Langos: Hungary’s answer to hunger — and living too long.

by | Dec 1, 2016

Imagine a deep-fried flatbread about the size of a soviet-era compact car’s hubcap. It’s a lángos (pronounced LAHN-gosh) and it’s part of what Hungarians broadly consider Hungaricum: those things made special by being uniquely Hungarian.

If such a thing had been invented outside Hungary, it would likely get a schmear of frosting, a dusting of powdered sugar or a sugary glaze before it would be sliced into pieces and served to 4 – 6 people. But the point of travel is to experience the differences—and here they call it “a snack” and serve it to one person.

Welcome to Budapest.

How do you top fried dough?

The bread is really quite tasty (as you can imagine) and more than satisfying by itself—and you can order it that way. But that would not be enough for Hungarians. No. From there, they top it with garlic (often as garlic butter), Hungary’s beloved sour cream, and cheese. While these toppings are usually additional on the menu at the lángos stand, this makes up what you could consider a classic “base model” upon which more toppings can be added.

Medically speaking, the regular consumption of this classic lángos seems ill-advised. But brave Hungarians proudly and defiantly push the envelope further. Ham? Bacon? Ham and bacon?! How about select Hungarian sausages or a ladle of goulash? It seems the lángos starts with too much dairy on deep-fried dough and ends with a heart attack at age 53.

To be fair, other popular toppings include mushrooms, red onion, tomato, greens such as arugula and baby spinach, cabbage, cucumber, bell peppers, and of course, chilli peppers (after all, we’re in Hungary.) — some things pickled and some fresh. However, adding 30 or 40 calories of vegetables to several hundred calories of deep-fried dough topped with extreme dairy and optional red meat won’t turn your lángos into a health food.

A basic lángos with sour cream and cheese from Retró Büfé.

On the origin of specialties

In its current state, lángos sounds like something cooked up by the makers of cholesterol drugs and plus-size clothing in an evil cabal to ensure future sales. But its origin is actually much older.

If you’re researching lángos for an upcoming trip to Budapest (I’m jealous), you’ve probably already read a few blogs that regurgitate the same facts from Wikipedia that I found:

  • Flatbreads have a long history going back to the Romans.
  • Originally, Hungarian lángos was baked in brick ovens, near the front, close to the flames.
  • This is how lángos gets its name; from the Hungarian word “láng” which means “flame.”
  • Back in the day, lángos was served for breakfast on days when bread was baked.
  • Now, lángos is almost always deep-fried because times have changed and the heyday of the brick oven has passed.

And that gets us to now. Lángos is a mature street food served in snack shops, at markets, fairs, and the beach (remember to wait 30 minutes after eating before swimming!).

But every mature street food has its share of mutant strains and bizarre cross-breeding experiments. Some innovations are joined to a new standard. Evolutionary wrong turns disappear. And some twists survive with a tenuous grasp on a fragile niche.

Let’s take a look.

Adjuncts and Additives

While the basic lángos is usually a flour-water-yeast affair with some salt for good measure, it’s only human nature to continually tinker. This has resulted in a few variants that could be considered common.

  • Mashed potato is commonly added to the standard lángos dough. The result is called a potato lángos, or “Krumplis Lángos” in Hungarian.
  • Sour cream or yogurt are commonly added to the standard lángos dough in place of water.

Lángos as Confection

While the standard lángos runs along savory lines, lángos can also be sweet. Toppings may include cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, or a fruity preserve and compotes. While such treats aren’t hard to find in Budapest, worldwide competition from deep-fried confection such as donuts, churros, beignets, zeppole, funnel cake, and the like make this a crowded niche in which lángos finds less distinction.

Lángos Hot Dog

It was probably inevitable that Hungarians, being Central Europeans, would take an existing concept like a lángos and wrap it around a sausage. The concept sounds delicious. But surprisingly, this niche player hangs out around the fringe, benefiting from a sense of novelty that appeals to one’s I-haven’t-tried-that-yet impulse.

Stuffed Lángos

This idea makes too much sense. With a standard, “open-face” lángos stacked high with toppings, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with food on your face. Loose toppings will fall on the ground — since statistically, there’s a very good chance you’ll eat standing up.

Well, many of those issues are resolved with a stuffed lángos. “Toppings” go on before cooking. Then the dough is folded over to enclose the toppings and the whole thing goes into the fryer. The end result is roughly the shape of a calzone or empanada. The end result is often topped with sour cream and cheese in an apparent act of determination to see you with sour cream on the tip of your nose.

Where to get lángos in Budapest

If there’s a place in Budapest to get bad lángos, I didn’t find it. And it seems as though you’re never more than a two-minute walk from a langós in Budapest. But some vendors are called out as being especially good. One of these would likely make a good choice for your first lángos lest you write them off en masse for inadvertently choosing a bad one.

Retró Büfé in Pest’s Inner City is considered by many to be the best Lángos stand in Budapest.

Retró Büfé

Highly recommended by locals and well-located near Pest’s Inner City, Retró Büfé’s street-side setting is a great spot for Budapest’s snack-on-the-go. Their English menu and friendly, English-speaking staff make it a great spot for tourists. Good food, low prices, large portions, wide variety, central location, and late hours of operation make it a compelling if not inescapable destination for lángos.

