“But why are you writing an article about langos?” Sandor asked me. Fair question, my langos-making friend. To a foreigner living in Hungary, langos appears to be a food that cuts across decades of -isms and post –isms, draws a tasty line between jabbering vagrants and Buda hills bourgeoisie, connects the herbivores and carnivores in greasy agreement, brings the moody teenager to a parent’s side, and witnesses men and women wiping sour cream off each other’s faces. In short, langos seems to be for everyone and always has been.
I’ve seen langos in other Central European countries, popping up next to doner-kebab stands or at fair grounds and festivals. Assuming that is was a generic fast food, I was recently informed that in fact langos was first birthed from the plentiful Hungarian plain and still remains part of everyday eating and vacationing indulgence. Having survived the standing in line for hours, the squirreling away of precious staples, and the exchanging on blackmarket, langos as part of Hungarian cuisine has remained for decades.
Without glossy packaging, an absence of commercials, no coupons to cut out of colorful advertisements, and no nutritional information listed, langos begs some questions: What changes and what does not change? What persists and why?
In order to answers such pressing questions, I peruse cookbooks in a local Budapest bookstore to see if I can locate any answers. Langos recipes appear rarely—indeed, only once do I find a recipe on how to prepare the tasty bread treat, however it appears in a rather old-fashioned manner that assumes I own an igloo-sized ceramic bread oven. No, I am looking for a different langos other than this traditionally baked variety…I want to know more about the one I see five year olds devouring on the shores of Balaton, the langos the university student eats at 3am after a night of beering, I want to find the fried, fried langos.
Enter Sandor Horvath, langos-man. I hop off a tram in Buda, just past Moszka Ter. I’ve seen a langos stand here a few times before, and figure I may as well go directly to the source to find out more about langos. Stepping up to the stand, I engage in a friendly chat with my langos-making attendant. After establishing with Sandor that, yes, I am interested in langos for journalistic and personal reasons, he agrees to an informal interview.
Firstly, let’s get to the basics, how do you prepare langos—I read that it was supposed to be baked?
Well, it originally was baked, but hasn’t been prepared that way in a long time. Now, it is pretty simple to make. You combine flour, potato, yeast, and salt. Then you mix and knead it, let it rest and rise, and then toss it and fry it.
So, its potato-based bread?
Yeah, our plain type of langos is just called potato and then you can put on more toppings.
Well, on every langos I put garlic, butter and salt. On top of this you have your choice of toppings—see the sign. Most people get the sour cream and cheese.
I look up to see 5 choices becoming increasingly risky with price: 1) Potato 2) Sour cream 3) Sour cream and cheese 4) Sour cream, cheese, meat 5) Sour cream, cheese, meat, and bacon. Prices adjusted accordingly. Not a healthy choice for a meal, I think. I wonder if we’ll ever see trial lawyers suing langos men and women for obesity.
How did you start to be a langos-man?
I was a construction worker before, but now I’ve been selling langos for about 5 months. You don’t need to have a special ability to make langos, but you need to love it.
I was hoping that he would answer that his grandfather built this stand, his father worked here, and so will he and his children. But five months good enough for me to proclaim him a langos expert.
Who buys your langos?
Everybody. Young, old, men, women, rich and poor. Even yuppies—who usually say that they don’t eat langos.
Great: langos can be considered a key entry point into social demographic studies in Hungary, resistant to gentrification of taste.
Where do you eat the langos, how do I eat it?
If you’d like to eat it here, you can eat it over there (as he points to shelf where I can stand at and engage in munching fried goodness). I’ve never seen anybody use cutlery to eat langos.
Do you have regular customers?
Most of my customers are regular and from the neighborhood. Some come to eat right here at the stand, and some come with their own plate and bring it home. Some take it away in foil.
Immediately my mind flashes to images of families I witnessed during a summer Balaton trip, gleefully transporting a stack of tin foil wrapped langos to the beach for a picnic. Considering Balaton has many features that seem to transport a contemporary visitor back to the 1980s in a heartbeat, I curiously ask Sandor about the contemporary history of langos in Hungary.
Are there more or less langos-stands than 20-30 years ago?
Well, there was a decrease of langos stands in the 1990s, but now there is a langos revival. More stands and more customers. Sure people are going to McDonalds or KFC or whatever, but still a lot of people are coming to here, too.
My mind flickers to spurious links: are increased amounts of langos stands a romanticization of the past? 30-somethings embracing childhood goodies? Would more langos stands in the 80s and 2000s explain the 90’s happiness dip?
It seems langos is a snack you could eat at anytime–when do most people come to eat it?
Usually at lunch and after the siesta from 6-8.
Perfect. It’s 5.30pm. Gonna beat the rush. As my mind wanders and wants to ask him if non-changing food practices stabilize any threats towards Hungarian nationality, I inquire about any globalized langos trends.
I’ve seen some langos stands in the Czech Republic and Austria; do they make langos somewhere else? Do you consider it special for Hungary?
Well, we do have a lot of fried food in [Hungarian] cuisine and I think we’ll always have this even though there are more and more pizzerias and hamburger fast-food places. So, you could say it is special for Hungary because a lot of people still eat it.
And langos in other countries?
I only know of it in Germany. Not in the USA. But I do have Hungarian-American customers and a guy from Detroit.
Sandor’s laid-back answers show that langos certainly appears to have struck a common taste bud in many cities and countries that scales heights of class, gender, age, and economic system. It is a food that, while fast and greasy, still remains as a sinful indulgence for a family-time meal, a quick lunch, or a shared snack at the weekend. Simply stated, langos has been here for a long time and looks like it is not disappearing anytime soon.