a conversation with Chef Sandor Zombori by Marla Norman-Freytag, Publisher

Chef Sandor Zombori

Szeged, Hungary

“The key to good Goulash is Hungarian paprika. You can not substitute the stuff you get in supermarkets for authentic Hungarian paprika. And by the way, the correct spelling is Gulyás not Goulash.”

Chef Sandor Zombori is unequivocally emphatic. He doesn’t compromise when it comes to good food, and he is passionate about his native Hungarian cuisine. (His favorite recipe for Gulyás, Hungarian Cherry Soup and a U.S.- based source for authentic Hungarian paprika appear at the end of this article.)

Born in Szeged, Hungary, Chef Zombori, made his way to New York, where he was first employed as a dishwasher by prominent restaurateur and fellow Hungarian, George Lang. He earned U.S. citizenship while serving tours of military duty both as a Ranger and Green Beret. Eventually, Zombori became a hardware engineer for Digital Equipment Corp. But his dream was to become a chef. So, Zombori attended Paris’ Cordon Bleu and earned his Master Chef title at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier.

When Chef Zombori finally opened his own restaurant, Sandor’s European Cuisine, in northern Florida's Seagrove Beach, he would close down every January and work at renown restaurants around the world: Vong, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Cello, Lespinasse and Tabla. Back in his Florida kitchen, Chef Zombori would meld the techniques and flavors he acquired with his own Eastern European traditions. Now retired, Chef Zombori works special events and as a food & wine consultant.


Diningroom of Brasserie Karpatia

Brasserie Kárpátia: Budapesti Magyar Étterem
Sixteen years after leaving Hungary, I finally returned to Budapest. The first place I wanted to visit was Kárpátia. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Budapest, since 1877. I was craving the almond crepes they make there. For me, they’re something out of this world.

Gypsy musicians performing at Brasserie Karpatia

Bíró Lajos, one of Budapest best-known chefs at Bock Bisztro.

Bock Bisztro: Corinthia Hotel
Here you have one of the most famous chefs in Budapest -- Bíró Lajos. He’s making Hungarian food a little leaner and updating it with Asian flavors. The restaurant was recently awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand.

Bock Bisztro in the Corinthia Hotel.

The first restaurant in Hungary to win a Michelin star. It now has two. The food is beautiful and elegant. The building is also quite lovely -- a restored Art Deco. I especially love the Cherry Soup, cooked with red wine and cream.

Sumptuous interiors of Onyx.

Onyx was the first restaurant in Budapest to win a Michelin star. It now has two stars.

Take a fascinating peak behind the scenes at the award-winning Onyx restaurant -- to the accompaniment of Franz List’s lively Hungarian Rhapsody #2

Red Caviar Fried Potato Dumplings in Truffle Sauce

Kisbuda Gyöngye
This restaurant is somewhat difficult to find, but it’s well worth the effort. They serve excellent traditional Hungarian dishes like Kolozsvár or Stuffed Cabbage. Other dishes are Red Caviar Fried Potato Dumplings in Truffle Sauce and Hungarian Beefsteak with Goose Liver.

Entrance to Kisbuda Gyöngye

Candlelights and old fashioned decor at Kisbuda Gyöngye

Exterior view and entrance to Gundel, one of Budapest's most historical restaurants.

One of the best and most important restaurants in the country is Gundel. Károly Gundel spent years collecting traditional recipes from all over the country and then invented many original dishes. The Gundel Crepe is very famous. After the fall of the Soviets, George Lang purchased the restaurant, which was quite run down. I went to help him. When we reopened, it was a huge event. Even Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II attended.

Elegant dining room at Gundel.

Károly Gundel

Gundel is almost as famous for it's collection of Hungarian art as it is its Gundel Crepes.

Hanna Orthodox Kosher Restaurant
Simple menu, but very good, located in the old Jewish neighborhood.

Gerbeaud a cafe and pastry shop, founded in 1858.

Both a cafe and pastry shop, founded in 1858. Sumptuous decor and tempting sweets. The perfect place to try Dobos József -- a nine layer torte with chocolate in between each layer and a caramel topping.

Candelabras, chandeliers and marble-topped bistro tables -- refined interiors at Gerbeaud.

Chef Sandor Zombori at the grave site of the great Hungarian pastry chef, Dobos József.

The Dobos Józef -- Budapest's best loved dessert. Nine layers of chocolate tort with a caramel topping.


