Food and Drink in Austria

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Food and Drink in Austria

Austrian food is distinctive and delicious, and is traditionally of the stodgy, hearty "meat and dumplings" variety. Wiener Schnitzel (a bread-crumbed and fried veal escalope) is something of a national dish, and Knödel are a kind of dumpling which can be made either sweet or savory according to taste. In Vienna the Tafelspitz (boiled beef with potatoes and horseradish) is traditionally served on Sundays, and is normally accompanied by clear broth with dumplings and herbs. Apart from these, Austria is renowned for its pastries and desserts, the most well-known of which is probably the Apfelstrudel.

Bread is taken seriously in Austria. Almost every village has its own bakery, offering a large choice of freshly baked sweet and savoury rolls daily from 6AM. Rye bread (Vollkornbrot, Bauernbrot) is the traditional staple food among peasants. If this is too heavy for you, try the common white bread roll (Semmel). Somewhat surprisingly, it is easier to find good bread outside of Vienna, where the baking industry hasn't yet come to be dominated by industrial scale chain shops.

Some Austrians have a habit of eating sweet flour-based dishes (Mehlspeise) for a main course once a week. Varieties include Kaiserschmarren, Marillenknoedel, and Germknoedel.

The best advice is to dive into the menu and give it a go - there are no nasty surprises!

Restaurants

If you want to try out traditional Austrian food go for a Gasthaus or Gasthof, which serve traditional food for reasonable prices. Usually they offer various options of set lunch including a soup and a main dish and in some cases a dessert too. They are typically priced at around €5-7 (except for very touristy areas). Menus are written in German, though some of the restaurants have English menus as well. Keep in mind that tipping is expected throughout all restaurants in Austria. Rounding up the price given on the bill is usually enough tip.

Paying

In Austrian restaurants you must ask to pay. Get the attention of your server and say: "zahlen, bitte" (to pay, please). They will then bring you the check, or tell you the amount of the bill verbally. Then, the proper way to pay in Austria is to give your cash and say the amount you wish to pay, including tip. To tip it is appropriate to round up, or to round up +50 cents or 1 euro of the cost for each person (should equal about 5-10% for a full meal). Servers are not dependent on tips, and it is not appropriate to tip a large amount. Saying "danke" (thank you) when paying means keep the change! Alternatively, you can say the amount of the bill plus your tip and will only get change above that amount (for instance, if you pay with a €20 bill, the amount is €16.50 and you say "Siebzehn Euro" (seventeen euro), the server will give you €3 change and keep the €0.50 as tip).

Local Specialties

  • If you have the chance to try Kletzennudeln you should definitely do it. They are an exceptional Carinthian specialty you can very rarely get anywhere: sweet noodles filled with dried pears and soft cheese. The best Kletzennudeln are hand made with minced dried pears, rather than the lower quality versions which use pear powder.
  • Some salads are made with Kernöl (green pumpkin seed oil), a Styrian specialty. Even though it looks frightening (dark green or dark red, depending on lighting conditions) it has an interesting nutty taste. A bottle of good, pure Styrian Kernöl is very expensive (around €10-20), but maybe one of the most Austrian things to take home. (Beware of cheap Kernöl, sometimes sold as "Salatöl". Be sure to seal the bottle appropriately, the oil expands when slightly heated and leaves non removable stains. Just in case, sun light occasionally removes them, though.) Kernöl or pumpkin seed oil is also available in some online shops.

Desserts

  • Strudel
  • Sachertorte is chocolate torte with chocolate icing and filled with apricot jam. It should be be served fresh with freshly beaten, lightly sweetened cream, which the Austrians call "Schlagobers". The original is available in Vienna in the Cafe Sacher, but similar cakes are very common in many other Viennese Cafes. Note also that Cafe Sacher has several tourist-trap behaviours (such as a non-optional €2 coat check) and their cakes are not always the freshest.
  • Eszterházy
  • Malakhoff: delicate cake
  • Manner Schnitten are a very Viennese sweet specialty, but just the square form factor and pink packaging are really unique. You can buy them everywhere. (Maybe you've already seen these as a product placement in some Hollywood movies or for example in "Friends" and wondered what they are.)
  • Milchrahmstrudel: milk and curd cheese struedel, served warm
  • Powidl is a type of savoury prune jam with alcohol, another speciality from Vienna. It makes a good present as it tastes exotic and is hard to find anywhere else in the world.

