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Vienna is so much more than Schnitzel.
It's also more than opera, Mozart, Empress Sisi, and Edelweiss on a mountainside. Vienna, Austria is a world capital of good eating, a fact that doesn't get nearly enough play. We'd almost rank it above Paris in terms of excellent culinary adventures. Below is our list of must-try Vienna foods and drinks.
What did we say about Austrians and pancakes? As opposed to Kaiserschmarrn, which is very thick pancakes, Palatschinken are thin like crepes. They’re served up hot, and with a thin filling of sweet fruit jelly or chocolate.
Where to get it: A Viennese Beisl and selected casual restaurants specializing in Austrian classics.
Order up this Mehlspeisen (warm dessert) at any cafe or restaurant as it’s nearly ubiquitous throughout Austria, let alone Vienna, and you’re in for a comforting indulgence of puff pasty, sweet and sugary apple slices in sauce, and perhaps some whip cream or warm vanilla sauce to top it off.
Where to get it: Any self-respecting Vienna cafe, restaurant, or Beisl.
What? You've never heard of Almdudler, the unofficial national drink of Austria? Lovers of ginger ale and light un-colas will fall in love at first sip; Almdudler's flavor is a bit like an elderflower natural ginger ale, complete with the charm of a dancing Trachten couple on the bottle.
Where to get it: Any grocery store or vending machines.
There’s a list longer than a train we could add for coffee specialties to try in Vienna, but it’s the Einspänner that most reminds us of walks in the crisp air of the Naschmarkt, ducking into a cafe for a warm-up and hit of caffeine. The Einspänner—which is actually a name for a type of carriage—is a double espresso topped with homemade whipped cream, served up in a clear glass.
Where to get it: Every classic Vienna cafe.
Goulash is Hungarian, yes, but Austria borders Hungary and Vienna especially borrows much of the country’s gastronomia to flavor its own specialties, among them Erdapfel Gulasch. Erdapfel is Austrian for potato, thus this goulash counts potatoes as a staple along with beef and a mild paprika sauce.
Where to get it: Most restaurants, Beisl and cafes offer a form of Gulasch.
We’ve left out Sacher Torte from this list for a very good reason. Sacher Torte was developed by the Cafe Sacher, and it's all everyone talks about. It's so rich and dense that we couldn't make it through an entire piece and generally think it's over-hyped. What is deserving of the attention, however, is the Esterházy Torte, named for a prince and diplomat of the Austrian Empire. Invented in Budapest but quickly appropriated by Viennese cafe culture, the Torte is described by Wikipedia thusly: "it consists of buttercream spiced with cognac or vanilla, sandwiched between four to five layers of almond meringue (macaroon) dough. The torte is iced with a fondant glaze and decorated with a characteristic chocolate striped pattern."
Where to get it: Esterházy Torte is found in bakeries and the cake cases of cafes around the city.
Vienna just happens to be the only major metropolitan area to have extensive vineyards and winemaking within city limits. Excellent white wines like Riesling and Gruener Veltliner as well as reds like Blauburger and Zweigelt are easily enjoyed, but it’s an ordinary table wine you’ll most want to try. Gemischter Satz is a Viennese blended dry white wine known for its crispy, fruity, earthy notes. In 2013 it received protection with a DAC seal (Districtus Austriae Controllatus), meaning a wine may only call itself Gemischter Satz if it meets stringent production requirements, such as having its grapes traced to a registered winery within the confines of Vienna.
Where to get it: Weingut Wieninger and other Vienna-area wineries.
Geröstete Knödel mit Ei
It's breakfast for dinner! Kinda. Geröstete Knödel mit Ei translates to roasted dumplings with egg, and that's essentially what it is, albeit with parsley and onion added to the mix. Imagine making a savory omelet, chopping it up, and serving it for dinner with a nice salad.
Where to get it: We dug into Geröstete Knödel mit Ei at Amerlingsbeisl.
This sweet cake is so traditional and so beloved that Austrian Airlines actually serve it onboard, theirs made by the Vienna company DO & Co. Gugelhupf doesn’t ooze with frosting or jelly, but instead is a dense bundt cake with raisins or almonds, and best served as an accompaniment to a tea or coffee break.
Where to get it: Onboard Austrian Airlines, or any Viennese bakery.
The Dutch may love pancakes, but Austria is also very much in the pancake game. Kaiserschmarrn is a thick (like Texas toast-thick) pancake, cut up into pieces for easier eating, and topped with rum-soaked raisins, apple or plum sauce, cinnamon, and powdered sugar.
Where to get it: We ate it with breakfast and dinner at the restaurant 1500 Foodmakers.
Forget Mozartkugeln; Manner Schnitten are the true tiny treats of Vienna. Created in the late 1800s and still manufactured within the city, these delicate wafer cookies of layered hazelnut cream sport a salmon-pink air-tight wrapper. There’s even a dedicated Manner store within Vienna’s airport.
Where to get it: Any grocery store and especially in the Manner store at Vienna Airport.
With dessert menus so overloaded with cakes and dumplings, cookies are sadly a last choice. When you’ve had enough Studel, however; Mohnkipferl, little U-shaped cookies made with poppy seeds, will be there for you. The poppy seeds make them super extra crunchy, and the crumbliness with the crunchy is half the fun.
Where to get it: Any self-respecting Viennese bakery.
Schnitzel vom Kalb
Schnitzel is what to order before a dessert of Apfelstrudel, if you seek to enjoy a traditional dinner of the most obvious iconic dishes. Specifying vom Kalb means that your thin, tender, pan-fried to a perfect golden brown cut of meat will be veal, versus other options of chicken or pork.
Where to get it: Most Austrian restaurants will have some sort of Schnitzel on the menu. For a perfectly puffed veal, we headed to the Restaurant Leupold.
One word for a complete, hearty meal. That’s Tafelspitz. It refers to a slow-boiled, lean and tender cut of beef enjoyed with an array of condiments. These are dependent on the restaurant or chef’s preferences, but traditional toppings include horseradish, applesauce, spinach cream, and dill or chive sauce.
Where to get it: Most Austrian restaurants and Beisln offer Tafelspitz.
When you've had enough of Apfelstrudel, then it's Topfenstrudel time. Topfenstrudel is a bit like Vienna's version of cheesecake, seeing as it's made using soft Quark cheese ("Topfen," in Austrian).
Where to get it: Vienna's varied cafes typically offer Topfenstrudel.
The perfect hard candy, Wiener Zuckerl are not too sweet, not too sour; these oblong little candies feature a strip of tart fruit flavoring down their center. Pop one and fold your tongue around it, absentmindedly enjoying the light sugar sweetness until the soft center's surprise makes a flavor cameo. We're pretty obsessed with the lemon Zuckerl, and we typically hate anything lemon-flavored that's not a real lemon. Bonus: they're made in Vienna!
Where to get it: Make a bee-line for the candy aisle of any regular grocery store in Vienna.
What a word! It's all those letters which initially drew us to the dish, only to discover that ordering the longer word on the menu also meant enjoying a traditional Viennese Mehlspeisen (warm dessert). Zwetschgenknödeln are sweet dumplings, a bit like an American apple dumpling, but with the dough encasing a sugared, hot plum. To finish they are rolled in breadcrumbs and given a quick fry.