Austria was once the center of the Habsburg Empire that stretched from France to Russia. Austrian cuisine has evolved over the centuries, greatly influenced by its diverse heritage. Many of Austria’s distinctive dishes reflect the country’s mixed nationalities. The coffee culture, one of the important traditions in Vienna was introduced when the Turkish army invaded Europe and introduced coffee beans to the Viennese. Similarly, the wiener schnitzel originated in Italy, and the sausages were German delicacies. All this different food plays a major role in Austrian cuisine today, and we couldn’t wait to try it all. Here are the some highlights of all the food we tried:
Sausage – Viennese love their sausages, and you can tell by the sheer number of hot dog stands throughout the city. I totally understand, because I too love sausages. What’s not to love, it’s a filling snack and easy to eat on the go. Würstelstand am Hohen Markt is one of these well known wurst stands, located in the heart of Vienna’s old city. Here you can order anything from traditional sausage, to the more adventurous curry wurst or the Käsekrainer, an Austrian invention where they fill the smoked pork sausage with cheese. If this sounds mouth watering to you, imagine how it tastes. That’s why people from all walks of life came here to satisfy their cravings after a late night out drinking.
Aside from frequenting the many sausage stands during our stay, we also ate our first sausage at a bank. When we first got off the train from the airport, we headed to the nearest bank to exchange money. Fausto got in line while I stood around keeping an eye on our luggage. That’s when I first started to smell boiled meat. I looked around, curious to find out where the aroma was coming from. I saw a few people standing in line at the bank eating a plate of meat, and upon closer inspection I found that it was sausages. I thought to myself, wow, Austrians really love their wurst, they eat them EVERYWHERE!
Then, I saw even more people walking around with sausages, and I thought, ok this is very odd. I abandoned my luggage and followed my nose, off to the side I saw bank employees were giving out food. This is really strange for me, I don’t often see banks handing out food at lunch in America. Since I don’t speak German, I could not ask people what was going on. Finally when Fausto finished exchanging money, I dragged him over and pointed at the free food. Even though we were both a little intimidated, the enticing smell and our curiosity got the better of us, so we walked up to the people giving out sausages and asked. The girl struggled as she tried to find the right explanation in English. “It’s International Savings Day” she said, like that totally explained everything. They gave us a plate of bratwurst even though we were clearly not a local or even a bank patron. It was not a bad way to start our trip. I think we should totally introduce International Savings Day to North America, where banks give out free sausages.
Schnitzel – When I booked the flight to Austria, I knew I had to try schnitzel. Considering how many weird foods I’ve eaten, it is surprising I’ve never tried schnitzel before. I didn’t think I would like a large piece of fried pork, so imagine my surprise when it became my new favorite food on the trip. The pork is thinly sliced, breaded, then deep fried until it’s crispy and golden brown. It’s usually served with a tart sauce or a potato salad. This local delicacy is served in a local gasthaus or in an upscale restaurant. You can’t really get away from the schnitzel in Austria, not that you’d want to. I believe I had schnitzel for dinner 2 out of the 3 nights we were there.
Naschmarkt – One of the places you must visit while in Vienna is the Naschmarkt. It’s one of the oldest outdoor markets, located in the center of the city. Walking through the market, you’ll see restaurants that sell delicious food from all over the world as well as local cuisines. If you want fresh ingredients, you will also find them here, where the grocery stalls sell anything from fruits and produce to fish and homemade vinegar and even sweets. At the very end of the market is a flea market where you can find interesting antiques, trinkets and souvenirs. The market is open from 6 am to 7:30 pm on Monday to Saturday.
Urbanek is one of the excellent delicatessen stalls in the Naschmarkt. Mr. Urbanek opened up his shop 30 years ago and still runs it today with his sons. Inside, you’ll see a large selection of cured meat and cheese from all over Europe. On a Friday night, this place is filled up with locals stopping by for glass of wine or two and sampling some meat and cheese on their way home from work.
