If you like hearty, flavorsome, and sweet dishes you will love Austrian food. To provide you with an overview I’m sharing my guide to the best local dishes of my home country, including links to Austrian recipes.
In general, food from Austria mixes Central European produce, textures and flavours. Most of these influences date back to more than six centuries of Habsburg Empire. While savoury Austrian food focuses on meat, poultry, root vegetables, and dairy Austrian desserts mostly work their magic using chocolate, soft cheese, yeast, compotes and jams.
When visiting Vienna, consider joining one of our Vienna cooking classes for a lovely off-beat experience. To shop for food from Austria just stick to good local supermarkets such as Meinl and Merkur.
Clear Soups With Solid Ingredients
In general Austrian love to enrich clear soups with all sorts of solid ingredients, some of which differ by region. While cut carrots, parsnips, turnips, leeks and celeriac make a good broth, it is the extras that count: Semolina balls, liver dumplings, bacon dumplings, strips of pancake (see photo), soup pearls, and egg puffs are the most popular add-ons. Other than soup pearls and egg puffs, which are best bought ready made, the other ingredients are quite easy to make and form part of every decent Austrian cook book. You will also find most of them in every decent Austrian restaurant.
While these soups are essentially beef broths, the Carinthian Klachelsuppe is made from pork leg and root vegetables. It gets its texture from a little flour whirled into the soup, and its flavour from onion slices, laurel, pepper, juniper berries and cloves.
Fried, Breaded And Boiled Beef, Veal, Pork And Poultry
Our lush pastures, large forests and mild climate have created a nation of beef and poultry eaters, generally speaking. Home grown fishes from our rivers and lakes are rare with Austrian food but do land on our plates every now and then. The closer we live to their habitats, the more regional fish specialities we have.
Learn all about our continuing love of breaded cutlets, how to prepare the best Wiener Schnitzel, and the the most popular varieties.
Does boiled beef sound dull to you? It shouldn’t. The Tafelspitz is one of the tastiest types of savoury Austrian food; and one of the easiest Austrian recipes for meat dishes. The name Tafelspitzrefers to the pointed fine fibred piece of meat from the cow’s back, just where the tail starts. The meat itself is lean, and has just a thin layer of fat on the upper part of the cut. A typical Austrian household or restaurant would serve the Tafelspitz in the broth it is boiled in, together with boiled carrots, leeks and turnips, and perhaps a slice of bone marrow.
You would start off with the soup and vegetables. Then, you would have the beef as the main course, together with roast potatoes, cream spinach, horseradish cream and cream with chives. If your cholesterol levels allow, have the bone marrow lightly salted on a piece of toasted dark sourdough bread.
In the first place, roast pork (Schweinsbraten) is Eastern Austria’s traditional Sunday lunch. (However, since cholesterol has entered the common debate, most of us don’t eat it that often anymore.) The pork loin comes with a crunchy crust topped with cumin and is served with white sour cabbage (Sauerkraut) and bread dumplings.
In most families, Schweinsbraten is eaten with gravy, which can sometimes be thickened with flour. Equally popular is our crispy pork leg (Stelze), especially at local beer and wine festivals – see photo.
Just as we coat meat cutlets in flour, eggs and breadcrumbs, we do the same for whole breaded chickens. Specifically local taverns, Eastern Austrian wineries and local festivals offer Backhenderln as a staple Austrian food. In the past few decades, the Styrians have successfully added a new dish to typical Austrian food: Green leafy salad tossed with Styrian pumpkin seed oil, and topped with stripes of warm breaded chicken, a must!
Another local chicken variety is Paprikahendl, roast chicken with sweet red pepper. Actually a culinary import, Paprika chicken reached Austria from Hungaria via the Eastern Austrian region of Burgenland. Most of the times we have it with German Spätzle pasta and lettuce. Gasthaus Hanno Poeschl, one of the best taverns in the centre of Vienna (Weihburggasse 17), applies a special traditional recipe to its Paprikahendl which is excellent.
Local Sausage Varieties
Whether you go for a Viennese street food experience at a sausage stand or dine in a local tavern: You will face a rich variety of local sausages. Far beyond the Vienna sausage, which we call Frankfurter, this dish reflects centuries of local food history. For example, the Krainer and Debreziner varieties originate from the former Imperial Crownlands.
Whereas the Burenwurst and Waldviertler have their roots in Austrian farm life. Most of the sausages are particularly delicious with sauerkraut, potatoes or just pickled gherkins and hot peppers and a slice of sourdough bread. In my post Vienna Sausage Varieties you will get the full picture.
