Geno's 'Best of the Wurst'... and more...
Austria Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
Ok, so I've had a very interesting time living in Austria. Some things I've loved, some things i've disliked intensely, and some things I've just not understood.
It's an interesting land with an amazing and confused history. Once a great, powerful empire, it now struggles for an identity which can best be understood by its need to constantly having to tell people they do NOT have kangaroos.
Austria finds itself caught up in the middle of the advancement of western europe, the bustling optimism of eastern europe and the complacency of central europe. A land surrounded by 9 different nations (Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechenstein, Germany, Czech, Poland, Slovakia) it has many different influences and people crossing it's borders. The result is confusing to say the least.
The 'real' Austrians generally arent happy about all this progress and dont really like change.
Personally, I think they're nuts. It's a fantastic country and the food is so much damn fun!
Austrian meals cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered gourmet, or even remotely healthy. They are traditionally farmer's meals - based on three major ingredients: pork, potato and dairy. You will never see a decent vegetable, unless you like kraut (cabbage). Salads are typically vegetables soaked in vinagerette and stored long term in tubs so nothing is fresh and everything soggy and vinagery.
Unfortunately, they have an overly and totally unreasonable fondness of salt.
Obvioulsy, the Schnitzel is the most well known meal. It originally came from Milan as the Veal Parmigiana. The austrians just took off the tomato (too healthy), changed it to pork (cheaper meat), made it bigger, and served it with pomme frittes (fries/chips).
My second favourite dish (or favourite when on the piste) is the Tyroler Gröstl. Native to Tyrol, this is a heart attack on a plate: double fried potato, bacon, onion, herbs and topped with an egg.
Tying in at second of course is the Pork Knuckle. Affectionally known as a 'Stelzer' or 'stilts' because of the long bone sticking out. These are absolutely delicious and packed with flavour and covered in crackle. I've also reviewed these and if you are in Vienna outside of winter you simple must go to the Schweizerhaus in Prater. People eat it with 'kren' (horseradish) but I tend not to.
There are many other dishes of course to sample however they aren't favourites of mine. Just to be fair I will mention a sample of other popular meals you may like to try: Gulasch, Tafelspitz (very famous), Leberknodel, Gnockerl, Mailander toast.
In contrast to the meals, are the desserts, which range from the plain to the exquisite. Kaiserschmarren - both King Franz Joseph's and my favourite dish, is an incredibly basic dessert.
In contrast, some of the pastries are extremely complex and most French pastries are actually stolen from Austria, the croissant in particular. Invented in Vienna as a 'kipferl' it was a gift to the Turks and hence shaped in their national symbol - the halfmoon or crescent. The French stole the idea and changed it's name using the French word for 'crescent'. The origninal bakery that invented the 'kipferl' can still be found in Vienna. The bagel was also an Austrian invention, created by a Jewish-Austrian as a gift to the Polish.
Apple Strudel is probably the most famous and they range in variety so much. Sometimes served warm, sometimes cold, sometimes with raisons, sometimes with cream cheese instead.
My other favourite desserts are the knodels (dumplings). There are the small types, covered in sugary crumble and filled with either plums, apricot or chocolate. Then there is the giant Mohn knodel. Which is filled with plum and poppy seeds. Both are fantastic. Other great desserts not to be missed are krapfen (jam filled buns) and golatsche. I dont get all the fuss with Sachertorte. I think its a stale, dry, boring cake with a lame centre and boring icing. You can probably make better yourself.
A great way to sample a lot of foods is to attend Rathaus Platz (Cityhall park) during summer. There are a number of stalls offering all sorts of drinks and foods from around the world and Austria. In winter you also get a good variety there but more snacks than meals.
Austrians take coffee very seriously.
Last but certainly not least are the snacks and fast foods of Austria. I consider their take away pizza's the best anywhere, and the plethora of Turks ensure that there is many a great kebab stall around.
But the crown jewel, the ducks nuts, the bees knees, the cherry on the top, the golden chalice, my favourite thing, without rival, in the entire land, is the blessed 'Käsekrainer'.
Second to the käsekrainer is the 'Käseleberkäse'. Translates literally to cheese-liver-cheese. It actuatlly means 'cheesy meatloaf'. This is basically a giant käsekrainer. They slice it and eat it in bread. I order it with an additional slab of cheese as I love the way it rolls off the tongue: 'käseleberkäse mit käse'.
One thing this review doesnt cover is drinks. Austrians make some superb wines and in hugely plentiful supply. It would take months to review them all. Wine culture is exceptionally stong especially in the spring and summer when the Heurigens (wine gardens) are in full swing. You almost cant go wrong. You should also be sure to try Weisser spritzers and Radlers. Beer is also very good. Stiegl and Gösser being the preferred favourites.