By the time we stopped to sit down, the hazy weekday afternoon had already begun to falter. The sun was still beaming down on Budapest, but midday was well done. We’d been walking through and around Városliget, Budapest’s central city park, for almost two hours. The directions we’d been given to the biergarten of our dreams were utterly, thirstily wrong. Amit sipped from a Coke bottle and reminded me that we were due for dinner in three hours. I was steeling myself to admit chowhounding defeat and eat the very next thing I saw wrapped in a bun when I looked up and noticed the Lángos sign down the road.
There are few things in this city more impressive than Lángos. This, of course, comes from a man whose love for lamb on a stick exceeds his love for his own mother. Still, it’s a claim I would challenge any hungry visitor to unseat. Lángos is to Budapest as pizza is to New York, as hot dogs are to Chicago and as a great taco al pastor is to Los Angeles. It’s what sandwiches are to white people (alternatively, it’s what Pho is to Asians). It’s the common currency of taste, the savor of the city that every person knows and recommends, the emotionally ingrained bite that evokes solemn smiles and hushed directions to the best lángos stand in the city from the most unassuming of citizen-consumers.
Physically speaking: Lángos (“Lahn-Gohsh”) is a giant, savory yeast doughnut, deep fried, sprinkled with garlic powder, pasted with sour cream and topped with whatever your drunk-out-of-your-3:00-a.m. mind can muster.
It was fortunate for us that Lángos is better experienced sober and starving, because the stand on the southwestern edge of the city park had quite a way with dough. The bread was freshly fried and hot to the touch. Its edges upheld a magnificent, airy crunch. Its innards were fluffy and porous, landing somewhere between a funnel cake and a fresh raised doughnut. Amit’s garlic, sour cream and cheese Lángos was crispy, chewy and satisfyingly rich without becoming too much of a burden for the open appetite to bear (I wouldn’t wish it upon the full stomach of even my greatest enemy). My garlic and ham Lángos, moist, meaty and savory, was just as filling without the richness of cheese and cream. It was, without a doubt, the best single meal of our entire week in Budapest.
It didn’t, however, stop us from seeking out even better Lángos. Later that week, while stopping by the visiting Czech Beer Festival, I discovered that giant savory doughnuts can also be deep fried in animal fat.
This time around, I went the whole 82.296 decimeters: I asked for my lard enlivened Lángos with sour cream, then placed a side order for a particularly seemly sauerkraut and piled pickled cabbage atop the monstrous hunk of fried dough. The resulting behemoth of fats and flavors was admittedly not as delicious as the fresh, everyday Lángos from the roadside stand; nevertheless, it was a behemoth. The edges were crunchier, the innards were chewier, the greasy taste of the dough was heartier, and the tart, peppery combination of sauerkraut and sour cream cut through the bready heaviness of the Lángos so well that, before I knew it, I had eaten enough to feed a pre-medieval Magyar tribe.
On the last morning of our trip, we had left more than enough instances of Lángos untouched to justify another trip to the Hungarian capital. I can see the itinerary now: a breakfast of pastries, fruit and coffee, lunch at Kádár and a quick trip to the bathhouse before shuffling off to try Lángos at a different farmer’s market on every day of the week. A light dinner wherever we can find it. Scotch and cigars wherever we can enjoy them. A round of unicum and a round of beers wherever they’ll have us. That is a summer day.