James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Drown Your Fried Garlic Dough in a Lake of Garlic Sauce

Drown Your Fried Garlic Dough in a Lake of Garlic Sauce

Lángos in Budapest

It’s 9 a.m. in Budapest’s Nagyvásárcsarnok—the Great Market Hall. It’s a sprawling, bustling hive; its three floors already have shoppers surveying strands of dried paprika peppers, pickled vegetables, and cases of pastries. On the ground floor, butcher stalls brim with items like foie gras and bricks of smoked pork belly the color of café au lait. Upstairs at the food stalls, however, I’m ready to take things slow.

Andrew, a chef who offers market tours here with his partner Agnes, sets down my breakfast with a hearty thud. At first it looks bland: most ingredients are pale. He’s plopped lángos, a Frisbee-like disc of golden fried dough, before me. I have an empty stomach and a slight hangover, so instantly this carb-and-dairy pile is more than a breakfast—it’s a beacon of hope.

A generous spread of velvety sour cream anchors a heap of grated cheese. Andrew slices it into quarters like a pizza. He offers me a heavy, garlic-scented triangle. I instinctively fold it like a New York slice and dive in.

Other lángoses I’ve sampled are thinner, but this, thankfully, is thick. And, it’s very fresh. The first bite into the plush, yeasty dough yields an unctuous, salty mouthful. It’s the breakfast equivalent of wearing a sweater straight from the dryer.

[Read: Hungary’s fish soup masters]

There’s often a harder crunch to the underside—one that, as I found at other stalls around Budapest, can reach a sad cardboard-like density if the lángos is left out for too long. This piece has a nice crispness, however. The shredded cheese on top has melted to a soft, gooey consistency. Andrew explains the cheese is Trappista, a cow’s milk variety. And, it’s probably the most popular cheese in Hungary, as common as American cheese is in the states. It’s also cheap, at around 1,200 to 2,100 Hungarian forint per kilo (less than US$3.50 per pound).

There’s another element of eating lángos that’s especially exciting for garlic lovers like myself: a milky-white tonic of garlic and salt is often served alongside. Using a brush as the flavor vehicle, one can drench a lángos in a lake of garlic.

Although I’m sampling this dish at a major Budapest tourist attraction, lángos is far from tourist fare. To Hungarians, lángos is a beloved specialty and a common breakfast or mid-day snack. Andrew explains that it’s omnipresent in the city’s food stalls and festivals. Somehow, it’s also a beloved beach staple. (Whoever wants to chew piping-hot dough in summer heat has my blessing.)

As Andrew wraps up the lángos portion of our tour, motioning toward sausages and gulyás, I notice fancier options. There’s a “Fantastic” lángos, covered in vegetables. A “Meat Lovers” has hearty meats and rings of red onion. There’s also varieties with cabbage, mushrooms, and, suspiciously, “Mexican sauce.” Yet as I finish my traditional lángos, my hangover starting to ebb, I decide that often, simpler is best.

Lángi-Plusz Kft.
Vámház krt. 1-3
1093
Budapest

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