Food in Austria
Austrian food is distinctive and delicious, and is traditionally of the tough and indigestible “meat and dumplings” variety. Wiener Schnitzel (breaded and fried veal escalopes) is something of a national dish, and Knödel is a type of dumpling that can be prepared sweet or savoury, depending on taste. In Vienna, Tafelspitz (boiled beef with potatoes and horseradish) is traditionally served on Sundays, usually accompanied by a clear broth with dumplings and herbs. Apart from that, Austria is famous for its pastries and desserts, of which the apple strudel is probably the best known.
Bread is taken seriously in Austria. Almost every village has its own bakery that offers a wide selection of freshly baked sweet and savoury rolls every day from 6 am. Rye bread (wholemeal bread, farmer’s bread) is the traditional staple of the farmers. If this bread is too heavy for you, try the regular white bread roll (Semmel). Surprisingly, it is easier to find good bread outside Vienna, where the baking industry is not yet dominated by industrial chain stores.
Some Austrians have the habit of eating sweet pastries as a main course once a week. Varieties include Kaiserschmarren, Marillenknödel and Germknoedel.
The best advice is to dive into the menu and try it – there are no nasty surprises!
If you want to try traditional Austrian cuisine, go to an inn or guesthouse that serves traditional food at reasonable prices. They usually offer several lunch options with a set menu that includes a soup and a main course and in some cases a dessert. Their prices are usually between 5 and 7 euros (except in very touristy areas). Menus are in German, but some restaurants also offer menus in English. Remember that a tip is expected in all restaurants in Austria. Rounding up the price on the bill is usually sufficient for a tip.
In Austrian restaurants you have to ask to pay. Attract the waiter’s attention and say: “zahlen, bitte” (pay, please). He will then bring you the cheque or verbally tell you the amount of the bill. The correct way to pay in Austria is then to give your cash and say the amount you want to pay, including tip. For the tip, you should round up to the next highest number or +50 centimes or 1 euro of the price per person (which should be about 5-10% for a full meal). Waiters do not rely on tips and it is not appropriate to leave a large tip. Saying “thank you” when paying is keeping change! You can also say the amount of the bill plus your tip and you will only get the change over that amount (e.g. if you pay with a bill of 20 euros, the amount is 16.50 euros and you say “Seventeen euros”, the waiter will give you 3 euros change and keep the 0.50 euros as a tip).
- If you have the opportunity to try Kletzennudeln, you should definitely do so. This is an unusual speciality from Carinthia that is rarely found elsewhere: sweet noodles filled with dried pears and soft cheese. The best Kletzennudeln are made with chopped, dried pears, as opposed to the inferior versions that use pear powder.
- Some salads are prepared with kernel oil (green pumpkin seed oil), a Styrian speciality. Although it looks scary (dark green or dark red, depending on the light conditions), it has an interesting nutty taste. A bottle of good pure Styrian kernel oil is very expensive (about 10 to 20 euros), but it is perhaps one of the most Austrian things to take home (beware of cheap kernel oil sometimes sold under the name “salad oil”. Be sure to seal the bottle tightly, as the oil expands when slightly heated and leaves non-removable stains. But just in case, sunlight will remove them from time to time). Kernel oil or pumpkin seed oil is also available in some online shops.
- Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and filled with apricot jam. It should be served fresh with lightly sweetened, freshly whipped whipped cream, which the Austrians call “Schlagobers”. The original can be found in Vienna at Café Sacher [www], but similar tarts are very common in many other Viennese cafés. Also note that Cafe Sacher has several tourist traps (such as a €2 changing room that is not optional) and their cakes are not always the freshest.
- Eszterházy Austrian Cake.
- Malakhoff: a delicate cake
- Manner Schnitten are a very Viennese sweet speciality, but only the square form factor and the pink packaging are really unique. You can buy them everywhere (you may have seen them as product placement in some Hollywood movies or in “Friends”, for example, and wondered what they are).
- Milchrahmstrudel: Milk and curd strudel, served hot
- Powidl is a kind of tasty plum jam with alcohol, another Viennese speciality. It makes a good gift because it has an exotic taste and is hard to find in the world.
Vegetarianism is slowly gaining ground in Austria, especially in the big cities. Austrians are not as carnivorous as the rest of their Central European neighbours; 47% of the country say they eat a varied diet and eat very little meat. Most restaurants do not cater specifically to vegetarians, but it is almost certain that the dishes on the menu do not include meat. There are vegetarian restaurants in all major cities, as well as harder-to-find places that offer vegan or vegan-friendly dishes. Vegetarian and vegan products (e.g. tofu, soy milk, lactose-free products) can be found in almost every supermarket in the country (even in rural areas) and in many health food shops.
