Some years ago I had a heated discussion about Austrian cuisine with a friend who is half Austrian, half Mexican. He insisted that Mexican cuisine is so much better than the food in Austria and while I love Mexican food I clearly had to oppose this idea and defend my beloved dumplings.
Although our discussion did not lead to any consensus it made me think of a ton of edible arguments in favour of the Austrian cuisine. Food is one of the most important ways for me to experience a country and I think comparing cuisines of such different geographical regions with vastly different climates and traditions is just a bit unfair. Austrian food is amazing and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise make them aware of these 10 amazing foods (and beverages) to try in Austria.
1) Wiener Schnitzel – and all its variations
Probably the most famous dish of Vienna – the Wiener Schnitzel. Traditionally the Viennese schnitzel is made from veal but very often it is also available with pork, chicken or turkey meat. The real deal is veal though – and it is delicious. Make sure you order it with potato salad and redcurrant jelly – and not fries and ketchup…
Wiener Schnitzel is a standard dish on menus all over the country, but if you fancy eating it in Vienna I can highly recommend restaurants such as Figlmuller or Grunspan.
However, the traditional Wiener Schnitzel is not the only version you can get. I’m personally a fan of schnitzel in cornflakes batter and the French-inspired Cordon Bleu, which is two filets filled with ham and cheese and then fried in bread crumb batter. If you are up for a Cordon Bleu adventure book a table at Concordia Schlossl where they offer all sorts, let’s call them creative schnitzel variations.
One last thing: some restaurant take great pride in serving Schnitzel that is larger than your average plate – so come hungry!
photo by tribp via flickr
2) ‘Knodel’ (dumplings)
As a child I loved the traditional potato dumpling from the area where my parents are from so much, that I’d ignore the meat, veggies and sauce on my Sunday roast plate, and dig right into the Knodel. I could have eaten three to four tennis ball sized dumplings even as a child if my mum wouldn’t have stopped me. She even called me ‘Mehlwurm’ which is a nice way to call someone out for loving carbs a little bit too much…
But back to dumplings. There are all kinds of traditional Austrian dumplings, both savoury and sweet. On the savoury dumpling menu the two most popular ones are the mentioned potato dumpling (often served with a pork roast) and the maybe even more famous bread dumpling (‘Semmelknodel‘ or ‘Serviettenknodel’ if it’s not ball-shaped) which is traditionally served with soft boiled beef or ragout.
Sweet dumplings are usually filled with fruit (apricot or plums), poppy seeds or curd.
photo by Oliver Hallmann via flickr
Ever since I can remember this was my brother’s favourite dish, but because it is served with bread dumplings rather than my beloved potato dumplings I was never a big fan as a child. These days I love it and it was one of the first things I made my boyfriend try on his first Austria vacation. ‘Tafelspitz‘ is a big chunk of beef boiled in a vegetable broth until it is tender and soft. The root vegetables you boil and serve with it give it an additional traditional and earthy taste and the bread dumplings round it off really well.
The best Tafelspitz in Vienna is obviously made by my mum, but you can head to the famous restaurant Plachutta for a great alternative.
photo via Plachutta
4) ‘Spatzle’ & ‘Nockerl’
The easiest way to describe Spatzle and Nockerl is to compare them to gnocchi although they are often differently shaped. Spatzle can actually be really long and thin, more like pasta. My favourite kind of Nockerl is ‘Eiernockerl‘, little dough balls fried with eggs and rounded off with fresh chives. This is the go-to vegetarian dish in many traditional restaurants on the countryside – and often the only option aside from mushroom and asparagus season. Spatzle will most likely be fried with bacon, onion and loads of cheese. This dish is often served in a small cast-iron dish and makes for a great photo op!
photo by Georgette Jupe via flickr
5) Soup with ‘Frittaten’, ‘Griessnockerl’ or ‘Kaspressknodel’
If you order any of these soups as a starter you might score extra points with your waiter if you can pronounce them. But first, what are they? Many traditional Austrian soups are made up of a clear meat broth (often left over from making Tafelspitz) and all kinds of ‘toppings’ (for lack of a better word). ‘Frittaten‘ are long slices of thin pancakes, ‘Griessnockerl‘ are little semolina dumplings and ‘Kaspressknodel‘ are fried dumplings made of bread and cheese (not the lightest lunch option out there).
photo by Alfred Lui via flickr
If you make your way to the country side and up into the mountains of the Austrian Alps you will inevitably come across an item on the menu called ‘Brettljause‘. ‘Jause’ in Austrian simply means snack between proper meals, and ‘Brettl’ is the wooden board this type of snack is served on. The most basic version of this is a variety of cold cuts, cheese, spreads, pickled vegetables and a bread basket, although depending on the place you might be able to choose more add ons.
