English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Great Places to Eat”

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

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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?

Cats and Dogs

I have blogged before about the special treatment that dogs receive in Vienna. I am still no more used to seeing dogs in clothes shops and restaurants and I am very happy to say that my prediction that one day I would see a dog on a bike came true. Well, the dog wasn’t actually riding the bike, that would be weird, but the dog was sitting in the front basket and, I assume, barking directions to its owner who was cycling. Unfortunately, I did not have time to get a picture of it, but I did, I am happy to say, get a picture of two pooches in a push-chair. Look at these pampered little doggies in a pram.

 

Dogs enjoying a festival from the comfort of their stroller

Dogs enjoying a festival from the comfort of their stroller

Recently, I have noticed that the Viennese are starting to love cats a little bit more. I came across a peculiar product in a famous chocolate shop where you can buy chocolate cats’ tongues. They are not actual tongues dipped in chocolate, which would be gross and I’m sure illegal, but are very thin pieces of chocolate shaped like what you would assume to resemble a cat’s tongue. Why you would want to eat something shaped like that, I am not entirely sure, especially when the pictures on the front are never really of a cute cat but of a fierce looking, hissing one, but that is the weirdness of Vienna for you.

 

chocolate tongue anyone? meow

Chocolate tongue anyone? meow

Since dogs can be admitted into any venue in Vienna, it automatically renders them cat-unfriendly, so the local cat population can be very happy to know that there is a special place for them in town. There is café Neko, a cat café, where you can take your cats or where you can go and simply enjoy being around the cats that belong to the café. Yes, I know, it’s weird. I went to see what it was like and yes, the things that bother me about dogs being everywhere i.e. worrying that dog hair is everywhere, wondering how hygienic it is, apply exactly to the cat café situation. The cats have cushions scattered all over the venue and have specially assembled shelves for them to climb, and if you take photos, it should be without the flash, so as not to offend the moggies. For me though, I soon had the feeling that I was breathing in cat hair and seeing as all windows are kept closed to prevent feline escape attempts, I felt somewhat claustrophobic. I didn’t stay long, but seeing as cats are pretty boring to watch, I don’t think I missed much. I am, however, pleased that the Viennese cat population has somewhere to go and drink coffee in peace without the threat of a dog turning up.

Read all about the cats whilst you choose your drink

Read all about the cats whilst you choose your drink

Hunde strictly verboten

Hunde strictly verboten

Dog in a clothes shop. You never see a cat in a shop do you?

Dog in a clothes shop. You never see a cat in a shop do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know this is horribly overdue as an entry about Christmas and New Year, but there are so many lovely photos to share, that talk about Christmas I must.

Christmas in Vienna and the run up to it is truly magical. The centre of the city is tastefully decorated in the most splendid of twinkly lights and people bundle up, ready to spend most of their time outdoors despite the winter temperatures. Vienna is a very outdoor-sy city and the winter is no exception. You can’t move for Christmas markets that cater to your every Christmas gift need, and stands selling roasted chestnuts and hot cups of punch spring up on every pavement, there to provide residents and visitors with warm food and warm alcohol. What I love is that, although the place is overrun with tourists, the markets are enjoyed by everyone who lives here. It is not uncommon for friends to meet each other after work at a market to enjoy a Gluehwein and families meet up at weekends to wander round and look at the stalls, enjoy the brass bands and generally soak up the jovial atmosphere.

The twinkly chandeliers in the mains street called Graben, note the punsch stands

The twinkly chandeliers in the main street called Graben, note the punsch stands

Belvedere Christmas market

Belvedere Christmas market

Can you see the brass band?

Can you see the brass band?

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

Most markets close on 23rd December and the biggest one, at the Rathaus, closes on Christmas Eve. There is one, however, that opens on Christmas Day itself and for the past two years I have gone on Christmas morning, pre-Christmas lunch to the Schoenbrunn for a final mooch around. I’m not the only one; it is always busy with shoppers, tourists and Gluehwein guzzlers and is one of the nicest ways I can think of to spend a couple of hours on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Although the Christmas markets disappear quite abruptly, their void is filled soon after by the New Year stalls that help revellers see in the New Year. They mostly sell, food, alcohol, cold alcohol, hot alcohol and more food, but there is a great number dedicated to the selling of lucky charms. You can buy fluffy pigs, pig ornaments, pig stickers, tiny pig figures, pigs of every description, some of them even dressed as chimney sweeps or holding four-leaf clovers. I asked my students about the relevance of the pigs and they apparently signify prosperity because, in the olden days, if you had a pig at the start of the year, it was a sure sign that your household would not go hungry.

I went to the city centre on Silvester, which is New Year’s Eve. I went in the afternoon and the place was heaving with people already in the party spirit. The atmosphere was much more boisterous than it ever was over Christmas, with people chugging down a few Jaegermeisters with every Gluehwein. It seemed like the whole city was on a mission to get drunk. I left before darkness fell, mostly because I had been warned by people who have been here a long time that the crowds in the city get unbearable in the night time and it becomes every claustrophobic’s nightmare. Apparently the general din is so loud that you can’t even hear the bells of St. Stephan’s Cathedral chime in the New Year, even though the party takes place literally outside it. The whole city also becomes obsessed with fireworks and from about 8pm onwards anyone can look out of their apartment window and see a fireworks display from a number of locations; it naturally reaches its crescendo at midnight and the sky glows pink and yellow and the sounds of explosions can be deafening.

A sunny New Year's Eve afternoon

A sunny New Year’s Eve afternoon

Turbo Gluehwein

Turbo Gluehwein

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

On New Year’s Day debris littered the whole city. We went for a bracing walk up to Kahlenberg, one of the hills in the woods that overlooks the city, and it was apparent that it had been one of the places to be the night before. It also seemed, from the number of empty bottles, that everyone had been on the sparking wine. The fog hung low and freezing and the city was eerily quiet because everyone must have been in bed sleeping off the excesses of the night before, but Vienna being Vienna, we still found a place to have an outdoor drink on such a biting winter’s day. We found a tiny open-air Heurige (wine tavern) open for business. The tall round table at which we stood had a layer of frost on it, but they were serving hot booze and sausages and had a fire lit to keep us toasty. Every passer by who stopped for a New Year’s drink was given a lucky charm, a little pig, to see in the New Year and I thought how glad I was to be in Vienna for the start of 2013.

The staff braving the cold

The staff braving the cold at the Heurige we found

Good luck charms with every drink

Good luck charms with every drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year's drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year’s drink – perfect with the fire

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

Any Excuse to Have a Drink and Dress Up

It has been obviously apparent since arriving here that the locals love nothing better than to have a drink and they need little persuasion to do so. Rarely can you walk through town without their being some kind of festival on, and with a festival comes the wine, the beer, the bread and ham and the Lederhosen.

A few weeks ago there was a festival to celebrate Styria, a region known as The Green Heart of Austria and all the Styrian natives living in Vienna were out in style, as was the rest of the city. There were bands and dances and displays of virile young men chopping logs in time with the music. The display included time for them to stop and swig wine from the bottle before continuing with the ritual. I desperately snapped a few pictures of them in their Lederhosen, but I had ample opportunity to photograph people in traditional dress because it wasn’t just those performing or staffing stalls wearing it, lots of people were. There were some magnificent feathered hats and also lots of women in the traditional Dirndl dress: whenever they have the chance, they will proudly put it on. Last weekend I went to a vineyard that was having a small gathering to signify the start of the wine tavern open-season and lots of people wandered in in local dress there too. I felt a little jealous that we don’t have a national costume in England. There are obvious iconic images of course, like the Beefeaters, but you wouldn’t go round dressed like one of those, not unless it was a fancy dress party. It struck me that our characteristic unpatriotic-ness means we miss out on something, a chance to bond with others and celebrate in style. I suppose the closest we come is the image of the Union Jack on lots of t-shirts and bags, but I just can’t bring myself to wear it; it seems a bit icky. I get a bit closer to patriotism when it comes to sporting events like football and no doubt, should I find myself in the UK come the Olympics, I will happily drape a flag around my shoulders and go all team GB but that’ll be the extent of it. Until then I’ll be pointing at all the marvellous Lederhosen and Dirndls and joining the locals for a glass of local wine.