Charming and homey, Kiskakkuk (The Little Cuckoo) was founded in 1913 and still serves classic Hungarian dishes: Veal Medallions, Lamb with Rosemary, Goose and Duck with Cabbage.

Jewish Hungarian traditional menu with excellent house-made smoked meats and lescó -- a thick, flavorful garnishing sauce made from Hungarian peppers, paprika and bacon fat.

Central Kavehaz -- opened in 1887 -- part of a long tradition in Budapest.

Centrál Káveház
Coffeehouses have a long tradition in Budapest, derived in part from the 150 years of Ottoman control. At the turn of the 20th Century, there were more than 400 coffeehouses in the city. Centrál Káveház provides an elegant service with heavy, old fashioned silver trays. The menu includes pancakes smothered in savory paprika sauce.

Waiters bring delicious coffees and pastry to customers.

Old fashioned silver trays and traditional rolls are all part of the charm at Central Kavehaz.


Chef Zombori’s Favorite Gulyás

Makes 4-6 servings Time to prepare 2 hours & 45 minutes

NOTE: Authentic Hungarian paprika and Tarhanoye (Hungarian version of couscous) can be purchased through Bende: producer/importer of Hungarian products.

1 strip bacon
2 onions, medium diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove
Pinch caraway seeds
2 tablespoons authentic Hungarian sweet paprika (Can be ordered through Bende)
2 cups warm water
2 cubes beef bouillon
2 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper
4 or 5 potatoes
2 tablespoons sour cream, plus more for plating
Tarhanoye (Can be ordered through Bende.) or 1 pound prepared spaetzle, as an accompaniment

"The key to good Gulyás is authentic Hungarian paprika," says Chef Sandor Zombori.

In a cold, heavy 6 to 8-quart stewing pot, fry bacon over low-medium heat until fat is rendered, and then discard bacon slice.

Sauté onions in the bacon fat for a few minutes, do not allow the onions to brown. If bacon does not provide enough fat, add a little olive oil to prevent the onions from sticking. When onions become glossy, add the beef, sauteing with the onions for about 10 minutes, covered, until the meat is browned.

Meanwhile, chop and crush the garlic with the caraway seeds; add to meat and onions. Remove pot from heat. Stir in paprika rapidly with a wooden spoon. Immediately after paprika is absorbed, add the warm water. The water should just cover the meat, leaving room for potatoes.

Add beef bouillon cubes. Cover pot and cook over low heat for about 1 hour.

While stew is braising, prepare the tomatoes by cutting into 1-inch pieces. Core green peppers and cut into strips. After 1 hour of braising, add the tomatoes and green pepper. Add a little more water, if necessary and a little more salt if you need it. Simmer slowly for another 30 minutes.

Peel potatoes and cut into bite-sized cubes and set aside in a bowl of water. Add potatoes, and cook another 30 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender and the goulash is done.

Once Gulyás is finished, dissolve sour cream and a little of the Gulyás sauce in a cup. Add to Gulyás, to give a creamy consistency. Serve Gulyás with either Tarhanoye or spaetzle on the side, adding an extra dollop of sour cream to each plate.

Chef Zombori’s Favorite Hungarian Cherry Soup

Refreshing and visually stunning -- Hungarian Cherry Soup

Time to prepare 45 minutes

I lb. ripe, pitted sour cherries
6 oz. sugar
Grated peel of half a lemon
1/2 Tsp salt
Ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp Flour
2 1/2 oz. Sour cream
In a large pan, put 1 1/2 liters of water, the sugar salt, lemon peel and cinnamon. Boil for 3-4 minutes and taste to see if the liquied is well-flavored. If not, boil and reduce for another few minutes.

Add the cherries to the boiling water then simmer 4-5 minutes.

Mix the cream and the flour. Then stir in slowly a ladle of hot cherry juice. Pour into the soup and boil until it thickens.

Leave to cool and serve chilled.


Nobody knows the Truffles I’ve Seen by George Lang

“Lang movingly recounts his early years as a young Eastern European Jew during the unspeakable horrors of both the Nazi and the Communist regimes. As he describes his initial impressions of free-world life in New York as a tailor, violinist, chef, banquet manager, and, finally, restaurateur, one can only admire the resourcefulness of an entrepreneur with extraordinary business acumen.” Library Journal

George Lang dedicated his memoir to Chef Sandor Zombori.

The Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang