Fried bread is the Esperanto of the kitchen, an international language of hot oil and dough that’s spoken around the world.
From Navajo reservations to food stalls in Mumbai, Midwestern state fairs to the East African plains, there’s hardly a corner of the globe where a crisp bit of fried bread doesn’t have a place at the table. In Hungary, they call it langos, and Nick Balla, the chef at Bar Tartine, first encountered it when he was a high school student in Budapest in the early 1990s. “It’s the most common of street foods there,” he says. “I hate to call it Hungary’s answer to pizza, but that’s kind of what it is. I used to buy it in the Gypsy markets when I was done with class.” Since taking over the stoves at Bar Tartine in February, Balla has turned that kitchen’s compass toward Europe’s eastern bloc, with a menu seasoned with pickles, housemade paprika, and plenty of root vegetables. You’ll find langos as well. Co-owner Chad Robertson prepares the dough at Tartine Bakery, using russet potatoes, fresh oregano, and the same starter that ferments his famous levain. Back at the restaurant, Balla fries the dough to order and tops it with powdered ramps, his own sour cream, and garlic. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the most popular dishes on his menu. After all, no matter what you call it, fried bread is an idiom that everyone understands. 561 Valencia St., S.F., 415-487-1600