Natural green Alpine pastures, pure spring waters and a commitment to organic farming are the fundamental ingredients that flavour the distinctive tastes of Austrian cuisine.
Food in Austria is a more wholesome affair compared to the delicate and refined fares of France or Italy. But don’t mistake its simplicity as falling short in culinary creativity. Dishes are rooted heavily in tradition, regional produce and strong influences from historical ties to neighbouring countries.
When people think of food in Austria, the humble wiener schnitzel usually nabs the top spot. Officially, to claim a dish as ‘Weiner Schnitzel’ the tenderised meat under the crumbed jacket has to be veal. The actual process of bashing out meat into a thin fillet, coating in breadcrumbs and frying is the ‘schnitzel’ part. This means you’ll see all kinds of variations on the menu, like chicken, turkey and pork. For purists, enjoy your choice of schnitzel with a potato salad and cranberry jam, but tucking into a classic side of chips with ketchup is just as satisfying.
Tiroler gröstl is a staunch favourite to come out of the Austrian mountains in the western region of the Tyrol. It’s a mishmash of fried pork, potato, onions and herbs, topped with a sunny-side-up egg. Originally this meal was a great way to use up leftovers from dinner the night before. Nowadays Tiroler gröstl has become a popular belly-filler after a hard day’s hike.
The knödel is an incredibly versatile German and Austrian speciality. Essentially a boiled dumpling, it can be a vehicle for meats, cheeses, soups, vegetables and sweet fillings. Options could be spinach dumplings bathing in a rich sauce, a side of potato dumplings with your main meal, meat dumplings in a clear soupy broth or fruit dumplings drizzled with honey and cream.
Tuck into one of the most comforting meals found across the Alps in Austria. Käsespätzle is a little like mac ‘n’ cheese – think egg noodles crossed with dumplings stirred into a creamy cheese sauce, and then plated up with a cap of crispy onions.
With beginnings in neighbouring Hungary, goulash is a stew of meat, loads of onions, heavy on the peppers and liberally seasoned with paprika plus other warming spices. Sometimes it comes with a bread roll or a few slices of rye. This meal is excellent for grey-days or when you fancy a lighter-bite.
For a hungry person’s dessert, kaiserschmarrn is guaranteed to put you in happy food-trance. It consists of thick fluffy ribbons of chopped-up pancake, dollops of tangy fruit compote finished with flurries of icing sugar. Kaiserschmarrn is brought to the table typically in a sharing skillet and the potential to pop off a couple of trouser buttons.
Like schnitzel, apfelstrudel another gastro megastar that Austria’s famous for. Gold, flaky sheets of folded filo pastry swaddle a stewed apple middle and in some places the mix is studded with raisins. Apfelstrudel is classically dusted in icing sugar and generous glug of vanilla sauce. If you’re feeling brave and can physically handle it, go for the combined holy trinity of vanilla sauce, whipped cream and ice cream.
A slice of sachertorte is made up of a dense chocolate torte with a thin layer of apricot jam, coated in a further lick of chocolate. Compared to the rustic charms of a strudel or kaiserschmarr’n, the sachertorte is at the sophisticated end of the Austrian sweet-scale. This treat is best accompanied by a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee.
Schnapps is fundamentally a brandy drink that’s 100% distilled from fruits like apples, cherries, apricots and pears. It can basically be made out of anything with natural sugars, so shots of the stuff can be bought in all kinds of flavours. Prost!
For those wanting to sip on something softer, the ‘national drink of Austria’ Almdudler is only second to Coca-Cola in popularity. Originally a bottle of carbonated pop made from herbal extracts, varieties today include sugar-free, still and g’spritzt which is a blend with fizzy mineral water.