“Oh my God, how was it?” is the phrase put to me most often today. I have just arrived home from a quick ten-day trip to Europa, to celebrate the momentous occasion of my Opa’s 85th birthday in Austria. My father hails from a small (ish), rural (ish) town called Dornbirn in the East of Austria. From the balcony of my grandparents’ home we look over the Swiss mountains and the Bodensee, which separates Germany from Austria.
These trips are always family focused. All in all about seventy relatives gathered in the nearby mountain village of Schwarzenberg for Opa’s birthday party, including all five of his children, all seven of their children and all three of THEIR children. He’s a pretty cool guy. He skied well into his seventies, until eventually a broken collarbone put an end to his active lifestyle but not an end to his daredevil ways. For his eightieth birthday, he booked himself a spot on an expedition to Antarctica.
So yip, a pretty cool guy.
I’ve been visiting Austria pretty regularly since my first trip at 3 months old, for my Christening. My grandparents’ really enjoy a nice meal out, something which my dad inherited from them and which I in turn have inherited from him. And Austrian and German cuisine is some of my favourite in the world. It’s good, soul-warming family comfort food and it’s the best feeling in the world.
These are my personal favourite top ten menu picks, which you should most definitely order next time you’re in that part of the world. (I’ve avoided listing things like Apfelstrudel and Gluhwein because they’re not firm favourites of mine and also, you already know what they are):
(All pictures courtesy of Google search.)
V O R S P E I S E
Flaedlesuppe (n. pancake soup) is a traditional broth soup served with cut up strips of pancake, herbs and sometimes carrots. It’s the perfect, light meal or appetizer, the kind of thing grandma would serve at Sunday lunch.
Kartoffelsalat (n. potato salad) isn’t exactly a starter, it’s usually served as a side and often as part of a gemischte Salat (n. mixed salad) but it’s easily one of my favourite dishes. There is not one single drop of mayonnaise in it. The yellow potatoes are boiled in broth and then doused in vinegar and it is amazing. I could eat buckets. Tastes especially good on top of a schnitzel.
H A U P T S P E I S E
Tafelspitz (n. point of the table) widely listed as the national meal of Austria, which (disclaimer) is the main reason I’m listing it here because it’s not really one of my favourites. It is boiled veal served with horseradish and usually some kind of potato side and vegetables. If cooked well, it can be amazing.
Wiener Schnitzel mit Pommes Frites (n. Schnitzel with fries) is the ULTIMATE and potentially the only dish on this list you’d recognise but it’s just that damn good it had to be named. I have to actively stop myself from ordering this at every single meal and for dessert. You think you’ve had schnitzel? You don’t even know what proper schnitzel is. Those crumbed things you buy from Woolies wish they could be schnitzels one day. These ones are made from either veal (Kalb) or pig (Schwein), lightly crumbed and fried to perfection. This needs to go on your essentials list.
Rindsgulasch Mit Spätzle (n. beef goulash with egg noodles) is my second favourite meal. I alternate between this and Schnitzel. Spätzle are kind of hard to explain. They’re kind of like a traditional egg noodle slash dumpling thing, which is often substituted for pasta. It’s first boiled and then lightly friend in butter and is one of the greatest things you will ever put in your mouth, particualry when soaked in gulash sauce (basically, gravy). And honorary mention also needs to go to Käsespätzle (n. cheese egg noodles) which is the Austrian answer to mac ‘n cheese. Except made with good cheese and served with fried onion sprinkled on top. A firm favourite of my grandfather’s.
N A C H T I S C H
Germknödel (n. yeast dumpling) is a giant, fluffy dumpling filled with spicy plum jam and doused in melted butter, sugar and poppy seeds and can usually be found on menus at the top of ski lifts. My grandmother and I sometimes eat this as as a main course because it’s so big and delightful.
Kaiserschmarrn (n. Emperor’s mishmash) is another of those ski lift favourites, which my grandfather introduced me too. Thick, fluffy pancakes with raisins in the batter are cut into chunks, sprinkled liberally with castor sugar and served with a pot of plum preserve and sometime fresh fruit. Plum preserve is all the rage here, most deservedly. It’s named after Kaiser Franz Joseph I, who loved this dish. It’s sometimes served as a main meal.
G E T R Ä N K E
Almdudler (brand name) is something you’ll probably only find in Austria; it’s a novelty even to other Germanic countries. This soft drink is made with 32 natural Alpine herbs and has a sort of lemony ginger ale kind of taste. It’s super refreshing, not too sweet at all and is strangely addicitve. Give it a try, just once. You’re literally not going to get it anywhere else in the world.
Spezi (brand name; sometimes branded as Mezzo Mix) is a throwback to my childhood. I haven’t actually ordered it in a while but between the ages of seven and sixteen, this stuff was my heroin. It’s orange cola. You can try and make a similar thing at home by mixing Fanta, Coke and a splash of Sprite but, trust me, it’s never going to taste quite right. This stuff is the bizniss.
And after a long day of skiing and sightseeing, there is nothing quite as refreshing as burying your face in big, German jugs
of Bier (n. beer).
Served best with brezel (n. pretzel), wurst (n. sausage) or a hot blonde in a dirndl.