When we arrived, this little place was packed with locals. We were intimidated at first because we we didn’t know what we wanted or how to order. After a few minutes, we made a friend who helped translate and gave us suggestions. We ended up with a sampler plate of meat and cheese served with freshly grated horseradish and crusty bread. We got to try a specialty bacon from Italy that was just pure fat, but tasted ohh so good. The liverwurst was creamy but not overbearing. The light white wine was crisp and a nice accompaniment to the food. Everyone here was jovial, we spent the night getting drunk and chatting with the owners and friendly locals.
Coffee Houses – Vienna, the “coffee house capital of the world” is known for their myriad of coffee houses where you can spend a lazy afternoon leisurely sipping your beverage. We had joined in on this long-held tradition and wasted several hours at different coffee houses while we were in Vienna, mostly because we were too exhausted to walk anymore. I personally don’t drink coffee, but I find that their hot chocolate is amazing. They add in heavy cream which thickens the hot chocolate and enhances the rich chocolatey flavor, yet keeping it not too sweet.
After our drunken venture into the Naschmarkt, we stopped at the nearby Drechsler Cafe to warm up with a beverage. This place has a bit of a hipster feel with their 50s diner décor. They are opened almost 24 hours a day, serving food as well as drinks. We stalked out a dark corner and settled in with a coffee.
One of my favorite traditional Viennese cafés is Café Central. It opened in 1876 and quickly became a popular hang out place for notable people. Sigmund Freud, Peter Altenberg and Leo Trotzki have been known to frequent the establishment. It is located in an old building that used to be the Bank and Stockmarket. Inside, there are these beautiful arched ceilings supported by the columns around the room. The unique design, combined with amazing homemade pastries made this place a must visit. We came during midday for some caffeine pick-me-ups and saw that the line was out the door. Luckily it went pretty quickly and we were seated within 20 minutes. We took some pictures, admired the architecture and walked around the counters to look at all the pretty cakes on display.
Dessert – Dessert is a major part of the Austrian cuisine. From the apple strudel to the torte, Austrians have a wide range of dessert options. Dessert in Austria is not limited to an after dinner treat, they are prominently displayed in most coffee houses and usually eaten with a coffee. It’s amazing that Austrians are so fit, it must be the portion size. I gave in to my sweet tooth cravings and tried several different cakes.
One of the most highly anticipated cake was the famous Sacher torte. We’d read that this chocolate cake that was invented in the 1832 for Austrian royalty. The original Sacher torte is a layered chocolate cake separated by apricot jam, coated with chocolate icing, and topped with unsweetened whipped cream. Cafe Sacher still serves the original cake to this day. It’s located inside the posh Sacher hotel, across from the opera house in the center ring. Even late at night, the café is filled with people. The atmosphere is upscale and a bit stuffy. After much anticipation, we were disappointed to find that the cake was dry and did not live up to it’s reputation.
Gasthaus – A bistro that serves traditional Austrian food. There are many gasthaus in Vienna, but our favorite was Gasthaus Poschl, located in the historic center of Vienna. We ordered a few dishes and enjoyed them all. The food was simple, but very tasty. My absolute favorite was the pumpkin soup, which was the best I’ve ever had. It was rich and creamy with a hint of nutty after taste. The food was authentic and the prices are affordable, so the restaurant filled up quickly on most nights. Even though they are located in a touristy area, most of their patrons are local people, which bodes well for the quality of the food. Don’t forget to make reservation if you want to dine there.
Wow that was a super long post. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end. Hopefully it was entertaining or at least made you a little hungry. I love to write these “Eating in” posts. Just looking at some of these pictures, takes me right back to Vienna and I can almost taste the hot chocolate again. We obviously had a great time and ate a lot, as always. I can’t wait to come back to Vienna and try more upscale restaurants, something that we couldn’t fit on this trip. Check back next week for more posts from our Austria trip.