Monday, September 08, 2008

Vienna: Food

No trip would be complete without a little reflection on food. A subject always close to my heart. Whilst G & Mr.T's memories of Austrian food was affected by their recent holiday in June (tinned spuds anyone?) most of the food we had in Vienna was excellent. The wedding breakfast was particularly fine and I made sure I had a taste of most things. The dishes that I tried in Vienna that stuck most in my mind were the following dishes.

On our first evening we had a basket of bread and a plate of olives, capers, oil and some cheese dip. A similar cheese dip or spread was also available on the breakfast buffet it was a light orange and had something like capers or olives chopped into it. On returning home my first search for an Austrian cheese spread found Schmierkaese, but I don't think it was this. It is more likely it was the Hungarian dish Liptauer. I found various recipes for this but in the end found quite a good one in of all places: a Nigella book (Nigella Bites). I decided to have a go and came up with my own version which although not quite the same as in Vienna, I quite like it and people seemed to like when I brought it along to the first, last and only beach barbecue held in the last weekend of August. Apparently it is good spread on the kind of dark charcoaly cheese biscuits that I suspect you can only get in swanky London delis or possibly Waitrose - though I found there was nothing wrong with a Scottish oatcake, Ryvita, breadstick or toast. For the curd cheese the recipe asked for, I used Quark and the modifications included a little Spanish sweet smoked paprika as well as Hungarian. A teaspoon or so of tomato puree made it in there as well (primarily as a colouring). Bircher Muesli was available at breakfast as well which I quite liked - I had never tried this before, not being a morning person the idea of grating apple into presoaked oats first thing in the morning seems to be a little too dangerous a task for me (fire no problem, graters - bad idea). It was creamy and delicious and worth trying especially if I could find a truly leakproof container for taking it to work with me. (I know Bircher muesli isn't necessarily Austrian butSwitzerland is just next door)

On our last night out we were wanting somewhere a little Austrian and close to the hotel. We found a "brew house" with its own micro-brewery and serving some traditional food. Whilst the boys had liver dumpling soup (erm not for me thanks) I went for the Alt Wiener Knoblauchsuppe - which translated as "Viennese Garlic Soup". It was lovely, good and garlicy (though noone complained the next day), it came with croutons and a generous topping of whipped cream - not for those watching their calorie intake (I had given up caring). I had a little look for a recipe to try in the future and found one over at Tea & Cookies on reading her entry it sounds like she used to live in the same area where we had this soup. If I try this I will let you know the outcome.

There were puddings aplenty at S & X's wedding and one I quite liked was a traditional one, it was described to us as curd pudding and plum sauce. Austrian M, who was on our table, said it was like a chopped pancake or omelette. G, who has an interesting relationship with eggs gave it a wide berth, but I found it rather nice. I have since found that the proper name is Kaiserschmarren. I have a postcard with a recipe which I may try out, but as it has been translated into English the weights are rather odd imperial/US measures which are in funny fractions (I think it is a quite literal conversion from metric to US). At the very least plum sauce has to be tried again (even if just went over vanilla ice cream).

No trip to Vienna would be complete without some Sachertorte. Most of the people I have come across find that they are disappointed with it - I think they are expecting a luxurious and indulgent fudgy chocolate cake or something akin to an Austrian version of Black Forest Gateau. What you really get is a light-ish chocolate sponge with apricot jam and chocolate icing with whipped cream on the side (not pouring cream - according to Austrian M, to an Austrian, the idea of pouring cream over pudding is just plain weird). The slice I had in the cafe next to the Butterfly House was okay (even without the cream which was missing) but I couldn't help remembering and preferring the mini-Sachertorte I had in June, in London. Before you can gasp in horror at my blasphemy, I would point out that this was sampled at the Taste Festival where the Viennese Tourist Board had a stand with the Cafe Demel (one of Vienna's most famous cafes). There are two kinds of Sachertorte to be had and I prefer the Demel Sachertorte which has the apricot jam on the outside of the cake (instead of sandwiched between) with the chocolate glazing over the top. The one I had in London was also scrummy because it was still warm (not technically authentic but there was quite a lot of demand to be met) it was also ALL MINE. Also, the ratio of chocolate icing and apricot jam was slightly higher as it was a small individual sachertorte as opposed to a slice from a full size one. Anyway I think I'll direct you at this point to Nigel Slater's opinion in The Observer on the Sachertorte as he makes a much better case (being a pro. food writer and all), I think the the recipe he provides is worth a try as well.

To finish I must give an honourable mention to the soft drink Almduddler. As a fizzy pop its okay, quite refreshing in fact. What I liked most about it though was the cute bottle it came in. (yes I am a sucker for cute packaging - thats why I married M)

What? No Wiener Schnitzel? Sadly, no.


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