My good friend lovethescents is part Hungarian - a quarter, I think - but whatever the exact fraction may be, it is enough for her to have paprika running through her veins, and in her store cupboard. Or rather NOT in her store cupboard at the moment, for when she heard I would be visiting Hungary on one of my work trips, she asked me if I wouldn't mind bringing her back some smoked paprika.
I have a passing familiarity with this particular spice variety. I remember it having a rich, barbecue-y smell, which is why Mr Bonkers won't touch it - he is a vegetarian and it reminds him pointedly of meat. On the last day of my stay in Hungary, I had an opportunity between meetings to nip into a big branch of Tesco in a rural town SE of Budapest.
Predictably, they had a large selection of paprika - mind bogglingly so, in packets, tins and boxes - and all of them labelled in Hungarian. Not to worry, I thought to myself, I will find a sales assistant and ask which one is smoked. Well, it turned out that none of the three assistants I approached spoke a word of English, so it wasn't long before I resorted to an impromptu series of mimes, right there in the herbs and spices aisle, with my audience of three (increasingly bemused) staff looking on. Here are the mimes I tried, in approximate order...
1) RUBBING TWIGS TOGETHER
This was supposed to evoke their boy scout past, when they would hopefully have lit camp fires by the power of friction alone.
2) SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION
In this mime I tried to convey the impression of feeling hot and sweaty, by sighing a lot and fanning my face with my hands, before the heat escalated into one of those (admittedly rare) incidents of spontaneous human combustion. I threw my arms in the air, tulip-fashion - or "witch tied to the stake-fashion" might be a more fitting image - and emitted a loud "Woosh!". This was meant to denote the sound of me bursting into flames, and I swiftly followed it up with mime 3 ) below.
3) FIRE ENGINE SIREN
Easy enough you might think, but judging by their blank looks I think the sales staff may have thought I was making that bragging "I told you so" noise - you know, the one that goes: "Nah nah ne nah nah".
I paused for a moment to regroup, then came back with an inspired mime that finally cracked it (or got a bit "warmer", shall we say...).
4) WARMING HANDS AT A BRAZIER
I stretched my arms out in front of me and held my hands facing outwards as though I was warming them at a brazier, occasionally stopping to rub them together in a self-comforting gesture. Bingo! (-ish...)
"Aha!" exclaimed one of the three men in our huddle: "Feu!" (Okay, it sounded like the French word for fire, so I felt immediately encouraged.) He went straight to a particular packet and placed it in my by now nicely toasty hands. He repeated this magic word as he handed it over, visibly delighted that he had cracked the code.
So I bought the packet and went to my afternoon appointment, but something continued to niggle in my mind... Is "fire" synomyous with "smoked", which is a specific process, or does it merely denote heat, in the sense of "strength"? (By analogy with a mild versus a hot curry powder, type of thing.)
At the end of my meeting, I asked the respondent (with whom I had struck up a good rapport), if he wouldn't mind glancing over the description on the paprika I had bought to see if it was in fact smoked - or merely hot, say. He donned his glasses and scrutinized the label, which read:
"I am sorry, but this is medium strength", he announced, before proceeding to write down the Hungarian for "hot smoked paprika". I have since lost the bit of paper with this on, but from memory I think the word "erös" was involved, and overall it looked nothing like the variety I had bought.
Faced with the very real possibility that I had in fact bought "medium unsmoked" paprika, I supplemented my purchase with an emergency miscellaneous triple pack at the airport, comprising two sweet varieties and one hot.
Now that I have had a chance to look into it, I think the key word for "smoked" that I was missing all along is in fact "füstölt". How füstolting!
Then as I was googling online dictionaries to find this magic term, I stumbled across a couple of interesting facts about paprika, namely that one of the main centres of production is the small town of Kalocsa on the Southern Great Plain, which boasts a Paprika Street and - speaking of random museums - a museum devoted to Paprika!
And meanwhile, when lovethescents finally receives these packages, whatever they may contain, it remains to wish her: "Jó étvágyat kívánunk!" (Enjoy your meal!)
Photo of paprika house from delalfold.network.hu, photo of the actual Tesco store I visited(!) from canor.hu. photo of paprika sachet (correct brand, different strength illustrated) from choiceofhungary.com, photo of boy rubbing sticks together from fieldandstream.com, photo of man warming hands from mylearning.org, photo of museum from flickriver.com