Friday, September 17, 2010

Paul's Guide to Vienna, Part 2 of 3

Updated June 19, 2011: changed information about live music at the Reznicek. See below.

Paul's Guide to Vienna,

for People who've read the Guide Books and want MORE

Part the Second: Food

Please tell me that you are not a vegetarian. One can get by in Vienna without liking beer; they'll merely think you're touched in the head. Not like wine or coffee and people may avoid you socially. If you don't do meat at all, they may make you leave the country.

But seriously, vegetarians totally miss out in Austria, because the food culture is all about using every part of an animal, whatever the animal (usually pig). However, I will throw in a vegetarian recommendation at the end of the list.

A general note about sit-down eateries in Austria: they tend to be a bit leisurely in their service. It's not that they can't be quick, but the culture here is to have relaxing meals (or coffee, or drinks), so they won't give you the bum's rush if you just want to sit and hang. Plan accordingly if you are on a schedule.

  • Gasthaus Witwe Bolte

    Traditional Viennese food in the historic district of Spittalberg (a former red-light district, so I read). Tends to be crowded with locals and visitors brought there by locals to get authentic Austrian/Viennese food. Tell your local friends (me excepted, of course) that you want to go there and they should be pleasantly surprised, or protest—faintly—because they were just there with the last batch of out-of-towners.

  • Restaurant Zum Reznicek

    Traditional Viennese food, specializing in "innards", though they've cut back in the new menus. (I can still get cow brains and scrambled eggs there, but I know the chef. Note that Austria has never had a case of BSE.) If you go on the second Tuesdays of the month from September to June, you can hear live music for free. Karin's Viennese folk music group, the Liechtenthaler Quartett plays there on second Tuesdays, and I'll be there as well (for the beer as well as the food and music, but also occasionally as recording engineer). Important note: the Reznicek is not open on Saturdays.

    Update: As of June 2011, the Liechtenthaler Quartett is no longer playing monthly at the Reznicek. Please check their website or subscribe to their newsletter for future events at the Reznicek and elsewhere in Vienna.

  • Schnitzelhaus

    This is a chain that specializes in, wait for it, schnitzels. You can get turkey schnitzels, as well as turkey versions of the cordon bleu and other dishes. They also have breaded salmon (deep fried) and a veggie patty (microwaved, I kid you not). However, the schnitzels are freshly made (you see them flour, dip, bread, and fry the schnitzels while in line), and they also have brined pork schnitzels (Surschnitzel), which are yummy.

  • Nordsee

    Cafeteria style seafood restaurant chain with hot entrees, salads, and sandwiches. Part of why I like them is probably because we don't really have places like these in California. They're much more like places I frequented in New England. Another place where you can get your food quickly and leave when you need to, instead of experiencing and not necessarily enjoying the somewhat leisurely pace of the average Austrian restaurant.

  • Trzesniewski

    Spreads on breads. It sounds simple, but it's really great stuff. Each portion is about 50% larger than your standard business card, and there are some 15-20 different spreads to choose from. Deviled egg and deviled ham are familiar items, but the tomato spread is particularly memorable (and taste like tomatoes should, not like dried up ketchup). They deal well with tourists, and you can always step up to the counter and point. Go to the one near St. Stephen's (Dorotheergasse 1) and people watch. You can also order beer in "Pfiffs", that is to say, 0.2 liter beer mugs.

  • Vegetasia (warning, flash on the intro page)

    Taiwanese style vegetarian food. All fake meat, all the time, though you should not go there if you have gluten issues. We had our wedding banquet there. Highly amusing to watch our guests (mostly Austrian) trying to guess what kind of meat something wasn't. Also very good, authentic Chinese food.

    Other food related suggestions:

  • "Imbiss" or "Beisl" stands (all over, esp. near train/bus/underground stations)

    These are "snack" stands. The basic ones sell sausage variants: either in a bun, pigs-in-a-blanket style (confusingly called "hot dogs", e.g. "Hot Dog mit Bratwurst, bitte"), or in bite-sized slices on a paper plate with your choice of condiment (mustard, hot mustard, ketchup, mayo) and/or bread (slices of rye or a roll). The larger ones also sell pizza by the slice. Many sell "Doner Kabap", which is essentially a gyro but in a big bun instead of pita bread. Most sell soft drinks, bottled water, and even gum and candy. They all sell beer.

