What I Ate Abroad: Vienna

Dylan Tull

When compared to the rich Middle-Eastern lamb kebab stands that crowd the streets of Vienna, the creamy Italian food that lies just over the border, or the delicate French cuisine located only a few hours west, Austrian food is somewhat bland. Layers of intricate flavor are just not the Austrian priority. I theorize that Austrian food is designed to put a hearty glow on your face, to allow you to consume endless glasses of wine and, most importantly, to keep you warm.

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The traditional Austrian food that I ate mostly consisted of an endless variety of meats. One restaurant our program went to was located down a wine cellar that could have survived from the Hapsburg Empire and was fashioned in the style of a traditional Austrian wine tavern –– a Heuriger. This was our first encounter with truly traditional food, and it consisted of a heaping platter of meat for the entire table to share. Lamb, different cuts of beef, chicken and dripping blood sausages were all were piled onto one plate. To complement the meat, we each had a small bowl of mashed potatoes on the side. Accompanied by a few glasses of white wine, the meal was relatively simple, but by the end of it, everyone was stuffed, red-faced and unconcerned about walking back out into the frozen streets.

Maybe it was just because I was a foreigner, but the Austrian food seemed intrinsically linked with the Austrian experience. Both seemed to complement the other a hundredfold. While the Heuriger I already described was simply modeled after the traditional ones, a group of friends and I rode the strassenbahn, or streetcar, to a little town just outside of Vienna called Grinzing. Located among vineyards and the low hills overlooking Vienna, Grinzing is where the truly authentic Heurigers are located.

Even though it was only a 30-minute trek from the city, the town felt completely removed from city life, like a picturesque Bavarian village nestled among the Alps. When we got off the strassenbahn, there was only one main road leading up to the hills. The road was lined on either side with beautiful houses painted in soft, natural colors. If it hadn’t been the dead of winter, flowers would have poured out from every windowsill, and green bushes would have covered the white picket fences.

When we opened the door to the first Heuriger, warmth and the mouth-watering smell of frying meat consumed us. We were only offered meat again, although this time it was Wienerschnitzel, or breaded pork cutlets. Still sizzling from the frying pan, the meat seemed to melt the snow from my hair and fire me up from the inside. If we hadn’t trudged through banks of snow to reach the meal, I don’t know if it would have been nearly as satisfying, but there was really no distinction between the white wine, the pork cutlets and the snow-covered landscape outside. The traditional food and the tiny Austrian village seemed to collide into one warming experience, and one wouldn’t have been right without the other.

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