Austrian food in general, and Viennese food in particular, has been very innovative across the years, from the introduction of steam baking for bread to the infamous Wiener Schnitzel. There are many dishes that you shouldn’t miss out on if you visit Vienna. Here’s a list of some of the best and most interesting specialties, and where you can eat them.
Main meals and savouries
Austrian dishes are traditionally quite heavy, with an emphasis on meat and potatoes. Vienna is known for its juicy venison, roast pork, and goose, as well as specific cuts of meat such as Tafelspitz (for beef) and Fledermaus (for pork).
The infamous schnitzel, huge and meaty, can be eaten in many restaurants in Vienna – see our guide for the best. There are variations, including the “cordon bleu”, which is stuffed with cheese and ham.
There are a wide variety of dumplings in Austria, which are used to create various dishes.
Geröstete Knödel: Making a surprising change, these “roasted dumplings” are a vegetarian addition to the Austrian diet. Mashed potato and breadcrumbs form the base of the dumplings, which are roasted, and then fried with other ingredients such as onions and egg.
Leberschoberl Suppe: Literally “liver dumpling soup”, this is a meaty, salty, flavoursome dish that is basically exactly what it sounds like.
Grießnockerlsuppe: This dish uses semolina dumplings and puts them in a beefy soup.
Goulash isn’t originally from Austria; it was adopted from Hungary when it formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since then, Vienna has created its own unique version of this slightly spicy not-quite-soup-not-quite-stew. Wiener Saftgulasch forgoes other vegetables to add more onions to its sauce, then it’s served with dark, dense bread. Fiakergulasch adds fried egg and sausage, and dumplings to this for a truly filling meal. Find it at a good beisl, a sort of informal bistro; Reinthaler’s Beisl is a good choice.
Translated literally as “liver cheese”, it’s more appetising than it sounds. The standard one is a plain mixture of meat (including liver), and can be served in a white bread roll (called semmel, making it Leberkäsesemmel), used for mock cordon bleu, or fried with potato salad. It can also be filled with other ingredients, from cheese to chilli – and then there’s Pizzaleberkäse, dotted with pieces of cheese, bell peppers, pickles, and salami. Whole blocks of leberkäse can be bought in shops, but you can try it as a snack at fast food stalls.
Another street food staple, bosna is also a popular post-drinking snack. It’s more a way of serving a grilled sausage than a type of food: it’s put in a hot dog bun with onions and a curry sauce.
There’s no one way to make this spicy, cream cheese-based spread, which is a popular snack at heurigen, wine taverns. Traditionally, the soft cheese used is bryndza, made from sheep’s milk, but cottage cheese, quark, or goat’s cheese could equally be used. This is combined with sour cream, butter or margarine, and some type of spice or flavouring. This could be paprika, parsley, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, capers, or anchovy paste. It’s most commonly eaten spread on bread, toast or crackers.
Desserts and pastries
This is an area in which Vienna excels. Look for a “Konditorei” for the highest quality, as it signifies a specialist cake/pastry maker. Cafés are the best choice for enjoying a treat or two with coffee; Café Hawelka, and Café Central are popular, amongst many others.
The best way to describe this is a sort of “scrambled pancake”, which is cut up in the pan while cooking. These fluffy morsels are then decorated with icing sugar and served hot with a fruit sauce or compote, with apple, and plum being the most common.
As Vienna’s most famous cake, sachertorte barely needs an introduction. Rich chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam is simple yet decadent, and the title of best recipe is fought over by the eponymous Sacher and their rivals Demel.
This less famous cake is no less delicious, and just as distinctive as sachertorte (but less chocolatey). A rich, crumbly pastry made with ground nuts and flavoured with lemon zest and cinnamon is filled thick, fruity jam – redcurrant, plum or raspberry – and covered with a lattice of pastry strips.
Apple strudel is as Austrian as apple pie is American, but strudel can also be filled with curd or quark. Another traditional type is the Millirahmstrudel, where the pastry is filled with raisin and cream filling, and served fresh with hot vanilla sauce.
Very simply, krapfen is a fluffy doughnut filled with apricot jam.
This is a crepe-like pancake that is common in central Europe.
Dumplings aren’t always savoury, and these are light, fluffy and filled with plum jam. They’re then covered with melted butter, powdered sugar and poppy seeds, and can be served with vanilla cream.
Another simple dessert, which is also named after a dumpling, Marillenknödl is a ball of pastry with an apricot inside. One of Vienna’s many delicious gelato shops also sells an ice-cream version.
Punschkrapfen (or Punschkrapferl)
When it has a name like “punch cake”, you know it’s going to be good. Very similar to a French petit four, this cake consists of a small yet rich cube, flavoured with rum. The inside is made from cake crumbs, nougat chocolate, and apricot jam, which is soaked in rum and covered with a pink, rum sugar icing, drizzled with chocolate.
I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry now! I’m also wondering when I can get to Vienna to try these delicious, local specialties…