Eating Austria

I didn’t go to Austria this year with any particular expectations regarding food. I spent a few days in Vienna last year and had the obligatory monstrous schnitzel, but beyond that I didn’t really know what they eat in the Tirol.

So this isn’t exactly going to be an exhaustive and accurate overview of Austrian cuisine, but more of a “Here’s some of the stuff I ate in Austria, some of which may or may not be typically Austrian” post.

Let’s start with an aperitif. I got this at the bar in our hotel, and it was called something like “A kiss in the snow”. Prosecco and rose syrup. And rose petals, of course.

For starter one night we had a soft-boiled egg covered in breadcrumbs, on top of potato purée and truffle cream. Didn’t sound so great on the page but it was fantastic in the mouth: unctuous without being oleaginous.

Austria, landlocked though it is, still offered us a fish course, bless. A rather perplexed-looking shark.

And so to the meat. Pork knuckle eaten in a pub in Heidelberg, which is technically Germany but I won’t tell if you won’t. When I say “eaten”, I mean that I made a bit of a dent in it but in the end it defeated me. Lovely and tasty, but too damn big.

My wife ordered cheesy spätzle, which are often described as a kind of noodle but remind me more of Italian gnocchi.

Meanwhile, in Innsbruck, I ate a full English breakfast bauerngröstl: potato, onion, bacon and a fried egg. I think the salad in the background is an attempt at humour.

I did at one point eat a mini-schnitzel, but that’s not why I’m posting this photo. Can you guess why?

I hate redundant garnishes. Pointless parsley posies are a pet peeve, but even moreso is frankly futile fruit fillets. I ordered a main course, not dessert. In future please keep your strawberries away from my meat!

In Strasbourg (technically France, but also kind of German, which is almost the same as Austrian…) I had a ham and roquefort-topped tarte flambé/flammkuchen, which is basically a pizza but without the tomato and a lot more onion.

And that provides a neat segue into the cheese course. One night in the hotel restaurant I was met by this:

It’s graukäse and it’s an ungodly crumbly/rubbery thing. My wife declared it “interesting”, but even she declined to buy some when we saw it again at the local supermarket. You can read about how it’s made here, not that it’s likely to make you any more keen to try it.

Dessert. Pancakes eaten at the summit of the Zugspitze, highest mountain in Germany. Thick and stodgy, like many things in Austria, but quite acceptable with a dusting of sugar and a dollop of apple sauce.

In Innsbruck we also had some authentic, original (seriously – they had certificates and everything) Sacher torte. The awe and reverence with which this cake is treated still baffles me: it’s just a chocolate sponge, for god’s sake!

As a symolic gesture I ordered a topfenstrudel instead. I’d already had plenty of apple strudel with hot vanilla sauce, so I wanted to try this variation made with quark (the Austrian cheese, not the subatomic particle). It turned out to be soggy and sour and I couldn’t even finish it.

Also in Innsbruck we bought one of these:

It’s modelled on the tiles on the Goldene Dachl, one of Innsbruck’s only top tourist attractions. It turned out to be a tasty chocolate-coated gingerbread filled with jam. If I’d known, I’d have bought a whole roof-full.

Gummi bears were invented in Germany in the 1920s, and there are shops entirely dedicated to them, in a bewildering variety of arrangements. Wedding cake!

Beer glass!

Another witty segue: after-dinner drinks. I’m not a big spirits drinker, but I love these bottles:

I tried a couple in a shop, but they tasted like either parrafin or cough medicine.

And then one day in the supermarket I was hit by a blast from the past: STROH 80!

You can probably guess what the “80” represents, can’t you? I first tried this at a party in Exeter when I was about 17. I seem to recall rather liking it and consuming rather a lot of it, but I don’t seem to recall much about the rest of that evening, or the following day, for that matter. When we got it home my wife poured herself a glass to taste. She put it to her lips, spluttered “Jesus Christ!” and poured it back in the bottle…