  • Naschmarkt

    A place where you can get schnitzel, goulash, pho', baba ghanoush, sushi, and pickled herring in a two-block pedestrian zone. It's a collection of semi-permanent buildings, from simple stalls to two story restaurants, selling fresh and cooked foods from all over the former Austrian empire, as well as a significant outpost of Asian and Middle-eastern cuisine. I'm betting that Lonely Planets might even have specific stands they recommend.

  • Cafes

    There are a couple of cafe chains that are considered very good: Cafe Landtmann, Cafe Aida, Linauer. There are also bakery chains that sell cakes and pastries: Der Mann, Anker, Ströck. However, you can wander into almost any cafe in the first district and get decent coffee and desserts. You can, if you wish, go to the Hotel Sacher and get a Sachertorte. Be prepared to pay too much for ok coffee. And, as every Viennese will tell you, their mother (or grandmother) makes better Sachertorte than the Hotel. However, the wait staff at the Sacher are especially good at taking their customers' pictures, with the eponymous dessert fully in frame.

  • Starbucks

    These are, unsurprisingly, all over (though there seems to be only ten of them in all of Vienna); the most egregious one is across the street from the Hotel Sacher. However, Starbucks' No Smoking policy extends to every single one of their (insert large number here) locations around the world. Warning: potentially annoying music (it sounds like every other Starbucks in the world) and lots of tourists who hang out for the fresh air. Extra plus side: 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi with each purchase. But you have to ask for the coupon.

  • Ice Cream

    The Austrians love ice cream. But they seem to be able to turn this love off by the end of October, and save it all up again until the following April, when they go nuts for the stuff again for six to seven months. That's right, ice cream parlors are seasonal. Unless the weather is exceptionally warm, they all close up by Halloween. The commercial stuff can be had in your average grocery store year-round, but it's...commercial.

  • Glühwein

    Mulled wine, usually with cinnamon and sugar. Depending on the weather, this and other hot, alcoholic drinks ("Punsch") may be available in many places. See also "Imbiss" stands and Part Three of this Guide.

  • Food Vocabulary

    "Ketchup" is ketchup, "Mayonnaise" is mayonnaise, "Senf" is mustard, "Scharf" means spicy. Most Austrians treat Tabasco the same way that most Americans treat habañero peppers. Scale your expectations accordingly. "Brot" is both bread and sandwich, the latter usage usually of the open-faced variety. "Toast" is a toasted sandwich (closed). "Salat" is both lettuce and salads in general, though the non-lettuced variety is usually labelled as such; e.g. "Herringsalat". "Kartoffel" is potato, though you will also see "Erdapfel", which is Austrian German. Also specific to Austrian German: "Paradeiser", which is the tomatoe.

    Final important food word: "Zumitnehmen": means "to go" (that's "take away" for our British English-speaking cousins).

  • Non-smoking sections are available in many places. However, eateries tend to interpret that as meaning "don't need an ashtray". You can also have situations like our local mall, which is non-smoking but they have cafes that do allow smoking. They square that circle by having tables out on the concourse be non-smoking, but the tables "in" the cafe (i.e., under the roof of the cafe) are stocked with ashtrays. Coming from the fascistically smoke-free Left Coast, Austria was a bit of a shock, lung-wise. Important note: if you're eating outside, expect to be smoked at, or at least near. (See also "Starbucks".)

    Smoking Update

    The current (September 2010) smoking ban requires that any establishment larger than 50 square meters (about 550 sq. ft) have a separate smoking room with a closed door. Given that lots of hole-in-the-wall places are not very big, the gastronomically adventurous should be prepared to endure smoking, up close and personal.

  • Avoid Mexican food here. I've had Mexican food in DC (well, Herndon). This is worse. There is a brand of "Mexican" salsa, tortillas, and corn chips called "Santa Maria" in stores here. The company is based in Sweden. Just saying. (My worst Mexican food experience was in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish should not make Mexican food.)

    End of Part the Second

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