Monday, January 30, 2012

Om Nom Nom — Austrian Food!

Food is essential to any traveler. While you can improvise a bed on a train platform (although we do recommend checking into a hotel as it’s generally nicer, safer and warmer) and you can walk anywhere if necessary, without food, holidays are not much fun. And we like our holidays to be fun.

Most people will be familiar with a few Austrian dishes, such as apple strudel and weiner schnitzels. However, like a lot of central European dishes, there’s an awful lot more that often gets overlooked. When eating, we prefer to head to a small local place that is more likely to serve good local food at reasonable prices.

Austrians typically have a continental-style breakfast with bread rolls, cold meats, cheeses, and jams. Tea, coffee or juice may be served. We found it is good to have a nice big breakfast that sets us up for the day, particularly when walking. Lunch is typically a snack with the main meal later in the day.

A lot of emphasis is placed on meat in Austria, which can be in stews, soups, and, of course, sausages. The weiner schnitzel is meat, usually veal, fried in breadcrumbs. It’s often served with potatoes. These might be mashed, boiled, or in the form of a salad (Erdapfelsalat). This is Austrian food at its most basic, but it is easy to replicate and try at home.

One of my favorites is Gulasch, a thick beef stew with onions, paprika and potatoes. It’s very warming and is great after a cold day. Basic but filling fare. You’ll often see it served with dumplings or bread rolls (Semmel). Similar to this is Tafelspitz—beef boiled in broth. Considered to be one of Austria’s national dishes, it is boiled with whatever root vegetables are available. A horseradish-and-apple sauce is served alongside it.

When you have a chance, try Beuschel, a ragout made with beef offal. This tender but filling dish usually has a spicy flavor. If you’re reaching for your dictionary or phrasebook trying to work out what Fledermaus is, don’t worry—it’s not actually a bat. It’s a specific cut of pork that looks a little like a spread-eagled bat, although a butterfly would be similar too.

In rural areas, game meats play a big part in any Austrian’s meals. Venison, boar, hare, pheasant, duck and partridge are all familiar sights. These will usually be served with seasonal vegetables, such as Styrian pumpkins, runner beans, and potatoes.

There are a wide variety of local, regional, and national sausages available in Austria. Whether this is the Käsekrainer, a boiled sausage that contains small pieces of cheese, the Frankfurter (or Wiener after the Austrian name for Vienna—Wien), or the Bratwurst, each sausage has its own distinct flavor, so we sample as many as we can when we are travelling through Austria.

Wherever you are, though, there will be a dozen local dishes that will delight you. It may be from a pension’s kitchen, a bar, a Würstelstand (sausage stand), or the restaurant opposite your hotel, Austria’s selection of foods delighted us, and they will delight you.