Austrian Culture: Austrian Food & Cuisine

Robert Easton

USA | Japan

Austrian food has a lot of common with German food, but is also influenced by Hungarian and Slav cooking, remnants of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Traditional Austrian cooking is based around meat and potatoes, goulash, pastries, sausages, and dumpling after dumpling after dumpling, but in recent years there as also emerged a 'New Austrian' school of cooking which uses less salt and butter, and tries to create lighter, healthier organic dishes.

Austria has been described as a 'knoedel country', because the people eat so many dumplings. Varieties of dumpling range from potato to strawberry, but the most common is the Semmel Knoedel.

Semmel is a kind of white bread roll which many Austrians choose to eat for breakfast or lunch, but which has to be eaten soon after it's made. To avoid wasting vast quantities of bread, those which don't sell in time are crumbled and sold on as breadcrumbs for Knoedel.

The Knoedel can be but in a soup, or stuffed with anything from fruit to meat, and if they're still not eaten, they can be fried with eggs or vegetables.

The sausage is another staple of the Austrian diet. Strangely enough, Germans call their sausages Wieners, after Vienna, and Austrians call their sausages Frankfurters, after the town in Germany.

Sausages come in all imaginable shapes, sizes and flavours, and can be eaten hot, cold, in a Schnitzel, or just as a hot dog with lashings of hot mustard.

Gulasch with potatoes, Semmel and an Ottakringer beer.

Sausage is also a term of abuse in Austria - a 'sausage chef' is one who's not very good, or you can just call someone a sausage, to mean that the other person is a joke.

According to a recent survey by AC Nielsen, Wiener Schnitzel remains the favourite food of 12% of the Austrian population, and as for Schnitzels in general, Austrians eat an average of 22 each per year.

Goulash could well be the Austrian dish that leaves the greatest impression on visitors. Most Austrians will admit that Goulash is 'Hungarian influenced', and they are right that it is not exactly the same as the Hungarian national dish.

Austrian goulash is a stew, usually heavily spiced with paprika. Whilst most commonly made with beef, it can also include veal, pork, beer, green beans or potato. Visitors should try Fiaker if they get the chance - it is a beef goulash with Frankfurter, egg and pickles.

Viennese sometimes eat Frühstücksgulasch - breakfast goulash, and New Years Eve many Austrians can be found digging into Gulaschsuppe - Goulash Soup.

Pastries and desserts are an area where Austrian cooks undeniable excel. Aside from world renowned favourites like Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte, there are many other delights waiting for discovery, such as Kaiserschmarren (Emperor's Trifle), Gugelhupf, Vanillekipferl and more tortes and chocolate creations than you can shake a stick at.

Gulaschsuppe, Semmel and Ribiselwein - red currant wine.

Apfelstrudel consists of an oblong pastry jacket filled with chopped apples, sugar, cinnamon, raisins and bread crumbs, which is baked and served warm.

Sachertorte is dense, dark cake consisting of two slices of doughy chocolate sponge separated by a layer of apricot jam, coated with dark chocolate and served with whipped cream.

The Sacher Cake was the subject of a long legal battle between Hotel Sacher, which was built by the son of the cake's inventor, Franz Sacher, and a local pastry shop, Demel. Hotel Sacher was victorious and the pastry shop had to rename their cake 'Demels Sachertorte'.

Gugelhupf is a small doughnut shaped cake chosen to represent Austria in an EU cultural initiative. Kaiserschmarren (which can be translated as 'mess fit for a king') is a sweet, fluffy omelette, which is torn and eaten with two forks.

Vanillekipferl are small, crescent-shaped vanilla and almond biscuits which are often eaten around Christmas time.

Austrians are generally very liberal and tolerant of other cultures, so there are only a few points to remember at mealtimes.

Sachertorte and a glass of Gruner Veltliner white wine.

You should let the host make the first toast, and maintain eye contact during the toast. The toast can be returned later in the meal.

Traditionally, one is not supposed to cut a dumpling, instead you should hold it under your knife and use the fork to break it.

It won't be thought polite if you discuss business at mealtimes unless your host does first, and lastly, don't make a big fuss over trying to pay the bill - whoever made the invitation pays the bill.

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