December 9, 2009 by ronfluff
Kaffee, kuchen, Christmas, glüwein, composers, Kaiserschmarrn, punsch, hats, schnitzel, waltzes, clean public transport, surly waiters, classical architecture, markets, sausages….these are just a few of the thing that the Viennese do well.
Food in Vienna is hearty, sometimes stodgy, and just right for overcoming the cold winter temperatures as you hop from one warming punsch stall to the next. Influences range from the across former imperial territories and neighbours, blending ingredients and styles from Bohemia, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans. We by no means tried them all, but we had a go at a fair few!
We began, as all good Brits abroad should, with a pub meal. Beer is runs a close second to wine in importance to the Viennese. Many places that we might naively think of as Beer Kellars, are indeed Heuriger, dedicated more to wine drinking, and the city remains one of only a handful of European capitals to contain vineyards. The wine is commonly drunk here mixed with mineral water, as a refreshing g’spritzer.
Nevertheless, we were not in a true Heuriger, as the sign made clear:
The menu was traditional, but not tacky, with schnitzel, sausages and so on looking tempting as an opening taste of Vienna. However, I was intrigued by the mention of pork bowls in the Wiener Salonbeuschel, a traditional dish made with said bowls (?), a vegetable and herb sauce and a couple of obligatory dumplings. Of course, I had my suspicions that ‘bowls’ meant ‘bowels’, but roused by the beer I went for it. The waiter, who was quite pleasant by Viennese standards, looked a little worried and indicated that I was about to eat the insides of a pig (as indicated by a mime in which he slit his own belly). No long after though, he served the dish and very nice it was too: rich and filling with a great depth of flavour. Apparently there are many different variations on Salonbuschel, all of which involving offal of different kinds, so if you’re up for it and can get your hands on (in this case, although mine was pork) some veal lungs, you can find a recipe in English here…not sure you can get them at Sainsbury’s though.
That evening, after a quick whizz around some Christmas markets, we had another traditional Austrian meal, this time in the Univerität Wien, where another market was happening outside and the restaurant was full, cosy and quite traditional. Here perhaps the most interesting dish was a clear beef broth in which floated thin slices of pancake – Rindsuppe mit Frittaten. The pancakes gave the broth a interesting sweet flavour and it was beautifully warming after the biting cold of a December evening.
More comfort food was to follow, with a Schnitzel (which was not really up to scratch, according to our Austrian host) and an incredibly rich and succulent venison stew. The red wine sauce was deep and full of flavour and the meat was melt in the mouth. Naturally, this was served with a semolina dumpling, making pudding difficult (but not impossible) to contemplate.
Dessert is, more often than not, a real treat in Vienna, and we were faced with a plentiful selection of traditional delicacies to choose from. Even after the somewhat stodgy food of the day (and the numerous excellent beers that had now been demolished) we managed to get our teeth into two of Austia’s most famous puddings. The Apfelstrüdle (which if you think about it shows clear links to the Turkish baklava) was delightful. The fruit still had a firm enough texture to contrast with the pastry, whilst being cooked down enough to be super sweet. Meanwhile, the equally well-known Kaiserschmarrn gave us more pancakes, this time soft and fluffy with a delicious cranberry sauce.
Well and truly Perlooshed, we headed off to bed, becoming aware that traditional Viennese cuisine has numerous purposes – to deliver great flavours, both savoury and sweet; to combat the cold of winter in the city; to soak up the potentially large quantities of strong alcohol available; and to perhaps keep pancake makers in business. However, we knew that we had to find room for more the next day, in particular the coffee, cakes and glüwein that was bound to feature heavily in our day…