I know, I PROMISED I was going to write about forms in Vienna, and I know that’s what everyone is dying to hear about, but I can’t stop myself tonight. I must talk about the food.
The FOOD. Where do I even begin?
I guess lets start with perception and history. When USians think of “European” food, they* tend to think of Italian, French, maybe Tapas (Spanish) if they are in a culturally advanced area… you know, something with CUISINE.
German/Austrian food carries the perception of sausages. And my god (or should I now be saying “Mein Gott”?), the sausages. They are, in fact everywhere. However, let me also add in ham, sandwiches with tons of bread and a thin strip of meat, ham, “sandwiches” which are actually tiny pieces of bread open-faced with some spread on them (cream cheese, egg salad, ham salad, something spready), ham, pork chops, ham, bacon, ham, fried pork, ham, potatoes, and ham.
And onion-flavored EVERYTHING.
I realize the previous lines make it sound like I am unhappy with the food, and I totally am not. Aside from the preponderance of ham, I pretty much love it all. But where beef (and chicken/turkey) are the most common meats found in the US, here it’s pig. And more pig. Pork chops, pork cutlets, 80 kinds of bacon, 150 kinds of sausage, roasted, fried, baked, and ham. Looking for non-ham coldcuts in the grocery store is a real challenge, because there’s usually ONE turkey thing… everything else that says turkey on it is a kind of turkey ham.
I haven’t dipped into the bacon, but my US-ness does recoil a bit from eating it raw, which is how you are supposed to eat the vast majority of it. Apparently cooking ruins the delicate flavors.
The first few days we were here, when my body was still adjusting to the time-zone, I wouldn’t eat, and then I would be suddenly STARVING. So KH would haul us into the nearest restaurant, where I would be too hungry to experiment, and so I would have the schnitzel. Trust me, it’s VERY HARD to fuck up deep fried pork cutlet, as I have learned.
This is the classic regional stuff, of course. There ARE Italian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Turkish, Greek, pretty much everything restaurants, grocery stores and food, just like in DC or New York. It IS a large, cosmopolitan city in the middle of Europe. But while KH and I dabbled a bit in exploring the other cuisines on my other visits (there’s an excellent Indian restaurant across the street from where we live), I’m sticking with the local, or classic stuff for now.
There’s a street food stand every 10 feet. Hot dogs, noodles, sushi (no, I am NOT brave enough to order sushi from a stand), kebap (gyros), pizza…. be very careful with the pizza. They like to put tuna fish on it here. And not high-grade seared tuna. They open a can and dump it on the pizza. SO WRONG.
There is ice NOWHERE. Everything is refrigerated, and if you order a soda, it will come cold, but without ice. Apparently the view here is that if they are putting ice in the glass, you’re getting ripped off. Which is probably why at more than half the places I have eaten, if you order a soda, you get a bottle.
They differentiate between the female and male turkeys in the grocery store. You aren’t buying just “turkey” it’s either “truthahn” (male turkey) or “puten” (female turkey). And it’s almost NEVER truthahn. I dunno what they have against the males.
Everything comes in tubes. Mayo, mustard, prepared horseradish, meat (get it? because it’s a SAUSAGE? HA!). But really, meat… liverwurst comes in plastic tubes. Their fridges tend to be smaller, at least the ones I have seen in the furniture stores. I thought KH had some kind of bachelor’s fridge with a tiny freezer, but this looks pretty normal. So people must go grocery shopping more, which KH says they do because everything is so much fresher and less preserved**.
Tiny freezer… apparently frozen food isn’t big, although there is plenty of pouch food. KH says it still has a bad reputation. But there is no stocking up on frozen things. I bought pouches to make ice (I’ll post a picture at some point, it’s pretty cool), because I didn’t want to take up 50% of the freezer with ice trays. Right now it’s got one small box of sausage dumplings, one package of ice cream (these come flat here, to fit in the tiny freezers) and one pouch of ice cubes, and it’s pretty much full.
Central Europe is also unfamiliar with the concept of spicy. A “spicy” pizza will have “pfefferoni” on it, which is a pretty mild italian pepper that’s probably been pickled (to reduce any heat which might have survived). If you want American-style ketchup, you have to buy the extra spicy stuff. Which also comes in a tube (all of it does). I see some hot-sauce smuggling in my future.
But I quite like onions and garlic, which are the primary flavorings here. And raw horseradish, although it is nowhere near as spicy as the prepared stuff.
But I will say this about the Viennese: they LOVE their ice cream. There is a gelateria*** almost every other block, and they are always packed. And no one seems to just walk by… right around the gelaterias, those who aren’t sitting having a sundae are walking with an ice cream cone.
And it’s ALL spectacular. The other day KH took me to one gelateria that said on the menu “since 1886” and he just sniffed. ”Newcomers. Let’s see if they’re any good.” I do love this man. There I had chocolate ice cream piled around a center of warm sour cherries in syrup, with warm chocolate sauce, shaved chocolate and whipped cream. It was AMAZING. Yesterday I was in a fruity mood, so I had a sundae of strawberry and blueberry (or perhaps boysenberry) ice cream and raspberry sorbet, covered in berries and strawberry sauce and whipped cream.
Did I mention chocolate yet? Because that has its own section in the grocery store. I bought one bar I didn’t like that much. I asked KH if it was good, he said “it’s fat chocolate.” I said, “but it is GOOD?” (he has a calorie-counting thing and tends to avoid very fatty foods). He said “it’s good for fat chocolate.” I get it home, try it, it’s kinda greasy and mediocre. I looked at him. ”you said it was GOOD.” ”I said it was good FOR FAT CHOCOLATE.” “But I don’t know what that MEANS.”
It means it really does have extra fat added. Pig fat/lard, to be specific. Oh.
This weekend he took me to a tourist trap that’s been there for 250 years. A TOURIST TRAP. For TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS.
We had their specialty… an entire pig knuckle roasted.
The price varies because they charge by the kilogram, and it’s about a kilo… that’s roughly two pounds of pig, for anyone interested. Per meal. I tried to convince KH to split it with me, but he was certain there would not be enough food for the two of us. So I ate about 1/4 of mine, he ate about half of his, and a lot of pig leg went to waste. Next time he’ll know better. But it was ALSO amazing. The crisp skin on the outside dripping with pork fat on the inside (which KH scraped off before eating), the meat which was juicy and tender in some parts and crispy in others. The accompanying “salad” (vinegary cole slaw) cut the fat BEAUTIFULLY. KH just said “well, yes, this is an acceptable time, they should have learned to cook by now.”
And I don’t like roasted potatoes. The roasted potatoes were spectacular. The ketchup was bland. Such is food here.
*YES I AM SPEAKING FOR ALL AMERICANS.
**I have yet to determine if this is chauvinism on his part, or just the way he shops, or the fact that he is unable to wrap food up and just leaves stuff open in the fridge.
***I know in the US gelato and ice cream are very different beasts. Not here. the richness is dependent on whether the flavor does better with a thicker or thinner mixture. It’s WONDERFUL.