Retró Büfé

1054 Budapest, Podmaniczky Frigyes tér 4
(Near the Arany János utca Metro Station)

Lángos Land

Tucked away in a shady corner on the top floor of Fény Street Market in Buda, is Lángos Land. According to the website, the owner’s parents ran a lángos shop across the street from this very market. Their lángos were famous among locals. Here, his parent’s secret recipe lives on, selling at a pace of up to 400 per day.

Lángos Land

Fény Street Market (Fény utcai piac)
1024 Budapest, Lövőház u. 12

Hamburger, Lángos, Palacsinta

Just a few steps from the lower station of The Children’s Railway at Hűvösvölgyi in the scenic Buda Hills, is an unassuming, ramshackle food stand—painted green—with a sign that says, “HAMBURGER LÁNGOS MELEGSZENDVICS.” The lángos here been a local favorite for much of its 50-year history. If you decide to visit The Children’s Railway, Hamburger, Lángos, Palacsinta can be a nice bonus.

Hamburger, Lángos, Palacsinta

1021 Budapest, Hűvösvölgyi út 209

Tomi Lángos

Tomi Lángos seems designed to feed hungry late-night revelers as they filter out of Budapest’s ruin pubs and other night spots. This bright, cartoony storefront is open late — many “nights” until 6:00 AM. It’s located near the east end of Pest’s Jewish Quarter. And it’s right next to Corvin Club, a ruin pub and electronic music venue. And when guests stream out of Corvin Club, many line up at Tomi Lángos to inoculate themselves against a hangover with a near-perfect langós.

Tomi Lángos

1085 Budapest, Blaha Lujza tér 1

Great Market Hall

Budapest’s Great Market Hall — often just Central Market — is a tourist destination in its own right and a real shopping destination for locals. Along a busy stretch of Central Market’s third floor, a number of vendors offer lángos and other Hungarian specialties.

The space is cramped and seating can be hard to come by. The Panorama Bár in the northwest corner of the top floor has seating with a nice view of Liberty Statue atop Gellért Hill across the river in Buda. It’s a good opportunity to buy your lángos a friend in the form of a beer and enjoy the view.

Great Market Hall

1093 Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3

But are lángos good?

Over the course of my five days in Budapest, I managed to eat four lángos. It was reckless, irresponsible and maybe even self-destructive. It’s big, heavy food.

You can make it through the first quarter of a lángos on novelty alone—no problem.

As you work your way through the second quarter, your body recognizes the early signs of an overdose of deep-fried carbs and dairy. Your upbeat sense of adventure quickly decays. You keep chewing as you search for new motivation. You lean on a when-am-I-gonna-be-back-here-again sentiment, and it gets you through the second quarter.

Most normal people with a healthy sense of self-esteem hit the wall around the second half. They realize that a few Forints is no reason to force feed themselves, and it stopped being new/fun/good a few bites ago.

At least this is what I imagine, because I didn’t do that.

Instead, I continued to plow on with an irrational clean-plate-club sense of obligation. I wish I could tell you it was determination, but it wasn’t. It was obligation.

Finishing was a difficult task made only more difficult by the half-bored/half-concerned expressions on the faces of my travel companions. Their faces weighed on me as they waited — and waited — for me to finish one of these Hungarian gut bombs.

I got through. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that we could now, finally get on with the rest of our day.

Here is what I can tell you from my experiences:

  • It’s too much food: If it’s not yet apparent, your typical lángos is too much food — about three times more than necessary by my estimation. Either plan to not finish, or plan to share. I recommend the sharing strategy—more on that in a minute.
  • Good, not great: Lángos won’t become your new favorite food. Memories of your first lángos won’t eclipse the birth of your first child (Unlike the first time you tried foie gras and realized it wasn’t all that cruel after all.). They’re good, then they’re okay, but they tend to overstay their welcome.
  • Sharing has advantages: As far as I know, no one uses a “quattro stagioni” approach to toppings (although it’s not a bad idea). Sharing may be a good way to try varying topping combinations. And that’s important because ….
  • Toppings make a difference: My first lángos was topped with sour cream and cheese (that base model I mentioned). I added bacon to my second lángos. Guess what? Sitting down? I liked the one with added-bacon even more! Upshot: Trying toppings may help you find that elusive “great” lángos experience.

Retró Büfé in Pest’s Inner City is considered by many to be the best Lángos stand in Budapest.

You travel to change your perspective, to have new experiences, and to grow from that. It’s unlikely lángos will become your new favorite food—although it could happen for the right person with the right toppings. You won’t be ruined for all other street food. Lángos are fine. And you should try one (or two, or three) for the same reason people climb mountains: because they’re there.

I’ll probably never climb a mountain, but I’ve eaten lángos.

Budapest, Hungary

Quarterly Newsletter

What is The Frugal Glutton?

The Frugal Glutton is an expression of the collected experiences of two intrepid explorers on a quest for fun, beauty, and deliciousness.