VIENNA, June 6 – It’s sweltering and sunny in Vienna. An Austrian summer comes early.
The city’s parks and gardens are filled with residents and visitors alike. Some are escaping the heat by hiding beneath the canopy of large trees. Others, glad to be rid of the chill of spring, are soaking up the rays in search of a decent tan.
Shade or sun, the heat means it’s a thirsty business being out and about.
Thankfully there are plenty of water fountains, around every street corner it seems. In typical Austrian fashion, these public facilities announce sharply, 'Trink Wasser!” ('Drink water!” in German); almost more of an order than a recommendation.
Regardless of its tone, it’s good advice. It’s easy to get dehydrated with the rising humidity as midday looms. Of course, the locals don’t all flock to the nearest Trinkwasserbrunnen for a sip of water.
Any respectable Austrian - or Viennese, as it were, given the city - would tell you their drink of choice would be a glass of cold beer, preferably a Märzen (not unlike a Bavarian Helles, but sweeter and more amber in colour) or even a a full-bodied Vienna lager (for those who are nostalgic for its toasty malted notes).
Prefer your bubbly without the booze? There are plenty of sparkling water options, some with added fruit juices like lemon or elderflower. Or perhaps just a well chilled bottle of Apfelsaft; nothing quite like a cold glass of apple juice in summer.
Whichever your thirst quencher of choice, you’re likely to enjoy it sitting down at one of Vienna’s many pubs and taverns. Some of these are a local landmark, depending on the neighbourhood or street you find yourself in.
These Viennese bistros or Beisl are no-nonsense, traditional spaces where diners can order their favourite beers (poured at the bar) and enjoy an ample menu of comfort foods.
Being in Austria, this means the usual suspects such as a Wiener Schnitzel (fried, breadcrumb-coated veal) or a Tafelspitz (beef boiled in broth, and served with apple and horseradish). Or my favourite Austrian dish, the Käsespätzle, which is a dish of fried dumpling-noodles with oodles cheese and fried onions.
We don’t always have to stick to traditions though. We can escape our comfort zones the way picnickers escape the relentless glare of a noontime sun.
Why not try something different for a change?
Instead of the thin broth that serves as gravy for the Tafelspitz, why not go all out with a bowl of Gulasch? The hearty, paprika-spiced beef stew can come in many forms, depending on the bistro or restaurant - from a tomato red to a dark, glossy brown thanks to the beef drippings and red wine.
That darker version is also known as the Wiener Saftgulasch, a reminder that many dishes on the menu are Austrian but not all of them are Viennese. There’s something about the Austrian capital and 'City of Music” (home to many classical greats such as Beethoven and Mozart) that sets it apart.
You can eat the Gulasch with bread rolls, of course, but the Austrian way is to enjoy it with Semmelknödel, or bread dumplings. I would definitely go for the latter as it reminds me of my own Bavarian summers, years and years ago.
Bavaria and Austria share a border (or as some might say, the Alps). And borders are melting or have been for centuries, migration makes even the most localised of cuisines mutable and, hopefully in some cases, welcoming of new culinary influences.
One Beisl staple that is popular with the Viennese isn’t even 'born” here but 'borrowed” and embraced: the Ćevapčići. Hailing from the Balkans, this grilled dish isn’t dissimilar to the kebab.
These rolls of minced meat, typically beef or lamb, are often served in a flatbread with sour cream, but in Vienna, you’re more likely to see it on a plate with plenty of fries and a fresh salad. However it’s presented, it’s a savoury, almost smoky treat.
Another fuss-free delicacy is the Faschierte Laibchen (which translates to 'minced meat patties” in German). These look like burger patties without the buns, but bear in mind that these 'burger steaks” came first before the fast food version we are all familiar with.
Known as Frikadellen in neighbouring Germany, these patties are made with a mix of ground beef and ground pork (the actual ratio tends to be the chef’s secret but you can’t go wrong with a 50/50 blend to begin with).
The meat patties are then pan fried to achieve a crunchy crust and served with a rich and creamy side of Erdäpfelpüree, super-smooth mashed potatoes the way only the Viennese know how. (Rest assured plenty of butter is involved!)
How can you tell it’s a Viennese take on mashed potatoes though? A generous sprinkling of fried onions or fried shallots (the way you’d expect a proper Käsespätzle to be adorned) atop the mash is a dead giveaway.
After your mains, you could remain at the table and order some Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes, baked and served with applesauce) or a sinful slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake layered with apricot jam).
Or you could head outside again, take in more of the fresh air and early summer sun. Drop by the nearest gelateria and taste all the flavours of ice cream that intrigue you before deciding which will end up being your precious scoops of choice.
There are classic flavours such as Schokolade (chocolate) and Haselnuss (hazelnut). Some, such as Maroni (sweet chestnuts) and Joghurt Waldbeer (yoghurt and wild berries), are seasonal offerings. Others are an acquired taste: Topfen (quark, a sort of curd cheese), Mohn (poppyseed) or Kaugummi (chewing gum), anyone?
Enjoy your Eistüte (ice cream cone) while strolling the same streets where Beethoven or Mozart might have once walked upon. Or find the nearest bench, sit down and watch the world go by as you savour every lick, every moment of this lovely Viennese summer.
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