Austrian cuisine is composed of many influences from throughout Europe including Italy, Hungary, Germany and the Balkans. But the former Austro-Hungarian Empire must also be considered for its influence on Austrian cooking. Such a broad fusion of cultures and styles has created a pretty unique cuisine with plenty of regional variations thrown in along the way.
The midday meal was traditionally the main meal of the day but has in recent times devolved into a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack of a slice of bread topped with cheese or ham that is referred to as a Jause.
A more substantial version, akin to a British ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ called a Brettljause after the wooden board on which it is traditionally served. This may well be followed by Kaiserschmarrn or a Germknödel with vanilla sauce.
Popular dishes include soups and broths, Tafelspitz, Gulasch, bread dumplings (Semmelknödel), Sauerkraut, Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Wiener Schnitzel, Leberkäse, Apfelstrudel, Palatschinken (similar to Crêpes), Marillenknödel, (a dumpling stuffed with an apricot).
The most popular meats in Austria are pork, beef and chicken. Pork, in particular, is used extensively from ‘snout to trotters’ There are also many different sausages such as the Frankfurter, Krainer Wurst, Debreziner, Burenwurst and Grüne Würstl (‘green’ or raw sausages) Bacon in Austria, as in Germany, is known as Speck. It can be smoked, raw, salted or spiced and is used in many traditional recipes as a salty spice.
In the Autumn season many restaurants in Austria traditionally offer game on their menu along with seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Austrian cakes and pastries are a well-known feature of its cuisine. Perhaps the most famous is the Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, traditionally eaten with whipped cream while Linzer torte is one of the oldest traditional sweets.
Other favourites include the caramel-flavoured Dobostorte and the delicately layered Esterhazy Torte, named in honor of Prince Esterházy (both originating from Hungary during the Austro-Hungarian empire)
These cakes are typically complex and difficult to make or at least very time-consuming and so they are more frequently eaten in a café or bought by the slice from a bakery.
Other strudels are also popular, such as those filled with sweetened curd cheese called Topfen, sour cherry (Weichselstrudel), sweet cherry and poppy seed strudel (Mohnstrudel) while a speciality of Salzburg is the meringue-like “Salzburger Nocken”
The Danish pastry is said to originated from Vienna and in Denmark is called wienerbrød or Viennese bread.
The Danish pastry uses a dough similar to brioche dough that was imported to Denmark by Austrian bakers hired during a bakery strike!
Coffee is an institution in Austria, supposedly introduced to Europe after bags of coffee beans were left behind by the retreating Turkish army after the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Although the first coffeehouses had appeared in Europe some years earlier, the Viennese café tradition is an important part of the city’s identity. Italian styles such as cappuccino, espresso and caffè latte are also commonly served.
Wiener Eiskaffee consists of iced Mokka with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream. Drinking coffee together is an important social activity in Austrian culture and can be favourably compared to the British afternoon tea tradition.
Beer is generally sold in 0.2 litre (a Pfiff), 0.33 litre (a Seidel, kleines Bier or Glas Bier) and 0.5 litre (a Krügerl or großes Bier or Hoibe) sizes while at beer festivals a one litre Maß or two litre Doppelmaß (in the Bavarian style) are also sometimes dispensed.
At holidays like Christmas and Easter bock beer is also available