The Vienna Surprise, of Dining Experiences and stereotypes

Viennese cuisine is a blend of influences from Central Europe (Bohemian, Polish, German, Hungarian, Slavic, as well as the Jewish diaspora in the area) and the other major European powers of the day (Italian, French). As a sign of just how dominant Vienna is within the Austrian narrative, Viennese cuisine is usually seen as equivalent with Austrian cuisine.

So what defines Viennese cuisine? Meat. Heaps of it. From Schnitzel (fried veal steak) to Tafelspitz (boiled beef), Rindsoup (beef soup) to meat dumplings the heart of savoury food in Vienna is meat, especially veal. But there is a second part of Viennese food – sweet desserts, very sweet desserts such as Sisi cake, Apfelstrudel, Sachertort which are all combinations of chocolate and sugar.

Despite its cosmopolitan nature (relative to the cities around it), you can have all these local delights practically anywhere in the city – this in stark contrast to Stockholm, where Swedish food is not always the easiest to find in restaurants. What makes eating in Vienna fun is the different kinds of dining experiences, from the Würstelstände to the tourist trap, from the Gasthaus to the Wine Tavern.

Vienna White Sausage at a Würstelstände

We start with street food. Somehow, because of the reputation of Vienna, street food doesn’t seem like a good match with the city, but that’s where you’d be wrong. The most common dining experience on the streets of Vienna are Würstelständes, hot dog stands.

Now what can be so special about hot dogs, I hear you scoff. When we think of sausages and wurst we usually think Germany (Berlin especially), not Austria and certainly not Vienna. But the Viennese do some great sausages, and these are the sausages worth trying at the Würstelständes.

There is the Vienna White Sausage, Weisswurst, made of veal and pork, served with bread, mustard and ketchup sauce.

And then theres the Kasekrainer, a large sausage filled with melty chocolate. Sinful, artery clogging, but utterly delicious. Don’t take it from me, take it from a local.

Schnitzel Experience at Figlmüller

We knew we were walking into a tourist trap the moment we arrived at the airport. At the baggage collection carousel was a large advertisement billboard screaming out the name of Figlmüller and its chain of restaurants.

Hey the company even appears on television shows, they’ve clearly made their name. We had to go check it out.

“I have a table for 30 minutes, do you want it?”

“Err what?”

“30 minutes, I can serve you but I need you to leave in 30 minutes…”

Deciding that a piece of deep fried meat does not take 30 minutes to eat, we decided to give it a shot.

Figlmüller is an institution because of the legend that surrounds the restaurant, a gasthaus – the backstory is that it was the original proprietor’s grandmother was the original creator of the wiener schnitzel. ‘

Wiener Schnitzel is a specialty of Vienna, schnitzel is meat that is pounded with a meat tenderizer, and later fried the unique Viennese twist is the use of veal rather than pork. Wiener Schnitzel is usually served as it is, with a wedge of lemon to cut the oiliness of the deep fried coating although a mixture of vegetables may be served on the side.

To be honest, Figlmüller schnitzel was not the best version we had and the experience at Figlmüller was a very rushed one, simply because the place is so popular, and so packed that you get shepherded with food and then rushed out barely a while after you have finished, but that’s perhaps part of the touristy experience in Vienna.

We were looking for a more real gasthaus experience outside of the touristy crowds, and we found them at our next stop.

ON THE MAP

Gasthaus Experience at Gasthaus Kopp

A gasthaus is a German style tavern that is fronted by a restaurant-bar but also has inns and rooms for rent. Most real gasthaus’ exist in smaller parts of town, and therefore have a very communal vibe. The closest and most realistic one to the city area is Gasthaus Kopp.

A quaint looking place that exists clearly for locals, you were expected to know what you wanted when you arrived, and if you did not you’d have to ask the waiter for one of the few English menus that clearly have not been used too much.

We had a very Viennese palate that evening – a board of meats of all sorts, washed down with a cold beer.

But we needed a bit more alcohol, and it made sense to find a wine tavern.

ON THE MAP

Wine Tavern Experience at Gasthaus Rebhuhn – Ribsuppe mitt Pancake, Dumplings, Sisi Tort

Rounding off the dining experiences is the wine tavern, heuringer, experience. Heuringer’s serve local wines and Vienna is one of those rare major cities that has its own wine culture. There are 612 hectares of vines that grow grapes for wines, producing a blend called the Wiener Gemischter Satz (Vienna field blend). Until recently, Viennese wine was however thought of as cheap tavern wine. Although that reputation has been slowly shed, local wine is still served in the wine taverns in the city.

We went to Gasthaus Rebhuhn, a guesthouse that served local wines and paired it with some other local delights such as ribsuppe with pancake stripes and dumplings, closing it off with a sweet Sisi tort (chocolate cake). Ribsuppe is a beef soup or stock and the pancake stripes when cut serve to taste like beef noodles. Viennese dumplings are more similar to Lithuanian dumplings where meat is wrapped in potatoes and served with a sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).

ON THE MAP

All in, it was quite an interesting mixture of dining experiences although there are is one commonality that unite these whole raft of dining experiences. Unlike the prime and proper stereotype of Vienna, dining in a heuringer, gasthaus or würstelständes has a certain ease of behaviour that comes with it, a go-out be-loud vibe, that to me was the Vienna Surprise

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