Her dress is a Dirndl

Note also the ham, and the wine

Strong Styrian wood cutters

Always an accordian

Marvellous Lederhosen

No More Schnitzel

Schnitzel overload

Occasionally, when you live abroad in a place very different to the one you grew up in, you get a bit fed up of it and you start yearning for something different. It can be anything that starts to niggle at you; the entertainment, the physical environment, the people, or the food. On this one particular Saturday, having reached the point of schnitzel saturation, I had had enough of Austrian food. When the issue of where to have lunch came up, I was adamant that I didn’t want to set foot in a place selling Austrian food with its greasy hunks of meat and sloppy potato salad which looks like a big splat on a plate. I needed to be somewhere that felt international and to eat something different. So we headed to the Brunnenmarkt, a big market in the 16th district of Vienna. I had heard about it from students and had overheard many complaints about that area in general because it has turned into a mini-Istanbul, all Turkish and no German. Perfect, we thought. I’ve never been to Turkey. So we headed down and yes it did feel different, the people were different, the price of the veg was cheaper, there was more of a buzz in the air because the people are less reserved than Austrians, the hot food stalls sold different food. We snacked on something I couldn’t catch the name of, something like a big hot pancake filled with spinach and feta and delicately spiced and gorgeous. However it wasn’t as Turkish as I’d been led to believe. The area was dotted with Austrian cafes and cake shops that were still doing a good trade and there were lots of Austrians there, shopping, eating and trading from their own cheese, meat and flower stalls. It was good to see that not everyone resents the ethnically different feel to the place like I thought because it does seem that out of all the immigrants in Vienna, the Turkish are the least liked. I have encountered lots of Turkish students who, having grown up here, state quite sadly that ‘Austrians are not polite’ and many had experienced negativity whilst growing up. I think Vienna needs to get over it; it is after all a capital city and capital cities thrive as multicultural hubs; they drive progress and globalism and most of all, add interest and flavour and life to a city. The main complaint about the Turkish is that they don’t integrate. But I wonder how is opening a market stall open to do business with any customer not integrating? And why would Turkish people speak German with each other? It wouldn’t make sense.

At the end of the long strip of market stalls is Yppenplatz, a wonderful square which is alive during sunny weather. It was just what I’d wanted; a place in Vienna that felt really international. There were cafes like you’d find in Paris, funky cafes like you’d find in any modern city, Greek places, Turkish places, Indian places, sea food places and wine bars selling local wine. It was packed with every kind of person and loads of Austrians which shows that a bit of an international mindset can bring everyone together and help you travel without the cost of a flight ticket. I was happy to chow down on lamb skewers with cardamom rice, succulent courgettes, tzatziki and loads of fresh salad with not a sloppy potato salad in sight.

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy as I took photos of Yppenplatz square; that was until a woman who walked in the way of one of my photos started talking to me in German, very fast German. When I said I didn’t understand she shrugged, looked angry, looked to the sky for the words then loudly and proudly said, in English, “English is bullshit!”

“Okay then,” I said, promptly turning round, thinking “move along”. My international bubble was burst. Perhaps it will always be like that for the Auslander abroad, anywhere abroad; always being reminded from the outside as well as the inside that you are different. She was entitled to her opinion, but not entitled to dump it on me so rudely, and unprovoked too. But I have a choice over how to respond. It was just the action and opinion of one person and not representative of the majority, so I decided not to retaliate against Vienna. The next day I was back on the goulash and feeling more sympathetic towards the humble schnitzel.

For more info on Brunnenmarkt:

http://www.wien.info/de/einkaufen-essen-trinken/maerkte/yppenplatz-lokalszene

Yppenplatz square, lots of lovely places to eat and relax

Lovely fruit and veg at Brunnenmarkt

Local cheeses in the 'Turkish' market

Spring has sprung

And in the middle of all the action, Stauds - a famous Viennese brand of jams and marmalades

Service?

Sometimes, I really think that the Viennese need lessons in customer service. They appear mostly uninterested in the experiences of their guests and even less interested in making money. In Vienna the staff rule. I have managed to make lots of serving staff very unhappy by my expectations as a customer and so I would like to share my knowledge of what irks them most.

They don’t like making eye contact. They are expert in snaking round tables ignoring everyone in their path who may be waving at them.

They don’t like being asked more than once for something. Even if a period of twenty minutes has elapsed and you understandingly think that perhaps they have forgotten, it makes them irritable, so much so that they are likely to complain at how much work they have. They will gesture around the room demonstrating how rude of me it is and other customers to say that very offensive word ‘bitte’ (please) to try and get their attention.