Savoury And Sweet Balls: Nockerl
Since more than 200 years Nockerl, with all their irregularities, have been shaping Austrian food. They contain either flour, semolina/polenta, or soft cheese, and are bound with eggs and milk. In general, Nockerl can make up both savoury dishes and sweet dishes. Additionally, they are utterly simple, versatile, and inexpensive. While you can easily form them using two spoons, there is a special tool called Nockerlhobel to get them in perfect shape. Here are the four most popular types of Nockerl:
Whenever I crave Austrian food at my London home, I usually make semolina balls (see photo above). They are easy to prepare and are used as a solid ingredient for clear soups.
Although their ingredients can’t be simpler, Eiernockerl are a true feel-good food. In fact, those Nockerl just contain flour, eggs and milk, and nothing else. Most people add them to scrambled eggs and toss them with parsley for a simple dish. To lighten up the dish, serve the Nockerl together with a bowl of fresh lettuce.
Whenever I want to display my insider Austrian food skills to friends from abroad, I serve Topfennockerl. Besides having a light extrue, these balls from semolina, soft cheese and egg, are the perfect upgrade to a fruity dessert. In particular, Topfennockerl go well either with strawberries inside or plum compote on the side, and tossed with breadcrumbs fried in butter, and cinnamon.
Not only are Salzburger Nockerl the fluffiest of all, they are also a local cult dessert. More a soufflé rather than balls, they contain egg yolk, sugar, loads of whipped egg white and a little flour. We have even created a song and 1990ies TV series out of them! Skilled cooks can prepare them at home. In any case, try the original version in Austria, if you can, as they can turn out in different ways.
Root Vegetables in Austrian Food
Much like other Central European cuisine, Austrian food is unthinkable without root vegetables. Especially carrots, turnips, parsnips, radish, beet root, celeriac and potatoes make popular side dishes. There is nothing like having your Wiener Schnitzel with Austrian potato salad, still a little warm, with finely chopped onions and flavoured with broth. Another popular vegetable dish is beet-root salad with chopped parsley. If you love vegetarian dishes, try to coat celeriac in breadcrumbs like Wiener Schnitzel and fry it in a pan. When serving the celeriac, add either yoghurt sauce with chives or mayonnaise, and potatoes.
Austria’s officially best chef Heinz Reitbauer has been cultivating his passion for forgotten Austrian vegetables at his Michelin restaurant Steirereck in Vienna, serving beta sweet carrots and gold roots.
Austrian desserts enjoy a reputation that is probably only topped by Mozart. Hardly any page about Austrian food can surpass the Sacher Torte. There are loads of other fantastic cakes served in Austrian patisseries such as Dobostorte, Esterhazytorte, Imperialtorte or Kardinalschnitten. And then there are warm desserts such as sweet poppy seed potato pasta (Mohnnudeln, see photo). The list below focuses on those desserts most popular in traditional Austrian households, in addition to the sweet balls and dumplings which I described above.
Formerly the cake of the poor, Emperor Francis Joseph and his sweet tooth promoted Gugelhupf until it became Austria’s number one for afternoon tea, breakfast and dessert.
Unlike Sacher Torte, this cake is really easy to prepare. Learn all about Gugelhupf and classic Austrian recipes, which can also be used to bake American Bundt cakes.
If it wasn’t for the Siege of Vienna and Budapest by the Turks, our apple strudel would probably not exist. Notably, many historians agree that the Ottomans (Turks) have added the apple strudel to Austrian food. In general, Apfelstrudel is made from puff pastry that is used in Turkish baklava but can, however, also be done with yeast dough.
People from my mother’s generation downwards used to make apple strudel from the original strudel dough, skillfully pulling and extending the dough until it was like thin pergament, covering the whole kitchen table, with the thicker edges hanging over the table’s edges, before being cut. Especially if you use ready made puff pastry, the strudel is easy to prepare yourself. After baking the cake, add warm vanilla sauce to the plates and put the strudel on top.
What makes Rehrücken special is that first this chocolate cake uses biscuit crumbs instead of flour. Second the cake goes in a long shaped creased cake form which provides its name ‘deer back’ (Rehrücken). To point out the main flavours, the deer back thrives on marzipan, ground almonds, chocolate, and apricot jam, resulting in a sweet and creamy texture. For decades, my late grandmother, who only cooked Austrian food, excelled with her Rehrücken. While this cake is not a quick fix, it’s perfect for special occasions: factor in a little more than an hour to bake and decorate the cake.
Kaiserschmarrn is a thick pancake with raisins, torn into giant flakes and topped with plum compote, caster sugar and cinnamon. According to one legend, the Austrian Emperor’s kitchen staff would at times ruin the pancakes for the Emperor, creating an ‘Emperor’s Mess’ (Kaiserschmarrn) and had to eat them themselves. At the annual Film and Food Festival in front of Vienna’s City Hall, Kaiserschmarrn is prepared in a huge pan and sold to the public.
