Austria’s like the good-looking, popular, clever, funny kid in school… the one you want to hate but you can’t because they’re just so lovely. It just does everything really, really well. I mean, it doesn’t just have a few mountains – it has truly awesome Alps covering 63% of the country. It not only brought Red Bull and the Von Trapp family to the world, it perfected the coffee house too. And it didn’t produce just any old composers, it produced Mozart for goodness’ sake.
And if you’re still not convinced, I have two words for you… Arnold. Schwarzenegger.
So with all that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Austrian cuisine is just as good as everything else Austria does. I stuffed as much of it into my face as I possibly could when I was there recently (in the name of research, of course), and it was brilliant. Here are some things you should definitely eat when you go there (spoiler alert, there are a…
You absolutely cannot – nay, MUST not – go to Salzburg, or anywhere else in Austria for that matter, without eating a schnitzel. A wiener-schnitzel is the epitome of Austrian cuisine. It’s a big, battered, flattened, breaded and fried slab of tender veal. It’s actually not served with noodles, so I’m sorry if I (or the Von Trapp family) misled you – it’s usually served very simply with a lemon wedge and parsley potatoes. Compared to some other cuisines it even looks a little plain, but wait til you have a bite in your mouth before making any judgements. I found a particularly good one in the Old Town, just off Getreidegasse at the Elefant hotel’s restaurant. The meat was ridiculously tender and almost as big as the plate it came on. The parsley potatoes were waxy and buttery, and of course it came with the obligatory lemon wedge – but also pot of tart cranberry jelly, which lifted the whole meal beautifully. Order a schweine-schnitzel if you prefer pork and/or enjoy saying those words together.
Strudel can pretty much be described as a hug on a plate. A cream/custard/ice cream smothered hug, which of course are the best kinds. You can have all kinds of strudel – a strudel is a filled layered pastry, so you can have cherry strudels, nut strudels, plum strudels… but if you’re in Austria, I say be a purist about it and have apple or cheese. If you take the Sound of Music coach tour, eat strudel at Braun’s café in Mondsee just outside the city. You’ll get one plus a coffee for around €7, and it’s quite honestly swimming in vanilla sauce.
But if you’re staying in the city, head to Café Wùrfel Zucker on Griessgasse, in between Getreidegasse and the river. They make a mean strudel… flaky, buttery pastry; a sweet but tart and very apple-y apple filling, and best of all a, holy trinity of accompaniments – ice cream, vanilla sauce and cream.
This was actually invented in Vienna in 1832, by a 16 year old trainee chef called Franz Sacher, but Salzburg is a great place to eat it too. Sachertorte is a dense, rich chocolate sponge cake with a thin layer of sweet apricot jam in the middle and another on top of the sponge. All this sweet loveliness is blanketed underneath a thick layer of dark chocolate icing. It traditionally comes with whipped cream, and it is very, very good indeed. I ate this in Salzburg’s most obvious place – the Hotel Sacher, which serves the ‘original’ Sacher Torte.
The Sacher Café at the hotel has a beautiful outdoor terrace where you can sit by the river to enjoy your cake, but it also has a shop where you can buy the cake to take with you, or even have delivered to wherever in the world you want it sent.
I was so unsure about this initially.
Boiled beef is a special thing to try? Really? I have to say, the description of this meal did not have my mouth watering – BUT. BUT. Tafelspitz is one of Austria’s most famous dishes for a reason, and I was absolutely going to try it. Because I was a little apprehensive, I wanted to eat it somewhere with a good reputation, so I headed for a restaurant called Schloss Aigen, about a 15-20 minute drive from Hotel Mirabel where I was staying.
It’s a really nice place, and although it is a little pricier than some other restaurants I looked at, they know their way around a kitchen and I’d happily pay again for this little number. The meat was far more tender then I ever imagined it would be, the sauces were perfect accompaniments and the potatoes were glorious. The photo really doesn’t do it justice, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Oh dear. This sweet, dumplingy, meringue-y creation is nothing less than glorious. And it’s huge. And if you’re lucky, it’s served on a bed of raspberry sauce. I also ate this at the Elefant hotel’s restaurant – it is called S’nockerl after all, and if you name your restaurant after an item on your menu, you better have absolutely nailed that item.
They nailed that item.
This is a dessert for two and it takes 25 minutes to prepare and cook. If – like me – you are travelling alone, I suggest that you just have one for lunch and forget about eating normal savoury food. Sometimes we should all substitute real food for cake, plus it’s very filling and very delicious. You won’t regret it.
Or as they are called in Austrian, ‘Mozartkugeln’ (but it’s much more fun to say you’re going to eat Mozart balls). Salzburg’s signature sweets are made up of gorgeous layers of flavoured filling; pistachio marzipan in the middle, surrounded by nougat, and a smooth round shell of quality chocolate on the outside. These little bonbons have caused quite a stir in their time, with a bunch of different confectioners fighting over the right to use the name and stake their claim as the ‘original’ (or best) balls.
The official original ones are from Konditorei Furst, who have a charming little shop and café in Brodgasse square. You can buy them by the ball here for €1.10. They also do a mean hot chocolate and excellent cakes and pastries. Go there, and have at it.
On my first morning in Salzburg I went straight from the airport to check-in, then straight out for a fantastic walking tour of the city led by a wonderful and very knowledgeable guide, Roman. I hadn’t eaten in about five hours. The situation was dire. I had an expert on the history of the city giving me all kinds of great information, and I was in danger of listening to none of it because all I wanted was something to eat. Then I found the pretzel bread.
In University Square, very close to Getreidegasse there are a number of stalls selling all sorts of lovely things – fruit and veg, bratwurst, chocolate, and huge big delicious looking bread pretzels from Salzburger Brezen Reisinger. I’m not sure how reliable a reviewer I am for these – when I ordered one, I hadn’t eaten in about six hours and was at a critical stage of hunger mid-walking tour. But if you are walking about in Salzburg, and you haven’t eaten in about six hours, one of these will definitely sort you out. Half of one, actually, and they’re only €3.50.
There is so much more I wanted to eat in Salzburg that I never quite got around to, and when I go back I’ll be ordering dumplings, sausages, and every type of cake served in Café Bazar.
Flights to Salzburg
- Dee Murray