They don’t like to let you pay. You can wait for an eternity, all empty cups and plates having already been cleared, for someone to see if you would like something else or perhaps pay. You would think they’d like to get the bill settled and get more paying customers seated; you’d think they’d like you to pay before you started seriously considering doing a runner, but no, you can wait an age to pay your bill and all attempts at waving your wallet at them will not make them want to take your cash. I was once in a coffee shop where a customer tried to pre-empt this problem and tried to pay when her coffee arrived; she was unceremoniously instructed to put her money away and pay at the end because, in the waiter’s actual words, it was “not Starbucks”. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the waiting game, so surely it would be better to let someone pay when they like so they can make a hasty exit rather than them not come in at all. Shouldn’t the customer who chooses to spend their money in their establishment be treated a little better? But I am forgetting the waiter; he was probably very put out on that occasion, distasteful as it was for someone to want to have a ‘quick coffee’, something totally contrary to coffee shop culture where you are supposed to linger for hours.

Staff don’t like to be flexible. Last week for example, I fancied an early evening drink in a place with a nice view of St Stephen’s Cathedral. There was the bar, which was unfortunately a smoking venue and really really smoky and so we tried to have a drink in the restaurant. To be allowed only to drink we had to sit near the door, in a windowless section, which defeated the object and so we politely asked if we could sit near a window. No. It wasn’t allowed. To drink, you had to sit in the most un-atmospheric part of the practically empty restaurant and stare at rust coloured walls. When we politely asked if we could sit just for half an hour in the practically empty restaurant near the window we were told to go in the bar. The fact we wanted a non smoking seat fell on unsympathetic ears. They were happier to see us leave than to bend ever so slightly and make a bit more money that day. Madness.

They like you to be ready to order when they are, even if you have literally only just sat down. If you try to choose quickly because you fear they may never come back if you don’t, they will sigh in exasperation as you make sense of the menu and decide between wine or beer.

I could go on, but I won’t. All I can say is that you cannot please them no matter how hard you try and you can’t get them to change. All you can do is be yourself and grow a thicker skin.

To follow are some pictures of a very nice café, where we experienced very good service last weekend. But then again, perhaps we got good service because we were good guests; we were ready to order exactly when he wanted us to and we didn’t wave him over, rather, we let him attend to us when he was ready because for once we weren’t concerned with time. I also think he was very flattered that I wanted to take a picture of his tie.

Waiter with a cool Gustav Klimt tie in Belvedere cafe

Lovely little cafe in Belvedere Palace and art gallery

Valentinstag

How to say those three little words auf Deutsch

 

I, very romantically, spent Valentine’s evening teaching my advanced English class. Although Valentine’s Day is not celebrated as widely or enthusiastically as in the UK it is, I’ve been told, catching on more and more. There were lots of chocolates floating round the language school on this night. And although German isn’t typically considered to be the language of love, both me and the hubs got each other German cards and wrote our messages in German. Ich liebe dich (I love you) caused us much hilarity, as it does to all English speakers who joke about loving ‘dich’ (pronounced ‘dick’).

We celebrated Valentines the next evening with a very good and authentic Japanese meal at Tennmaya just off Kaernter Strasse, near the opera. It was the evening of the Opern Ball, the most famous of the ball season. Roads were closed and public transport diverted to allow access to this special event. All around the opera was swarming with police and the hubs got himself royally told off by a policeman because he started to cross the road while the red man was still on. It’s a taboo to do such a thing here. At first it didn’t make sense to me to wait when it was obviously safe to cross and so I used to take the initiative and nip across the road, but the public shaming got too much to handle. I was stared at, tutted at, and had heads shaken at the recklessness of my behaviour and it made me a bit timid. I could feel social scorn following me. So now I wait, like all other Viennese, wait for several eternities at empty junctions and deserted roads until the green man (the little dictator that he is) grants his permission.  That’s why the hubs got told off and I didn’t, because I refused to cross with him when he wanted to, preferring to wait in the snow and sub-zero temperatures like a good citizen at the traffic lights. We have no idea what the content of his telling off was; the German the policeman spoke was rather fast though clearly inflected with lots of sarcasm. The hubs just nodded stoically as if all was understood and dutifully took his place and waited besides me for the green man, and then we started to giggle.

Link to some pictures from this year’s Opern Ball:

http://diepresse.com/home/leben/mensch/opernball/732818/Der-Wiener-Opernball-2012_Alles-dreht-sich

http://www.tenmaya.at/

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