Going to a German-speaking country, a German-souled country, even, was the plan of Lovely One who had the choice of holiday as it was his birthday while we were away. And since Oz is a little far even for a long long weekend, his second choice had to be German-speaking. Vienna popped out of his mouth before he’d even had a chance to think. I was quite taken with the idea, having obsessively watched Before Sunrise in my impressionable youth (JESSE AND CELESTE 4EVA). I was also most interested in the prospect of getting under the [sausage] skin of Germanic cuisine.
Lovely One and I had first gone on a road trip to visit his granny in Frankfurt last year, which afforded me the opportunity to try Frankfurt Schnitzel with grune soss (it’s a genuine THING out there) but not a lot else. Now was the chance to try the magical-sounding stuff I’d only read about, or had pale imitations of. And – quite honestly – it exceeded my WILDEST expectations.
German-speaking countries worship at the altar of all that is piggy goodness. And the apotheosis of the art is in the wurst – of which there are thousands of varieties and a thousand ways to express your piggy love.
In Vienna the kasekrainer rules supreme – a frankfurter-style sausage with pockets of cheese studding its length. It’s as indecently delicious as it sounds and completely delicious. Also popular is the spiced Debreziner, served as above with mustard for dipping and a roll for – well, it’s hard to say. I’ll be honest here, I’ve no idea how germans actually EAT sausages. There’s rarely a knife or fork, and the bread you get isn’t generally a hot-dog or sausage-shaped roll. I tend to just eat the sausage dipped in the mustard (SENF, with a culture of its own) and nibble at the bread on the side. Any tips on how to eat it properly most welcome.
The world of strudel is a strange one indeed. In the UK we just chuck a bit of apple in filo pastry and wonder why we get a soggy mess. In Vienna, they lovingly stretch and furl the dough over hands, elbows and forearms until an elastic, smooth dough you can read through is achieved. The tips and tricks were revealed to us at the Strudelshow at the Schonbrunn palace – a rather cheesy, touristy but fascinating chance to see strudel making in action.
1) The dough is easy enough to make but hard to handle. Put it in a bath of warm oil to make it more malleable for about 10 min before you start.
2) Butter-breadcrumbs in your appley filling will make your strudel more robust.And don’t cook the apples – therein lies soggy disaster.
3) Don’t be limited by apples. Spinach strudel is delicious, and there’s a really lovely variation with sweet vanilla quark called Topfenstrudel which is delicious.
Ah, Schnitzel. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
1) Breaded pork or veal, smashed until thin and fried until golden. It’s like a giant grown-up chicken nugget.
2) Served with viennese potato salad (vinegary-sweet oniony stuff), they are verily the stuff of DREAMZZZ
3) In frankfurt they’re dressed up with herby yoghurty grunesoss. No need in Vienna. Just a wedge of lemon.
4) Bashed so thin they’re only a few millimetres thick, these bad boys cook in under 4 minutes. WOWSA.
The home of the schnitzel in Vienna is the esteemed Figlmuller. Personally I found it a bit standoffish – the waiters clearly weren’t feeling it on a Tuesday night and consequently we were given the worst table in the house before I politely asked if we could move to the obviously empty window seat. But it’s pretty great value and they have their own house wine. Which brings me neatly to…
Vienna is the only capital city with vineyards within the city limits. FACT (which I’m sure someone will dispel soon enough). Austrian white wine is my kryptonite, genuinely amazing stuff which shatters in the mouth like delicious liquid glass and is both refreshing and comforting all at the same time. Last year for eurovision I got hammered on a bottle of excellent Gruner Veltliner and cried when Conchita Wurst won. Paradoxically this has made me MORE fond of austrian wine. Go figure. Most bars will sell some really great austrian wine from inside the city limits and I can highly recommend all of those that I tried. No, I didn’t get the names. Just go for grape variety and learn to experiment. Welschreisling in particular is rather tasty.
Vienna is famed for its cafe culture but before moving onto cafes I wanted to pay a little tribute to the desserts. Let’s face it – they’re pretty good. But go beyond the obvious and seek out some special treats. Dobostorte, with layers of chocolate and caramel, is a rather lovely change from the s-word (see below), and Esterhazy torte, which boasts layers of hazelnut sponge and vanilla buttercream, are both worthy of fame in their own right.
Other more unusual deserts include the delicious kaiserschmarnn and something rather dangerous-sounding called a Germknodel, which is a yeasty bun-dumpling filled with jam and poached in a vanilla sauce. And if that doesn’t sound like food porn I don’t know what does. That kind of dessert should be served alongside a BOOMCHICKAWOWOW soundtrack.
I’d never had sachertorte. I know, it’s like admitting I’ve never liked Rihanna or I can’t wink.* And by god I was missing out. So Lovely One surprised me with a quick visit to Cafe Sacher to try the real thing. I’d always assumed it would be something of a letdown in real life. Not a bit of it. A soft velvety chocolate sponge with sharp-sweet jam under a near-crispy chocolate ganache icing. Served with thick white cream I was in foodie heaven. Lovely One pulled this out of the bag as a special surprise and I genuinely nearly cried with delight. It’s a thing you have to do before you die and christ it’s good.
Rounding off my culinary tour of Vienna, a mention of the coffeehouses. These are very special, totally individual and nearly impossible to sum up in a few words. So I’ll let the pictures do the talking apart from a few observations:
1) Viennese hot chocolate is the BOMB. Don’t ask, just order a pot. Then sit back and think of ways to never leave.
2) Viennese coffee is awesome. Forget your cool aussie flat whites and your italian ristrettos. Order a kleine brauner (little brown own) and let the strong creamy short wash over you. Bloody delicious and lovely everywhere I tried it. Avoid the lattes, they’re way too milky and weird. But then that’s true of all latte everywhere.
3) Little cafes are the sort of place you’ll find all sorts of delicious german food, like sesame pancakes filled with broccoli sauce (so excellent), rindsuppe (beef soup with pancake strips) and delicious omelettes. Get adventurous and you’ll rarely regret it.
OVERALL VERDICT: foodie paradise. Genuinely surprising, delightful and delicious. But not for dieters. Sorry.
*both of these things are true. The latter gives me much shame.