White asparagus soup with dumpling and salmon, totally sublime from Gasthaus Stainzerbauer, Graz

 

Austria isn’t especially known as a foodie destination, except possibly for the pastries and its being home of the chocolate Sacher torte named for the Viennese hotel. So when I had the chance to do a foodie’s tour of Austria, I welcomed the chance to confirm or debunk a myth. From the capital city of Vienna to Graz, the Alpine towns of Gastein and Salzburg, I did some serious research. The findings? Wait until you see the photos!

To be sure, there is plenty of what you’d think — the bread crumb coated and crispy fried veal called wiener schnitzel and a chicken version as well, plenty of  tasty roasted potatoes, crusty hearth baked breads, craft beers, and plump wursts of all shapes, sizes and colors. But there’s some serious creative cooking going on using local ingredients thanks to a strong farm-to-table movement, fertile lands and unpolluted lakes and streams, temperate climate thanks to the Danube River,  and chefs who have worked around the world, returning to their home turf. I was also impressed, especially in Salzburg, by how young people are carrying on the traditions of gourmet shops, some many decades old. Here’s a look at some of the new creative cooking, and more detail on the foodie scene (note, no images of the traditional Austrian cooking which we mostly ate in Vienna and enjoyed every mouthful).

Traditionally monks baked bread for the village and here in Salzburg, the tradition continues with these round loaves of wheat bread and another that’s similar in taste to pannetone. Salzburg was ruled by an Archbishop for many years, called the “Rome of the North”, and the Italian influence remains (plus it’s near Trieste). Never were there fewer than five different breads at breakfast — from potato and rye to pumpkin and various kinds of dark bread, always freshly baked.

what to eat in austria

Under the fried chicken skin garnish is grilled Artic char from Eckstein in Graz. Though one can find ocean fishes, most fish is from the lakes and streams– from pike and carp to trout. A favorite garnish is red and golden beets.

what to eat in austria

Artic char with red beets and fried chicken skin

Pizza pretzels, donut pretzels, hazelnut pretzels,  bacon pretzels, cinnamon pretzels, cheese and bacon pretzels. You name it, there’s a pretzel for it. And we’re talking big pretzels, none of those minis thank you very much. Find them on wurst stands, in farmers markets, metro stations, and the dough is also used in rolls, though without the salt.

what to eat in Austria

Find every imaginable kind of pretzel, sweet and savory

Mustard ice cream might not sound so good but it’s delicious. It illustrates a way Austrian chefs take a popular local ingredient, in this case a condiment, and give it new uses. Here it’s teamed with carpaccio of golden and red beets with wild broccoli, quinoa and mustard seeds at Carl in Graz.

what to eat in Ausria

Red and golden beet salad with broccoli and mustard ice cream

Wild garlic is in season and here it’s made into a light soup and garnished with a quail egg and fried vegetable at Bertahof in Bad Gastein.

what to eat in austria

Wild garlic soup with quail egg and fried vegetable slice

Fresh oh so sweet seasonal strawberries served with whipped cream (mit schlag) at the entrance to the rooftop restaurant of the Grand Ferdinand Hotel in Vienna.

what to eat in Austria

The Italian culinary influence I alluded to earlier — tagliolini with chanterelles, goat cheese and parsley in a cream sauce at M32 on a mountain overlooking Salzburg.

what to eat in austria

Thick white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, gnocchi and local cured ham also from Bertahof in Bad Gastein. Note the lovely presentation of the asparagus.

what to eat in austria

The lamb as well is a standout, happy lambs raised in Southeastern Austria, in the Styrian region (the capital is Graz) known as the “Garden of Austria”. Here the lamb is teamed with a potato gratin and chanterelles.

What to eat in Austria

Food informs art as well. Here a larger than life sculpture of a potato seen at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. It was part of an exhibit by one of Austria’s leading contemporary artists, Erwin Wurm.

potato sculpture by Erwin Wurm

No culinary visit to Austria means anything without trying one of the wursts in a street stand. They’re served with a slice of black bread or on a roll, with mustard, ketchup, freshly grated horseradish and optional pickle, pickled peppers and fries. OMG. First, the street stand….

what to eat in austria

The wursts….

what to eat in austria

How could I end this without a mention of my favorite dessert. It’s not the Sacher torte, but its lesser known competition from the Imperial Hotel– the Imperial Torte. Light cocoa crème is filled in between six ­layers of delicate almond wafers. Finally, fine chocolate glaze covers the sublime marzipan beneath.

what to eat in austria

The Imperial torte

And there are many other food products and specialties to write about……Styrian apples, pumpkin seed oil, jams, scarlet runner beans, cakes and more cakes, cheeses, charcuterie, and local red and white wines. Are you drooling yet?



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