English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Austrian food”

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

Wurst

People in Vienna love eating sausages. There are Wurstl stands everywhere, always doing a roaring trade. There is no time of day or night that is not conducive to snaffling a sausage with a bit of mustard. What I was amazed at the first time I had a hotdog here was how it is served. The bun is not sliced lengthways down the middle for the sausage to be laid in; rather, the bun is speared on a long metal point first. This makes a long hole in which mustard and tomato sauce is squirted before the sausage is put in. I had never seen that before anywhere and thought it was so simple, yet ingenious. The best thing is that because the hot dog is contained, it cannot jump out and so you don’t need to use two hands to eat it to ensure the contents don’t end up all down your jacket. Instead, it means you can eat it with one hand, leaving the other hand free to hold the can of beer that you can also buy from every sausage stand in the city. This is also an alien concept for me: I’ve never see a hotdog seller anywhere else serving booze.

Spear a hotdog bun

Spear a hotdog bun

spikey

spikey

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Another type of fast food that the Viennese are obsessed with is stir-fried noodles. I think of food in Vienna as being quite traditional and don’t find there to be as many international restaurants as in other capital cities, so it’s quite interesting that Asian style noodles have been adopted as their own. Just like the sausage stands, there are Lucky Noodle stands all over the place. Even McDonalds went through a period of selling bowls of fried noodles as part of their efforts to provide for local tastes.

And finally, I must mention the kebab, which here is called a “Kebap”. Here, Kebap availability is round-the-clock, and you don’t need to be drunk in order to eat one. A Kebap is as acceptable a snack as a sausage or noodles, or just like grabbing a sandwich back in the UK. I still find it strange to see someone eating a kebab on a train at noon even though they are fully sober. I have indulged in a daytime kebab a couple of times, just for the sake of research, but unable as I am to disassociate them from drunkenness, it has only been during those times I’ve been a bit hungover. Even kebab eating habits are shaped by culture.

A kebab? In broad daylight?

A kebab? In broad daylight?

Exceedingly Good Cakes

Daily treats in Cafe Central

Mr Kipling would have serious competition if he were to come to Vienna. Cake making is an art form and some of the cakes appear as masterpieces, almost too pretty to eat; almost.

The first cake to talk about has to be the Sacher torte, so named after the Sacher Hotel where it was invented. The hotel, still open today, does a roaring trade to tourists stopping off for a coffee and a slice of the famous cake. It’s ok. It grows on you. It’s not an ordinary chocolate cake. It has a layer of jam running through it and at first, I found it weird that anyone would want to taint chocolate cake with any kind of jam, let alone apricot. Apricot and chocolate do not go together, but the Austrians just love their apricot jam. The thick, rich chocolate icing layer was, however, just to my taste, so after having had it a number of times, I can truly say I love a bit of Sacher Torte every now and again.

Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sacher Torte

 

I think the winner, hands down, for making cakes has to be Café Central. There are queues outside most days and rightly so and not just because it is famous for having had the likes of Freud regularly enjoy a cup of coffee there in its past; it also does brilliant cakes. The cakes are themed according to the season and according to local famous artists. There are some cakes dedicated to Gustav Klimt, the Viennese artist, famous for works like The Kiss, or Der Kuss. In fact, outside another well-known cake shop the other night, I found a huge, of what I assume to be gingerbread, sweet recreation of Klimt’s most famous work. Showing that art is well and truly alive in Vienna, and edible art at that.

A sweeter version of The Kiss

Food for Thought

I always find Austrian food a bit weird. For example, when I order Goulasch, which I love; it’s a lovely, rich and tender beef stew, I ask, ‘Where are the peas? No carrots? Not a bit of broccoli? Not a bit of mash or any kind of spud?’ It comes only with pieces of bread, not even with any butter. Or sometimes, it comes with a big lump of a dumpling and I ask, ‘Honestly, who eats dumplings these days?’ It’s the same with other dishes; they come with some form of meat, usually a massive chunk of meat, and other than a bread roll, or a bit of horseradish or sauerkraut, that’s it. There is a distinct lack of greenery on traditional Austrian plates, and mashed potatoes.

I was having a moan about the food one day when I started thinking about my favourite English food, of which there is a lot, but in particular I started thinking about ‘a chippy tea’ which is always the first thing I have to eat when I go back to the UK. In the summer I was back and, as is customary, I ordered chips and curry sauce from the chip shop. I stood at the counter eagerly awaiting that portion of chips with its gloopy, lumpy, luminous, off-yellow curry sauce congealing on top. I started eating straight away and when asked what it was like, my reply was, ‘The chips aren’t soggy enough.’ So, I had to wrap them up again and wait until I got home so that the chips had sweated nicely in the paper. And disgusting as it sounds, and looked, it was delicious. Can you imagine someone from another culture being faced with such a dish? They would be horrified and, probably, rightly so: our opinions about food are shaped by our culture and mostly by what we grew up with.

At the weekend, I was sitting outside a little wine tavern in the hills enjoying the sunshine and a glass of white when the couple opposite started chatting to me. The conversation turned to food and, predictably, they said they didn’t like English food. Out of my English politeness, I decided not to reveal my long list of disappointments with Austrian food, but listened with unexpressed annoyance to their complaints. For them, it all comes down to the bread; Austria has superior bread, which for them is the perfect accompaniment to any dish. All I could think about was how you never get given any butter to go with it.

That’s it; goulasch (no peas, no mash, just meat)

Winner winner, chippy dinner

 

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