Working abroad brings with it small, unique moments that can only be sensed. These moments can be: waiting on a platform and having a train rush past you; walking through a town and having a foreign breeze come across your skin; a conversation with a stranger that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside; or catching a whiff from the café down the street that carries hints of tonight’s menu.
There is the Dutch phrase, “Wat van ver komt is lekker,” which suggests that which comes from far away is delicious or “lecker.” While this can apply to experiences beyond food, the opportunity to be a part of another country's kitchen is a highlight of travelling. Austria boasts some of the best cuisine in the world, and while working in Austria, as well as the high standard of living and first-class music and theater, their food will draw you into a whole new side of Austrian and Viennese culture.
More than strudel and schnitzel, and from fun to fancy, here are some of Austrian’s finest:
Viennese Coffee Houses
One of the most iconic features of Vienna are its Coffee Houses, with the first one opening in 1685. For the coffee connoisseur they are pure bliss. One cannot compare them to the North American coffee experience of to-go coffees and WiFi laden Starbucks’. A place for formal business meetings, family outings, or sole visitors catching up on their reading or simply watching the world go by them, Viennese Coffee Houses are a must while working abroad in Vienna. A bit of research ahead of time will prove to be beneficial since there are too many to be able to visit every one.
Noteworthy and definitely worth the visit, is the timeless Café Central in Vienna. It offers a regal coffee experience, which is only fitting as the ambrosial Kaiserschmarren can be found on its menu. This caramelized pancake, made from a sweet batter of flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, was a favorite of the Austrian emperor Kaiser Franz Joseph I of Austria. It is often served with applesauce or Zwetschkenröster, a fruit compote made out of plums. Kaiserschmarren is great dish to share, as servings are truly meant for a Kaiser! For the coffee, anything off the menu, from an Einspänner, an espresso with whipping cream, to a Wiener mélange, an espresso with milk, will satisfy foreign workers in Vienna.
Featuring a cafe, in addition to being a manufacturer and retailer of coffee, gourmet foods and groceries, Julius Meinl is a fun stop while in Vienna. Its hot chocolate and ground coffee in gold brick-like packaging make great gifts to take back home. A walk around the store will entice you with specialty goods from around the globe. If you forget to grab your coffee or hot chocolate while in Vienna, don’t worry - Vienna International Airport has a small selection of Julius Meinl goods to grab last minute.
Before going further into food however, proper etiquette for eating must be described. Any Viennese local will describe the correct way to use cutlery. Often you are given only a spoon and fork to eat with. Holding the spoon in your right hand and fork in your left, use the spoon to “cut” the food and then use the fork to “scoop” up the piece that you cut off. Next time you find a Kaiserschmarren in front of you, try your hand at perfecting this fine art of eating.
Café Demel & Hotel Sacher
The Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot preserve, is a name that you are bound to hear at some point during your job placement Austria. But do not be deceived. If you are in Vienna and looking for the best, ask the locals and they will tell you that the real Sachertorte is found at Café Demel, not Hotel Sacher as the name suggests. Café Demel also features a confectionery shop with a delicacy of chocolate to satisfy any craving and a small area where you can watch the chocolatiers in action. If you still want to check out Hotel Sacher, try their Topfenstrudel, a pastry with a quark cheese filling.
Spring in Austria might as well be called Spargel (asparagus), as this is the time of year that the white variation of asparagus will fill supermarkets. The frenzy surrounding this rather plain vegetable is shared with Austria’s neighbour Germany, and it cannot even be compared to the arrival of eggnog at Christmastime in North America. Spargel will be featured on menus throughout the country and will sometimes be accompanied with potatoes, hollandaise sauce and smoked meat. If you want to try cooking while working in Austria this would be a great dish to start with! In preparing the Spargel ensure that you peel it beforehand so that you aren’t left with a woody taste, and allow it to cook for longer than the green variation that most of us are accustomed to.
Found tucked away from the city centre in Vienna is the recherché area of Grinzing, with a reputation for its vineyards and numerous Heurigen - traditional restaurants and cafes serving wine. Many of the waiters and waitresses wear the traditional Dirndl and Lederhosen and there is a good chance that you will be serenaded with live violin or accordion music during your meal. You may want to try Schweinsbraten, Sauerkraut, and Knödel for dinner, which is a Pork Roast, Sour Cabbage and dumpling made of potato or bread. Compared to Coffee Houses, Heurigen are livelier and more animated, and one might feel like they are having dinner with everyone else in the room.
Before saying Aufwiedersehen to Austria find yourself an Almdudler. To call this a delicacy would be a stretch, but a popular drink, iconic to Austrian culture would be accurate. The sweetened grape and apple carbonated drink is flavored with herbs. The name comes from the phrase "auf der Alm dudeln,” which literally means to sing in the alpine meadow. Austrians would know the phrase "Wenn de kan Oimdudla haum, geh' i wieda ham!” or "Wenn die keinen Almdudler haben, gehe ich wieder heim!” meaning "If they don’t have Almdudler, I'll go back home!”
So before you go back home try the Almdudler, and take time to indulge in the flavors of Austria and the ambiance of the coffee houses, cafes and restaurants you find yourself in. You may discover that you have a love for more than strudel and schnitzel.