7) Doner Kebab
Yes, kebab is Turkish and doner kebab sandwiches were kind of invented in Berlin, but thanks to the great Turkish population in Vienna kebab is everywhere. Over the years it has almost replaced sausages as the go-to late night street food, which is a little bit of a shame, because sausages are great and sausage stands are a Viennese institution – but kebab is simply too delicious. Just make sure to put both on your bucket list.
I usually actually go for a Durum which is kebab meat, salad and tomatoes wrapped in a flatbread rather than Turkish sandwich bread. It is so much easier to eat, especially on the way from club to club. I also love Falafel Durum – especially now that I am veggie.
photo by Lauren Travis via flickr
8) ‘Kasekrainer’ & Leberkasesemmel’
Speaking if sausage stands – don’t miss out on them, particularly in Vienna. Aside from the food it is the owners and regulars that make these little street food places so special. Real local flavour!
My favourite sausage is Kasekrainer, a sausage filled with cheese, and Leberkase (it’s pressed meat – I’m not so sure I want to know more details myself) which is served in a bun (‘Semmel’).
photo by Caro via flickr
Palatschinken are actually not originally Austrian, but a Hungarian dish that we adopted when Hungary was under the rule of the Austrian Empire. Palatschinken are thin pancakes or crepes usually filled with apricot jam and rolled, or with scoops of vanilla ice-cream and folded. So delicious!
10) Apple Strudel
If there is one dessert Austria is famous for then it is probably the Apfelstrudel, a sweet delight of paper thin pastry sheets, apple and optional raisins. Apple strudel is often served with hot vanilla sauce, but I’m a purist and prefer it by itself. In Vienna I can highly recommend the strudel at Cafe Hawelka (which is a traditional Viennese coffee house you should visit anyway).
photo by Yasmina Haryono via flickr
Another sweet dish straight from Heaven – Kaiserschmarrn is basically chopped up fluffy pancakes served with apple sauce and loads of icing sugar on top.
photo by Paolo Valdemarin via flickr
12) Cakes & pastries
If crepes, apple strudel and pancakes are not enough to please your sweet tooth just go for more cakes and pastries from a local bakery or in a coffee house – you won’t be disappointed!
Some of the most famous cakes and pastries in Austria are Sachertorte (our famous chocolate cake with a layer of jam), Esterhazy-Schnitte (layered cake with curd filling), Rehrucken (more chocolate cake) or Topfentascherl (pastry filled with curd).
Buchteln are sweet rolls made of yeast dough, filled with jam or curd and baked in a large pan so that they stick together. Traditionally they are filled with plum jam called Powidl and served with hot vanilla sauce. Again, like many of our ‘Austrian’ dishes Buchteln are actually a Bohemian dish that the Austrians adopted in the times of the Empire.
photo by distelfliege via flickr
Whenever I go home to Austria this is the first thing I buy usually before leaving the airport for a refreshing drink in the car or on the train: Lattella. Lattella is a dairy-fruit-drink developed in Austria in the late 1970s. Back then you could only get two flavours, passion fruit and mango, but today there are loads of different flavours on the market. Lately Passion Fruit is my favourite kind because it’s sweet and tangy at the same time and it makes for a great summer refreshment.
photo via Lattella
15) Sturm or Most
While it has to be said that Austrian wine and beer is outstanding and you should definitely try a few different wines and beers during your visit, there are two alcoholic drinks you should also give a shot if you are in Austria at the right time of the year. Sturm and Most are different stages of wine fermentation that lie between grape juice and wine. Every year when the grapes are harvested from the vineyards a certain amount of barrels are set back to produce Sturm and Most. Sturm usually becomes available in September and tastes very sweet – however don’t be fooled into drinking too much of it! Firstly, you’ll get quite drunk (it’s almost wine after all) and secondly too much of it has laxative effects… Most has a sour taste in comparison to Sturm and is relatively weak in alcohol (4-8%).
Have you ever been to Austria? What was your favourite dish?
Pin this post for later: