It’s almost a given that everyone shops when they travel. Whether it’s for colorful little trinkets, indigenous artwork, or ethnic clothing, we all have our share of stuff that we’ve brought back from each trip that we thought we couldn’t live without at the time, but never seem to use at home. Somewhere along the way, we started to run out of room in our tiny 1 bedroom apartment so we switched gears. Now when we go away, instead of buying knickknacks that take up space, we head to the local supermarket to buy our souvenirs. I love perusing the aisles to pick out all the unique items that you won’t be able to find back at home.
In Vienna there are several large grocery stores conveniently located in the center of town, unlike other major European cities. It was Friday night and the Billa near the Naschmarkt was filled with locals doing last minute shopping to stock up on beers and other liquors. We, on the other hand, stood out with our basket filled with cookies and condiments, a decisively odd combination. As we stood around debating how many tubes of mustard we wanted to buy, the locals were doing double takes and giving us discrete stares. We didn’t let it bother us too much as we stocked up on all the Viennese goodies from the shelves. Here are a few items that we got from our trip to the supermarket:
Mozart Balls – This is the quintessential souvenir from Austria. These Mozartkugel are sold everywhere from supermarkets to gift shops. It’s a bite sized ball made of marzipan and pistachio covered in dark chocolate with a strong almond taste. They cost a few Euro a box and make a a great gift for those in your life who love almonds. We were curious about these confections, so we bought a bag, but found out after tasting them that we definitely did not care for them.
Kinder treats – I was surprised to find so many different Kinder treats in Vienna, not just your typical Kinder Egg. Growing up in Canada, of course I remember breaking into these chocolate eggs and playing with the little toy after. They are unfortunately banned in the States because of the choking hazard. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and bought a few treats. Eating these really brings back childhood memories. It’s important to note that you can not bring these back as a souvenir, each egg smuggled into the country may be fined up to $2,500. Aside from the nostalgia, it’s definitely not worth the hefty fine.
Manner Cookies – Manner wafer cookies were created over a hundred years ago by Josef Manner. The average Austrian at the time could not afford to buy chocolate, but he managed to come up with these wafer cookies and the motto “chocolate for everyone.” The cookies remain unchanged to this day, consisting of layers of hazelnut-chocolate filling in between thin wafers. Like the Mozart balls, these cookies are sold everywhere from grocery store to souvenir shops. It might be fun to check out their very pink flagship store in the middle of the historic district. There you’ll find many other types of cookies aside from the traditional wafers. Some of our favorites are the chocolate covered pretzel cookies, the chocolate covered hearts and the chocolate covered wafers – I think you’ve noticed a theme there. Another interesting item is the chocolate covered banana, made with real banana pulp. They taste great if you put them in the freezer to have later.
We bought many bags of wafers for ourselves and our family. It was not until after the trip that we noticed that they are also sold at our local Fairway market in New York.
German Cookies – We are cheating a little bit, because as the name suggests, these are not Austrian. We discovered Liebniz and Milka cookies on our trip to Germany a few years ago and fell in love with their buttery taste. They go perfectly with a morning cup of coffee or tea. These German biscuits are quite popular and available in many European countries, but harder to find in America. So when we travel to Europe, we always make it a point to hoard some to bring home.
Condiments – In Austria, there are a wide variety of condiments in many colorful packagings that we don’t often see in America. The mayonnaise comes in a metal tube with bright letters prominently advertising the fat content. Of course we bought both the 50% fett and the 80% fett. They say you only live once right?
Next, our eyes fell on a tube of mayo and ketchup. What kind of genius is this? Ever since we had fries with mayo and ketchup in Amsterdam, we have never looked back. But it’s such a hassle to have to squeeze out both the ketchup and mayo and mix them together. The Austrians obviously recognized this dilemma and came up with a brilliant solution, a ketchup-mayo combo tube. We bought a few and were very excited to try them at home.
Another shelf was filled with mustard in every variety imaginable. We should have known, as sausage with mustard is a food staple in Vienna. The most popular seemed to be the Estragon, the Englishcher and the Kremser-senf. Since our German is basic at best, we gave up trying to decipher the different types and just bought one of each. We later learned that the Estragon mustards are made with tarragon and a best-seller in Austria. The Kremser-senf is milder with a sweet after-taste, similar to the honey mustard we have here.
We finally finished and headed out to the checkout line. The locals were curious about our grocery selection, and while in line a local struck up a conversation with us that went something like this:
Local: “Why do you buy so many mustards?”
Us: “We are from the States and they don’t have these over there.”
Everybody standing in line smiles and nods.
Local (noticing the cookies at this point): “Ahh, have you tried mayo with cookies?”
Us: “No, is that good?”
Local cracked up and said, “No I was just joking.”
That Austrian humor for you.
It’s always fascinating to check out a grocery store when you travel because you get some insight on what the locals eat. Most of the time we discover new things that we wanted to try ourselves. Here is our stash from the trip. We brought a little bit of Austria back with us. Have you ever wandered through the supermarket in a foreign country? Comment below and let us know if you brought anything interesting back home.