This week’s Foreign Service blogger prompt is:
Tell us what you love and hate about the food at Post!
Here’s what I love about the food here.
The ingredients are usually very good. The meat and dairy products that are sold in my neighborhood grocery store are generally of a higher quality than you would find in a grocery store at home. The sausages are especially tasty. There are a wide variety of local cheeses, and many kinds are imported from Italy as well.
The produce is about the same quality as in the States, I would say, unless you are buying at a very expensive store, but then you can do that just about anywhere. There are a lot of root vegetables and cabbages but that’s just Central Europe for you. There are also summer vegetables imported from Italy and Spain: zucchini, tomatoes, peppers. Delicious berries of all kinds, in season. And cherries, yum!
The only grocery item I really miss here are greens: collards, kale, chard, etc. You can find them sometimes, but they are CRAZY expensive. And peaches. Really good, buy-them-by-the-bushel-from-a-truck peaches. (Excuse me while I wipe drool off my keyboard.)
There are also street markets, but I am too lazy to shop at them very often. And even they don’t have good peaches.
So, since I learned to ignore how much my groceries were costing me, I have been fine with grocery shopping here in Vienna.
We also eat out once or twice a week because we live downtown surrounded by restaurants.
You can get a good meal at any Viennese-style restaurant, and they are certainly reliable. I can even tell you what half the menu will be right now. There will be schnitzel (breaded and fried meat, in pork, chicken or the original veal version), bratwurst, pork knuckle, and lots of excellent roasted potatoes. For vegetarians, there will be a spinach strudel, and fur die kleinen hunger there will be frankfurters with mustard and a slice of rye bread or a semmel which is what we would call a Kaiser roll. For dessert, there will be at least one kind of strudel, probably palatschinken (crepes) and fruit dumplings.
Here is one word you need to learn before coming here: gebacken. This technically means baked, but in reality means breaded and fried. The Viennese loves them some gebacken, well, just about anything. If it can be shot or caught, butchered or filleted, rolled in bread crumbs and fried, they’ll eat it.
Speaking of meat, restaurants also occasionally serve game dishes that you wouldn’t often find at home, such as wild boar and venison. I love these game dishes and I don’t understand why we don’t eat more of these sustainable foods in the States. So many suburban areas are plagued by an oversupply of deer. Why don’t we just eat them?
One Tyrolean specialty that you find in many Viennese restaurants is a groestl. It is a skillet full of either potatoes with onions and sausages or ham. I really like this dish, though it’s almost enough for two people! I’m going to try and buy some of the individual skillets for them before I leave post. A pfandl is a similar dish with lentils instead of potatoes. Really yummy.
All that said, there are a few problems with Viennese food. The first is that if you eat like that all the time it will kill you. But you will die happy, so there’s that.
The second problem is that they do weird things to salad. Like putting potatoes and cabbage in them or serving them in a puddle of water. I only order salads in Italian restaurants at this point, never in Austrian ones. Regarding the blog prompt, I’d have to say this is the one thing I truly hate about the food here. Yuck.
Another problem is simply that the cuisine is so limited. They do about two dozen things (all of which go with the excellent beer), they do them well, and that’s it. The flavors, though delicious, are also limited. Instead of interesting spices, the Viennese use a lot of salt. So, the few truly bad meals I have had here have been due to oversalted food.
Austrians are scared to death of spicy heat. At Indian or Thai restaurants, we have learned to specify that we want our food to be “American spicy.” That will get us about two peppers on the four-pepper scale. People here really worry about spiciness. Menus include (completely unnecessary) warnings about the spiciness of food. My son—who is the pickiest eater I have ever known—thinks that the “Vorsicht! Scharf!” warning on his “spicy” frozen pizza is hilarious. It just means the pizza has real pepperoni on it instead of ham. Or corn, or pineapple.
So, we’ve had some seriously iffy ethnic food here, but we’ve had some good food, too. It just takes a little research to find the places where you can get good sushi or pad thai instead of the greasy noodles that pass for Vietnamese food in far too many “Asiatische” restaurants.
There is also great Italian food to be found in Vienna—cooked and served by actual Italians! And Turkish/Greek restaurants aplenty. As well as wonderful ice cream at small shops all over the city.
But, Vienna is not a patch on metro Washington DC for ethnic restaurants. I’ll be making up for lost time when we go back for a year with lots of pho, pupusas, and hot green curry.
What will I miss most about the food here? Well, I loves me a good plate of sausages with roast potatoes and Kremser mustard, preferably with a Zwickl (unfiltered) beer on the side. I have acquired a permanent taste for venison, boar, and anything else that runs wild in the woods before it lands on my plate. And I’ll be disappointed when I can’t buy an ice cream cone from five different places within ten minutes walk of my house, I am sure 🙂