Insider’s Guide: Fröccs – the Hungarian Wine & Soda Spritzer

  • 14 Jul 2023 2:44 PM
Insider’s Guide: Fröccs – the Hungarian Wine & Soda Spritzer
Summer in Hungary means spritzers. A refreshing, heat-beating combination of wine and soda, fröccs is the order of the day almost everywhere you go, Budapest, Balaton or by the banks of the Tisza.

Derived from the onomatopoeic Hungarian word for splashing, fröccs, pronounced ‘frurtch’, is the generic term for this type of drink – hence, for example, the prominent Fröccsterasz terrace bar on central Erzsébet tér.

Ask for a fröccs and your friendly server will immediately ask, ‘What kind?’ or ‘Which measure?’, needing to know much wine you require compared to soda. And here is where you enter the big colourful world of Hungarian spritzers, their names and combinations as deeply embedded in Magyar culture as, say, varieties of coffee in Italy or rain in Scotland.

With this little guide, you can order away like a native, safe in the knowledge that you’re about to sip a gentle, mildly intoxicating bubbly drink before a hands-off date or guzzle a get-me-there-quick lagoon of booze just as the party’s getting started.

The choice is yours – now at least you’ll know the ground rules, don’t say that we didn’t warn you.

One last thing: while in the UK at least, measures of wine are consigned to the small print, and concepts such as ‘small’ and ‘large’ are as long as bits of string, in Hungary, everything is by the deci (‘detsi’), ie one tenth of a litre.

Ask for a fröccs and your server might ask by way of confirmation: ‘Két deci bor, egy deci szóda?’ (‘2dl of wine, one 1dl of soda?’).

Once affirmed, they will wield their trusty syphon and attack a substantial glass of white wine with a satisfying hosing down of soda. Red wine is not really in this whole equation – that’s a story for another day.

Sportfröccs: As its name suggests, this is a small drop of wine in an ocean of soda water. Drivers should be warned that it’s zero tolerance in Hungary, ie no alcohol whatsoever should be consumed before getting behind the wheel, so not even a humble sportfröccs can be imbibed. When up before the beak, the sportfröccs won’t save you. 1dl wine, 4dl soda.

Kisfröccs: Again as its name suggests, kis (‘kish’) meaning small, this drink errs on the side of caution, an equal measure of wine and soda allowing you to taste the former while letting the latter keep you on the straight and narrow. It’s also the smallest choice by volume, meaning less answering the call of nature. 1dl wine, 1dl soda.

Hosszúlépés: The ‘long step’ hints at the roundabout route to your inevitable destination, with twice as much soda concealing the demon drink. Ideal for heat waves as it means you’re taking in the required volume of liquid without bumping into lampposts afterwards. 1dl wine, 2dl soda.

Fröccs: Here’s where things start to get interesting, also because this standard measure is referred to in certain circles as a nagyfröccs (big, as opposed to kis), a scone-scone type of deal.

As your server will invariably ask you your exact requirements, you can specify what you mean by fröccs. If you haven’t learned your Hungarian numbers by now, the universal finger-measuring thing should do the trick. 2dl wine, 1dl soda.

Nagyfröccs: Many take the idea of nagy seriously, putting the big in Big Spritzer by insisting it’s three-quarters wine, one quarter soda. You can even express your order it in a manly fashion to labour the point.

Again, your loyal server should confirm your choice back to you in pure deci terms, while assuming you’re on a mission to oblivion. 2dl wine, 1dl soda or 3dl wine, 1dl soda.

Házmester: Now we’re talking. No-one in any residential building in Budapest is more important than the házmester, the all-seeing caretaker whose remit extends to compulsive snooping while making sure that the bins are taken out on time. ‘Janitor’ is a lowly station in life, ‘house master’ is omnipotent.

Ergo, this combination of plentiful wine and lashings of soda, good enough for interview-length conversations before having to trot up to the bar again. 3dl wine, 2dl soda.

Viceházmester: One down from the housemaster, a substantial drink that says, ‘I mean business’, without having everyone around your table thinking you’ve been taking lessons from Shane MacGowan. In practice, it’s rarely ordered – most cut to the chase and glug down a házmester. 2dl wine, 2dl soda.

Polgármester: Another drink that probably only exists in untranslatable Hungarian novels, the ‘Mayor’ takes us into Mr Creosote territory, a whole litre of liquid dominated by the best part of a bottle of wine. 6dl wine, 4dl soda.

Krúdy-fröccs: Some context is required here. Imagine if you ordered a Coleridge-sized laudanum or a Bukowski measure of scotch.

Such is the Krúdy-fröccs, referring to the great Budapest novelist and bon vivant who spent his relatively short career (a) drunk, (b) in the throes of divorce, (c) devouring entire herds of cattle and (d) broke.

He died at the age of 54, in his beloved Óbuda. To raise a glass in his honour, a big, big glass at that, this is what you should order. Don’t plan on doing too much the next day. 9dl wine, 1dl soda.

Words by Peterjon Cresswell for
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website

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