.

The pictures above show you how the pig was killed. He got a shot at the forehead, as well as a stab by the chest. We collected the blood from that wound, which was then transported back to the farmhouse kitchen. That would eventually be our breakfast later in the morning, fried blood and onions.

We then loaded the dead pig to a crate and transported it to the farmhouse, where the rest of the disznóvágás will happen. But before we drove away, yes, again we each drank a shot of palinka.

When we reached the farmhouse, the next step in processing the pig commenced. We then burned the hairs of the pig, using a blowtorch. This would then singe the hairs, which are then removed by scratching it off using a shovel. We completely burned the skin, which turned the pig into black, and after scraping the remaining hairs with a sharp knife, it turned white. The pictures below show you this process.

Once we got rid of the hairs, we cut the pig up. Of course, there is palinka being given to all of us all throughout, as well as bread and other food items. I really don't remember how much alcohol I drank that day, but then again I think it was needed as it was a very cold day as well, and we were all outside.

The butcher cut open the pig, and separated its contents. The heart, lungs, and liver went to one vat, while the stomach and the intestines went to another. I later learned that this is because the organs in the first vat were to be used for sausages and therefore will be eaten, while the second vat will be disposed. The choice meat cuts were also separated, and the remaining meat was ground to be used as sausage filling. The fat was also collected. I later cooked this fat on a large vat, turning it from solid white blobs to clear liquid. And yes, during this process, palinka still showed up.

The pictures above show you the cutting process. By this time, it's been an hour or so, and we were getting hungry. So we were called inside the farmhouse, and breakfast was served. Yes, breakfast is fried blood and onions, and it was very tasty. The women were the one responsible for this task, where they first boiled the blood so that it would stick into large pieces. These large pieces were then cut up into smaller pieces, and then fried and flavored with spices. This was eaten together with bread, and yes, palinka. I have eaten blood before, but I think this was the best instance of blood I have tasted. The pictures below show you snippets from this breakfast.

A disznóvágás is a project for the whole extended family. There are different work stations, so to speak. The pictures below show you the various meat parts that were cut up. These are the choice parts, and will be stored this way. The remaining meat parts were then ground into sausage.

These are photos of the sausage making station. There were at least two different types of sausage that was made. One was made with uncooked meat with spices. I tasted the mixture in the vat where you see a man with his hands mashing it, and it was so good. It tasted like beef tartar. The other type of sausage involved the internal organs, which were first cooked in this large vat, and then chopped up and ground. Fat was also cooked. I actually did the cooking of the fat, turning the large white cubes of fat into liquid, which was then later saved for later use. And yes, while I was doing all this, I was given plenty of shots of palinka. This family actually brews their own palinka, so they kept offering me "home spirit" which was fortunately, a part of their English language knowledge.

I had a very good time in this event. The Hungarian families I met were quite curious and interested that a Filipino actually is in rural Hungary participating in a disznóvágás. They said that next year they would hold the disznóvágás in the Philippines. I suppose what impressed me the most was that I felt included even though I cannot speak a word of Hungarian. People were very friendly to me, and communicated with gestures, or used my friend to translate it. Some of the folks there actually live in Austria, which meant that they spoke German, so we communicated in German as well. And yes, other guys just kept smiling at me and asking "Home spirit?"

And yes, I drank so much palinka that day. We were leaving at around 4:00 PM, and people were sending me off even with shots of palinka. I even got a full sealed bottle of palinka as take-away, which is still sitting in my kitchen in Berlin, albeit with less contents.

This is the end of my three-week vacation, spanning 4 countries: Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Hungary. After spending three nights in Hungary, we headed back to the airport and flew to Berlin. Stay tuned for my next travelogue, involving a two-week trip in two new countries!


  1. This is fascinating, both because I know nothing about Hungary and very little about slaughtering animals for food. I'm a city girl, I guess. I visited markets all over the world where the meat is very fresh, and I've seen dogs cut open in China but that's it.

    Strangely enough, your pictures aren't as gory as I would have expected and even though I rarely eat meat (for practical reasons, I'm not good at cooking it, it takes time and it's more expensive than tofu/eggs, etc.) it doesn't put me off it.

    I've had blood sausages in France before, "boudin" as we call it is very popular. I stopped eating them when I understood how they were made and yes, this is purely psychological. I usually stay away from offal and "weird" parts but I can eat steak, ribs, etc.

    1. Zhu,

      Yes, I know what you mean. I also thought it would be gory; I thought that after seeing it I would go back to being a vegetarian, but no, actually I thought that the whole process was more humane than the processes that are usually done in huge meat processing plants where everything is automated.