An imperial history and first-rate local ingredients have created Austria’s fabulously richcuisine. Here are some suggestions to help find food you cannot miss in this beautifulEuropean country.
The cuisine of a country reflects not only its geography but its history too. Nowhere is this truer than Austria, wherethe food has been influenced not only by Austria’s position in Central Europe but also by its place at the heart ofthe Habsburg Empire for more than six centuries. In its heyday, the Empire stretched from the border of ImperialRussia to the Adriatic Sea, including more than 10 nationalities and over 51 million people. Inevitably, dishes frommany different corners of this vast domain found their way into Austrian cuisine. Austrian food is pure comfort food – hearty, rich, and flavoursome – just what you need when you come back froma day on the ski slopes or a trek in the Alps. The best known Austrian food items are probably apple strudel (oblongpastry jacket with an apple filling inside), sachertorte (a multi-layered chocolate cake), and Wiener schnitzel (panfried,breaded slices of veal). But there are many more delicious dishes waiting to be tried. Vienna, Austria’s capital, is the country’s culinary centre, and an ideal way to start your food tour would be to visitone of the city’s famed coffee houses.
Viennese coffee culture
In Vienna coffee is not just a drink, it’s a way of life. Indeed, Viennese coffee house culture has been added toUNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage because of the unique atmosphere of the traditional coffee houses.Coffee arrived in Vienna when the Turks tried to capture the city in 1683. The invasion failed, and the besiegersran off leaving bags of coffee beans behind. The beverage soon became popular, and coffee houses sprang up allover town. Traditional Viennese coffee houses are the opposite of modern café chains. They are not venues for a quick coffeebefore or after work. Instead, they are places for hanging out, talking, dreaming, and reading. Iconic coffee houses tovisit include Café Central (where Sigmund Freud and Trotsky were regulars), Café Pruckel, and Café Frauenhuber.
Don’t miss Naschmarkt
Head to the renowned Naschmarkt, Vienna’s most famous market, whichdates from the 16th century. Enjoy the enticing array of local fruit and vegetables, and exotic foods from the city’s ethnic minorities, and tastesamples of delicious cheeses, preserves, cold meats, sausages (wurstel), or local kinds of vinegar.
Schnitzel, strudel and more
Lunch could be in a typical Austrian restaurant such as Reinthaler’sBeisl, Glacis Beisl or Michelin-starred Steirereck. The menus willprobably contain some or all the following: clear soups with solidingredients, boiled meats with broth (such as the famous dish tafelspitz,goulash, breaded meat and poultry, sweet and savoury balls (nockerl),paprika chicken, and savoury and sweet dumplings (knodel).Do make sure you leave room for dessert; in Austria, you must leave yourdiet behind. Apart from apple strudel and sachertorte, there will be anynumber of mouth-watering cakes and sweets to sample.
If you’re are a chocoholic, or have kids with you, then do visit Vienna’sChocolate Museum. Find out about the ancient origins of chocolate, thehomeland of the cocoa plant, see stunning chocolate sculptures.
At tea time, drop in at one of Vienna’s legendary pastry shops. Themost famous is probably Demel, an elegant 230-year-old establishmentthat once supplied the Imperial court with cakes and pastries. Thenthere’s Gerstner Salons Privés, another former Imperial patissier, whichhas several outlets throughout Vienna, and Café Sacher, known for itssignature sachertorte.
Wine-lovers shouldn’t leave town without sampling some of Vienna’ssuperb wines. Grapes were cultivated in and around the city as early as 1132 AD and Viennese wine is now counted among the world’s best.You can visit Augustinerkeller, a historic wine cellar, and restaurant runby the Bitzinger family. Partially located in Vienna’s old city wall, theAugustinerkeller dates from 1884 and is one of the last remaining formermonastery cellars. In the wine-tasting shop, you can enjoy samples ofregional wines and learn about how they are made. If you’d like to visit the vineyards, various winery tours will take youby coach or bike. Or, hop on the Heurigen Express, a mini-train that trundles through the vineyards and around town, allowing you to stop atsome of the city’s 180-plus wine taverns.
Austria boasts a huge variety of excellent beers and has a thriving craftbeer scene with its coterie of connoisseurs. To buy your own, check out AmmersinMagazin Wien5, on WiednerHaupstrasse, which probablyhas the most extensive range of craft beers in the country. Or, for top tips on craft beers, visit the Beer Store Vienna in Wilhelmstrasse. Forrelaxed evening, go with friends or family to one of the many pub breweries, such as Fischer Brau, Bermuda Brau, Lichtenthalerbrau,Mel’s Craft Beers and Diner, or the Brickmakers Pub & Kitchen.
Combine food and culture
For centuries Vienna has been renowned for its music. Beethoven,Brahms, Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss are just some of the famous names linked to the city.Why not celebrate this legacy by combining your culinary experienceswith music? You can enjoy a three-course gourmet dinner and Mozartconcert at the famed Vienna Opera House, or a four-course gourmetdinner plus Johann Strauss and Mozart concert at Kursalon Vienna,a music hall in Johannesgasse. Another attractive option is an eveningthat combines a Danube River Cruise with dinner and a concert at theopulent Schonbrunn Palace.
Variations on a theme
Outside the capital, you’ll find interesting regional variations in the food. In Burgenland, in the far east of the country, food is spicierbecause of Hungarian and Balkan influence. West of Burgenland liesStyria, where pumpkin dishes are popular, and pumpkin seed oil lendsa delicious nutty flavour to salads. In Styrian taverns, you can try thelocal dry rosé wine and nibble on bread spread with verhackertes, a pâtémade from finely chopped raw bacon. Carinthia in the south, bordering Italy, is blessed with beautiful lakesand known for its excellent fish, while Upper Austria in the north, next to Bavaria and Bohemia, is famous for its variety of dumplings. Linzertorte, a cake made from ground almonds and redcurrant jam, is a specialty of Upper Austria.Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, is renowned for its baroquearchitecture and Salzburgernockerln, a sweet souffle served as a dessert.Menus feature kasnocken (cheese dumplings) and delicious freshwaterfish, especially trout.In the mountains to the west of Austria – the Tyrol and Vorarlberg states– the food tends to be simple, and cheese and cheese products play animportant role. In the Tyrol, speckknödel(dumplings with pieces of bacon)and spinatknödel (made of spinach) are a major part of the local cuisine. Now, you have the ingredients to create the perfect food tour of Austria.Enjoy!