Food in Vienna
The Viennese take pride in their cuisine, which as they like to point out, is the only one in the world named after a city. While much of it is also quintessentially Austrian, some dishes remain distinct. Like the city itself, the food is at the crossroads of central and eastern Europe. Once the seat of an entire empire, many of Vienna’s classic dishes originate from neighbouring lands.
Traditional Viennese cuisine is in general quite heavy and based on meat. The most common dish is of course the Wiener Schnitzel, which is breaded and deep fried veal. Served with a wedge of lemon and a side of parsley potatoes, this is the national dish of Austria. Many families also enjoy it as a Sunday midday meal. Other traditional meat-based dishes include:
- Gulash - a thick stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika
- Schweinsbraten - roasted pork
- Tafelspitz - boiled beef served in broth
Sides tend to be quite carbohydrate-heavy. If not potatoes, other popular items include:
- Knödel - large, round, potato or bread-based dumplings
- Spätzle - small, doughy egg noodles
- Schinkenfleckerl - a ham and cheese pasta bake
- Krautfleckerl - a cabbage and cheese pasta bake
Typical Viennese traditions
With a rich baking tradition, Viennese cuisine is all about a slice of extravagant cake when it comes to dessert. The most famous of all in Vienna is the Sachertorte. This beloved chocolate sponge cake has a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and is topped by a dark chocolate icing. Its origins were the topic of a legendary legal battle waged between Hotel Sacher and Demel bakery, two iconic Viennese establishments. Try a slice at each and see if you can figure out which tastes more ‘original’. Other traditional desserts include Palatschinken, which are sweet crepes with various fillings, or Strudel, a layered pastry filled most often with apples or sweetened quark cheese.
For the ultimate experience in traditional dining, skip the gourmet restaurants and head straight for a Wiener Beisl. These no-frills beer houses serve up hearty classic dishes and are the scenes of lively evenings among locals out for a bite to eat.
One of the more remarkable characteristics of food in Vienna is the refreshing extent to which dishes in the city rely upon local and seasonal ingredients. Interestingly, restaurants do this without labelling themselves as such, which is truly a reflection of the Austrian food philosophy on the whole. A local or seasonal ‘food movement’ cannot be found here because it has been this way since the start. With four distinct seasons, food items vary greatly and are celebrated with unique traditions and even festivals when they become available again with the advent of a new season. The return of pumpkins, chanterelle mushrooms, chestnuts, wild garlic, asparagus, berries, and apricots are especially looked forward to.
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Drinks and café culture
In terms of drinks in Vienna, beer, wine, and coffee are the essentials. Starting with the first of the day, coffee plays an integral role in the psyche of the city. The traditional café culture is truly something every visitor must experience. One can sit for hours on end in a Viennese café reading from a wide selection of international newspapers, sipping caffeinated concoctions, and eating pastries and cake. This element of local life is so loved in fact, that UNESCO officially classified it in 2011 as belonging to the ‘intangible cultural heritage’ of the city. The Viennese guard it seriously indeed. Check out Demel, Café Sacher, or Café Central. Between beer and wine, locals prefer the latter. The city’s extensive vineyards make it hard not to, with delicious and affordable wine produced right within the city limits. In autumn, the Viennese go crazy for Sturm, a seasonal drink of wine in its early stages.
Another quintessential dining experience is that of the Heurigen. These are unique wine taverns in and around Vienna’s vineyards loved for their rustic décor, traditional food, local wine, and outdoor dining gardens, often under a trellis of grape vines. Located mostly in the north of the city, they can be spotted from the outside by an iconic hanging green wreath or branch that indicates they are open for business.
Seeking international options?
Finally, if Viennese cuisine isn’t to your liking, you definitely have other possibilities. The city is full of extensive international options that cater to global palates. A trip to the Naschmarkt alone results in a myriad of restaurant choices from around the world. A new scene on the rise is also challenging the concept and limits of traditional dishes, as restaurants have begun to reinterpret classic cuisine. Places like Österreicher im Mak or Skopik & Lohn have received rave reviews for the new spin they put on Viennese dishes when incorporating daring spices and fusion flair.
One thing is for certain—you will not go hungry in Vienna. Mahlzeit!