Vegetarians

Vegetarianism is slowly gaining ground in Austria, especially in bigger cities. Austrians aren't as carnivorous as the rest of their Central European neighbors; 47% of the country reports having a diverse diet with only limited amounts of meat. Most restaurants don't cater for vegetarians specifically, but you're almost certain to find meals on the menu containing no meat. As an alternative, there are vegetarian restaurants in every major city, as well as harder to find vegan or vegan-friendly places. You can get vegetarian and vegan products (e.g. tofu, soy milk, lactose-free products) in nearly all supermarkets across the country (in rural areas as well) and in many health-food shops.

In more traditional or very rural restaurants, you may be viewed as eccentric if you say you are vegetarian, and it's possible that not a single meal on the menu is meat-free. This is especially true for restaurants serving traditional Austrian cuisine which relies heavily on meat -- even apparent vegetable dishes such as potato salad or vegetable soup often contain meat products. Sometimes, also food clearly labeled as "vegetarian" contains fish, as vegetarianism is often equated with pescetarianism. If unsure, ask the waiting staff if there are any animal products in the dish you're about to order. Some traditional meals that are guaranteed to be vegetarian are Kaiserschmarren (sweet pieces of fluffy pancake with fruit compote), Germknödel (sweet dumpling with sour prune jam), and Kasnudel (similar to ravioli).

Drink in Austria

Vienna is famous for its café culture, and there are coffee houses all over the city, many of which have outdoor terraces that are popular in the summer. Visit them for coffee (of course), hot chocolate and pastries. Most famous is Sacher-Torte.

Austria has also some first class wines, mostly whites, slightly on the acid side. Wine can be drunk pure or mixed with mineral water, called "G'spritzter" or "Spritzer". The best place to do so is at the "Heurigen" in the suburban areas of Vienna. Originally the "Heurigen" was open only in summer, but more recently you can have your "Spritzer" throughout the year with a little self-served snack.

Soft drinks: Austria has also a national soft drink called Almdudler. It is lemonade with herbs. Other typical Austrian soft drinks are Holler or Hollundersaft. It's a soft drink made of elderberry blossoms.

Beer in Austria is largely ubiquitous with Märzen Lager. The quality is generally very good but varies greatly between breweries, as in many other Central European countries. The best options are from a modest number of remaining regional breweries not yet bought up by Heiniken. Visitors acustomed to the selection common in most larger towns in the US or UK may be underwehlemed by beer lists, even in upscale bars. There are a small number of micro-breweries around the country, offering more exotic brews such as stouts. Beer culture in Austria is not wide-spread, many Austrians have strong brand loyalty but don't know the difference between pilsner and lager, so don't be surprised if a bar tender or server struggles to answer your questions.

  • Lagers: decent classic "Märzen" lagers commonly available include Stiegl, Egger and Zwettler. The quality of many others including Gösser, Puntigamer, Schwechater, Wieselburger and Zipfer all now under the Heineken umbrella has debatebly dropped.
  • Pilsners: are normally noted with Pils or Spezial, most common is Hirter Pils.
  • Dunkles: is a rich dark brew offered by most breweries.
  • Weiße: is wheat beer. There are several breweries and many imports from neighboring Bavaria, though its rarely found on tap.
  • Zwickl: is unfiltered lager and the pride of several breweries.

Schnaps is a type of fruit brandy served in many parts of Austria, usually after a meal. The most popular flavours are pear, apricot, and raspberry, though dozens of other flavours are available. There are three quality tiers of Schnaps: distilled, infused, and flavoured. The distilled variety is the highest quality; several brands of Austrian fruit Schnaps rank among the best in the world, but are accordingly expensive: a half-Liter bottle can cost up to €100. "Real" Schnaps is made from real fruit (either distilled or infused). Beware of the cheap stuff sold in large bottles in supermarkets; this is often of the "flavoured" type - nothing more than pure ethanol mixed with artificial flavouring. If you want the real thing, go to a deli or upscale bar (if you're in a bigger city) or a Buschenschank (Farmhouse) (if you're in the countryside). However, be careful with Schnaps especially if you are not used to alcoholic drinks!

Eiswein is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Eiswein is generally quite expensive due to the labour-intense and risky production process. Your best bet is to buy eiswein at Naschmarkt for €10..15 for 375 ml or 500 ml; more chances to find it there on weekends. Just to give an idea of prices elsewhere, ice wine sells at Wein & Co near Naschmarkt at €24-30 for a 375ml bottle, and Vienna duty free shop sells it for €23.50 as well.

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