Though similar to the French crêpes, Palatschinken are a typical Austrian food. They are a little softer than crêpes, as they are not made with mineral water. The most popular filling is apricot jam and chocolate. The left overs of Palatschinken usually get sliced up into Fritatten for clear soup.
The Topfenkolatsche, a small square-shaped cheesecake made of danish or puff pastry, is another lovely down-to-earth Austrian sweet dish. The soft cheese filling is made with caster sugar, raisins, egg yolk and corn starch.
In the same fashion as Topfenkolatschen are a type of danish, you would enjoy them for afternoon tea or as a sweet snack rather than for dessert. When in Austria, get them at local bakeries and patisseries, such as at Mann, Anker or Ströck bakery chains.
The Carinthian Reindling is a dry yeast cake with raisins, and one of Carinthia’s most popular regional dishes. Its taste is quite close to the Panettone of neighbouring Italy. As the Reindling has a quite neutral flavour, people eat it with ham and grated horse radish, or with jam and butter. The name Reindling is derived from the Austrian word for a flat pot (Reindl).
Austrian food consists of a few regional specialities that are typical or even unique. You can buy most of them at Naschmarkt, and in every well sorted Austrian supermarket or delicatessen shop. A great opportunity to taste authentic Austrian delicatessen is the annual Austrian food fair Genussfestival.
Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil
Styrian pumpkin seed oil is a richly flavoured green-black coloured oil from the soft seeds of the oil pumpkin grown in Styria. While you can buy it throughout Austria even some specialist supermarkets abroad stock pumpkinseed oil. Specifically, our Kernöl provides a rich taste to green leafy salads and potato salads. On the more exotic side, I have even had ice cream from pumpkin seed oil in a tavern in the Vienna Woods, strangely delicious!
Pumpkin seed oil is also said to help with prostate-related illnesses, arteriosclerosis, and high blood pressure. Some women use it as an anti-ageing product and to prevent dry skin because it is rich in vitamins A, E and in carotenoids.
Styrian Horse Radish
Spicy horse radish is mostly grown in the South Eastern Austrian region of Styria. It is called Radi in Viennese, and is often served thinly grated with pork leg. Why? It helps to digest that irresistibly crunchy but fatty upper crust.
Our long winters taught us a thing or two about preserving fruit and vegetables in rich compotes, jams and sweet/sour pickles. The two most traditional quality brands are Vienna-based jams and pickles manufacturer Staud’s and Tyrol-based compote, jam and sirup maker D’Arbo.
When I travel back to Vienna, I often take Staud’s jam from apricots grown in the Danube valley of Wachau, pickled gherkins and aromatic forest honey with me.
Most And Sturm
Most is a fruit drink similar to the French cider. When you pronounce it with a closed ‘o’, it refers to pressed grape juice before it ferments to Sturm wine. On the other hand, if you say it with an open ‘o’, the term refers to the Upper Austrian and Styrian apple and pear ciders, which usually contain four to eight percent of alcohol. The Sturm exclusively refers to the young still fermenting wine (vin moussant in French) of Austria and has about one percent of alcohol. You only get it at local wineries between September and December.
Viennese Cook Books
For most foodies Vienna symbolises the classic Central European kitchen, not least because of the vast multiethnic heritage from our Empire days. If you want to re-create at home what you had on your plate in Vienna get a good Viennese cuisine cook book . For example, I am regularly using my German language cook book Hess: Wiener Küche for semolina dumpling soup and apple strudel. Certainly the most delightful English language cook book is Tante Hertha’s Viennese Kitchen. A Book of Family Recipes. My friend Elisabeth and fellow Viennese emigrant in London loves it, not least because of its extensive section on desserts and because of the beautiful imagery and personal context: The book is based on the notes of local baronesse Hertha Freiin von Winkler in the early 20th century.
Plachutta Cookbook: Best Of Viennese Cuisine
Those of you who like Vienna beef and have been to one of the local Plachutta restaurants may want to bag this Plachutta cookbook: Best Of Viennese Cuisine before or after you travel Vienna. The book includes mouth-watering photos and focuses on classical Viennese cuisine, from roast beef with onions (Zwiebelrostbraten) to our way to preparing potato salad to classical desserts like cream cheese strudel (Milchrahmstrudel).
Preparing Austrian Food: Enamel Cookware Review
You can prepare Austrian Food using almost any cookware. The most traditional way is using enamel cookware. My family has been using it since the time of my great grand parents, possibly longer. My family and I still use Austria’s Riess porcelain enamel cookware. Riess has had a strong comeback on the market with a carefully modernised range.
Find out whether you would like to use Riess products with my enamel cookware review.
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