In more traditional or very rural restaurants, you may be seen as eccentric if you say you are vegetarian, and it is possible that no dish on the menu is without meat. This is especially true of restaurants serving traditional Austrian cuisine, which relies heavily on meat – even seemingly vegetarian dishes such as potato salad or vegetable soup often contain meat products. Sometimes food that is clearly labelled “vegetarian” also contains fish, as vegetarianism is often equated with pescetarianism. If you are unsure, ask the staff waiting on you if there are animal products in the dish you are about to order. Traditional dishes that are guaranteed vegetarian are Kaiserschmarren (soft, sweet pancake pieces with fruit compote), Germknödel (sweet dumplings with sour plum jam) and Kasnudel (similar to ravioli).
Drinks in Austria
Vienna is famous for its coffee culture and there are cafés all over the city, many of which have outdoor terraces that are very popular in summer. Visit them for coffee (of course), hot chocolate and pastries. The most famous is the Sacher Torte.
Austria also has top wines, especially white wines, which are slightly acidic. The wine can be drunk pure or mixed with mineral water, called “G’spritzter” or “Schorle”. The best place for this is the “Heurigen” in the Viennese suburbs. Originally, the Heuriger was only open in summer, but recently you can drink your Schorle all year round with a small self-service snack.
Soft drinks: Austria also has a national soft drink called Almdudler. It is a lemonade with herbs. Other typical soft drinks in Austria are Holler or Hollunder juice. This is a soft drink made from elderflowers.
In Austria, Märzen Lager beer is widely available. The quality is generally very good but, as in many other Central European countries, varies greatly from brewery to brewery. The best options come from a modest number of remaining regional breweries that have not yet been taken over by Heiniken. Visitors used to the current range in most major cities in the US or UK run the risk of being underestimated by beer lists, even in upmarket bars. There are a small number of microbreweries around the country that also offer more exotic beers like stouts. Beer culture is not widespread in Austria. Many Austrians are very brand-loyal, but don’t know the difference between Pils and lager. So don’t be surprised if a waiter or bar owner has difficulty answering your questions.
- Lager beers: The classic “Märzen” lagers are Stiegl, Egger and Zwettler. The quality of many others, such as Gösser, Puntigamer, Schwechater, Wieselburger and Zipfer, all of which now trade under the Heinicken brand, has declined alarmingly.
- Pilsners: are usually rated Pils or Special, the most common being Hirter Pils.
- Dark: is a rich, dark beer offered by most breweries.
- Weisse: This is wheat beer. There are several breweries and many imports from neighbouring Bavaria, but it is rarely found on tap.
- Zwickl: is an unfiltered lager and the pride of many breweries.
Schnapps is a type of fruit brandy that is usually served after a meal in many parts of Austria. The most popular flavours are pear, apricot and raspberry, although dozens of other flavours are available. There are three quality grades of brandy: distilled, infused and flavoured. The distilled variety is of the highest quality; some Austrian schnapps brands are among the best in the world, but are correspondingly expensive: a half-litre bottle can cost up to 100 euros. Real” schnapps is made from real fruit (distilled or infused). Beware of cheap products sold in large bottles in supermarkets; they are often of the “flavoured” type, i.e. they contain nothing but pure ethanol mixed with an artificial flavouring. If you want the real thing, go to an upscale deli or bar (if you’re in a big city) or a Buschenschank (if you’re in the country). But beware of schnapps, especially if you are not used to alcoholic drinks!
Ice wine is a type of dessert wine made from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Ice wine is usually quite expensive due to the labour-intensive and risky production process. It is best to buy ice wine at the Naschmarkt for €10. 15 for 375 ml or 500 ml; it is more likely to be found at the weekend. To give you an idea of prices elsewhere, Eiswein is sold at Wein & Co near the Naschmarkt for €24-30 for a 375 ml bottle, and the duty-free shop in Vienna also sells it for €23.50.
Stroh is probably the best-known Austrian spirit. It is classified as a type of rum, although it is not made from sugar cane molasses like the “real” Caribbean rum. Available in five varieties (the strongest with an alcohol content of 80%! ), Stroh is often used as an ingredient in cocktails such as Jagertee and as a flavouring for cakes and pastries.