English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the month “November, 2014”

The Joy of Sekt

Austrians love to celebrate and they love to celebrate with a glass of something fizzy. Well, don’t we all? I have been in many teaching establishments and offices over the years in Vienna and whenever I open a fridge to look for some milk for my tea, something which attracts comments from the locals who usually drink tea black, I am always stunned by the amount of alcohol I find and disappointed by the absence of milk. There is always booze, at least five bottles of Sekt in there. Sekt is sparkling wine and is the must-have drink for celebrating anything. Just as Spain has its Cava and Italy has its Prosecco, Austria proudly has its Sekt. There is a lot to celebrate in schools apparently – the start of the year, the end of the year, retirements, birthdays, Christmas, Fridays. Once in school they even celebrated the end of some professional development training, and many meetings end with a glass. Sekt is brought to house parties and is often an integral part of a gift. Sekt is also the main ingredient in the drink called a Hugo, which is sekt, a dash of both elderflower and lime, topped up with soda and garnished with mint. It is deliciously dangerous, seeing as it is like drinking pop.

When you celebrate, it is customary to say cheers, which is “prost”. There are, however, definite rules to how you must perform this ritual of saying prost. For example, you must clink your glass with only one person at a time. The reason being is that you must make eye contact with each person as you say prost and you can only do that one at a time, unless you have eyes that can move in opposite directions and you have control over that ability. You also cannot cross arms, so you cannot reach down to the end of the table over the prosting glasses of another pair; this is bad luck. It is like in Ghost Busters when you cannot cross the streams. You have to wait until the way is clear. You have to, of course, close the circle and say prost with everybody, but you must make sure that there is alcohol in every glass. It is a no-no to say prost without booze. I’ve been with Austrians who will say prost anyway even when somebody raises a soft drink, but they are only doing that to make allowances for the Auslanders who don’t know any better, and would never do that normally. The group-cheers, the very quick and convenient cheers, where you all clink your glasses together and cover a lot of people in one go is also definitely not allowed. That means that the whole process takes a long time and is quite intense with all the eye contact. It is hard to clink your glass with another while looking someone in the eye. There is the constant fear that you will miss the glass altogether or get too carried away and smash the glasses. Another reason eye contact is important is that apparently there is a superstition that says if you don’t make eye contact, you will have seven years of bad sex, and another one warning that you will have ugly babies; serious consequences indeed! So please take it seriously.

Over the summer, I was very happy to find a small bar dedicated to the sole selling of Austrian Sekt. I had actually heard about this place a year or so ago, but back then it was a smoker’s place and I am happy to say that it is now smoke free (a growing trend in Vienna which makes me happy), although the smell of old smoke does linger on. All the produce is from Burgenland, a province next to Vienna, on the border with Hungary. It enjoys the perfect wine-growing climate and produces vast amounts of lovely wine. So, do as the locals do, and get celebrating; it is a highly enjoyable part of the culture.

The Sekt shop

The Sekt shop

 

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

http://www.sektcomptoir.at/

 

Advertisements

Martini Gansl

No, this is not a new type of cocktail. It would be pretty gross if it were because Gansl means goose, and I don’t think anyone would like a splash of goose fat mixed with their Martini and an olive.

The geese have certainly gotten fat and already been butchered in Vienna, but not for Christmas; for Martini goose season, which is now upon us. Running through November, this is a time when one can go to any restaurant and enjoy a feast of juicy roast goose, braised red cabbage which oozes with warm spices and apple, and big, fluffy dumplings which are an Austrian favourite and specialty.

Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

 

Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim home for roast goose Christmas dindins

Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim home for roast goose Christmas dindins

I had never had goose before I came to Vienna. I had always associated it with the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner and Dickensian England. It is now a time I look forward to each year, and it is actually widely celebrated around parts of Europe, like in Germany and Slovakia for example, and finally I managed to find out the history behind it.

Martini refers to St. Martin, who, as legend has it, was a noble and celebrated Roman soldier. He was known for his good deeds towards the poor and famously cut his own cape in half to share with a freezing beggar he chanced upon. Seeing so many needy people around, he decided to renounce his life as a soldier and became a monk. So, why are geese eaten in his honour still to this day? Well, because as the story goes, the heads of the church heard about this former soldier from a very well-to-do family and decided that it was only fitting he should be promoted to the rank of bishop. When Martin heard of this he was aghast. He was happy with his humble life as a monk and had no aspirations to be elevated within the church. On hearing that the church officials were approaching his village, he decided he needed to hide. He hid himself in the only place he could find at such short notice, a barn filled with geese. The geese were not happy at all with this human invader crouching amongst them and began to squawk their loud disapproval and, thus, humble Martin’s hiding place was betrayed by the geese. He was indeed discovered and made a bishop. The goose has remained a symbol of St. Martin ever since and became the main ingredient of the last feast to signify forty days of fasting before Christmas, now known as the time of advent.

It is a lovely, special time in Vienna, a pre cursor to Christmas and a chance to get together and enjoy a big, hearty meal; something that Austrians do very well.

Taken at Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing, where I recently enjoyed a lovely goose dinner

Taken at Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing, where I recently enjoyed a lovely goose dinner

Autumn has Come to Vienna

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

 

Autumn is a lovely time in Vienna and is characterised by three things; pumpkins, chestnuts and booze.

Pumpkins are everywhere: supermarkets are filled with turnips, squash and gourds of all shapes and sizes; pumpkins are used as decoration all around shopping centres and in people’s homes and not just as a nod to Halloween, but in celebration of the season in its own right. Pumpkin soups, salads and ravioli appear on every restaurant menu. I even went to a festival dedicated to the celebration of pumpkin-time and got to sample pumpkin punch and pumpkin beer.

Autumny decorations for sale

Autumny decorations for sale

Brass accompaniment for  the pumpkins

Brass accompaniment for the pumpkins at the festival

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Horse chestnuts, having fallen from the trees can be seen rolling around pavements, but sadly, children here don’t play conkers as the game is unknown. Roasted chestnuts, called Maroni, are available on most street corners and always make me think of a Dickensian winter scene.

And finally, the booze part. Autumn is the time when Sturm is available. Sturm is wine in its very earliest form, basically fermented grape juice. It is cloudy and, due to its juice-like taste, can be very potent as it is tempting to knock it back much quicker than you would a glass of wine. Locals warn you to only have one or two glasses because for many it can be sturmisch (stormy) for the stomach and be an inducer of diarrhoea. Stalls pop up all over the city centre offering red and white varieties.

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

So, enjoy the orangey pumpkin glow of autumn before winter and the Christmas markets are upon us, but please be careful; for while it is tempting to jump into a big pile of golden autumn leaves and crunch your way through them, remember that this is Vienna and there may be a big pile of dog poo lurking beneath the surface.

Post Navigation