Whenever I travel somewhere, I want to try local food to get a full experience of the culture. Having said that, you simply cannot leave Vienna without trying certain dishes. During our 72 hours in the Austrian capital, we tried as many of them as possible. I wrote down my thoughts and recommendations in case you ever want to eat your way around the city and don’t quite know where to start…
The most obvious choice is the Wiener Schnitzel. Although plenty of restaurants in Vienna serve this dish, you can find the most famous one at Figlmüller. Unfortunately, we didn’t go there as the queue outside was enormous and you have to make online reservations weeks in advance. However, if I was on my own and not in a group of 9, I most likely would’ve stuck it out and queued anyway – I’m a total sucker for a good culinary experience! I was gutted as I was really looking forward to it, but at least we have a reason to return to Vienna.
The next day, we resumed our search for a traditional Wiener Schnitzel in the area. After a long deliberation, we ended up going to Café Aera. The service was great and we enjoyed both their schnitzel and the variety of different sides. At €22 for a schnitzel and a beer, it was quite expensive, but not far off from other restaurants. I’m still determined to try that coveted Figlmüller experience next time though!
Austrian specialties at Schachtelwirt
While looking for another place to eat after our Figlmüller failure, we stumbled upon a cool restaurant called Schachtelwirt. It serves Austrian cuisine specialties in bio-degradable takeaway boxes. The interiors have a bare look with a few cheeky personal touches, like a wall with “Pork of Fame” written on it where you can leave your mark.
With only a few tables in the seating area, it’s best to get there early to beat the crowds. The menu changes weekly; there are only a few positions to choose from and everything is prepared fresh. It means that once the food is gone, it’s really gone.
I went for roast pork with bread dumplings, cabbage and cracklings, as well as a rhubarb-flavoured Austrian craft beer, which came to only €12. It was very filling and tasty, although there was way too much cabbage for my taste. I would still recommend Schachtelwirt though. It felt like the perfect place to unwind with friends after a long day and try some affordable Austrian dishes.
Würstelstände, which is the German name for sausage stands, are an integral part of Austrian culture. They were originally created during the Imperial monarchy period as a way of providing employment for the disabled war veterans who were returning home. They are scattered around the city and offer different variations of sausages and beverages.
We tried two different types of sausages: the Käsekrainer (a sausage filled with small chunks of cheese) and the Bosna (a sausage garnished with onions and a mustard/tomato sauce with some curry powder). Both tasted great, but I would especially recommend the latter. At less than €10 for 2 people, visiting a sausage stand provides an interesting and very affordable alternative to a traditional restaurant.
Another thing worth trying in Vienna is the famous Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake with a slither of apricot jam filling. It even became the subject of the so-called “cake war” – a nine-year legal battle between Café Sacher and Café Demel over who could call themselves the original producer of this world-famous cake. The former eventually won and earned the right to market their creation as the original Sachertorte.
We tried our cake at Café Oper Wien. I personally am not the biggest fan of apricot jam, and although I enjoyed my Sachertorte (it is a chocolate cake after all, what’s not to like?), there was a different dessert that took the cake for me (pun very much intended)…
… Kaiserschmarrn is hands-down the best thing I tried in Vienna. Having seen it for the first time on someone’s Insta story shortly before going to Vienna, I made it my mission to try this sweet treat and it didn’t disappoint.
The name of this fluffy shredded pancake translates to Emperor’s Mess. It was inspired by the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I who enjoyed this dessert. It is served with powdered sugar and apple or plum sauce, which can also be substituted with other fruits.
The only thing that worried me about this dish was the fact that the original recipe includes raisins, which can ruin even the best food for me. Luckily, the one I ate at Drechsler had no trace of raisins inside and was absolutely scrumptious.
Customer service was also outstanding. We were served by the nicest waitress who made time to stop by and chat with us. Upon finding out we are Polish, she even offered us shots on the house (it’s always 5 PM somewhere, right?) and told us about her recent trip to Poland.
Finally, going to one of the traditional coffee houses is the best way to experience the Viennese culture. It stands in stark opposition to the American culture of grabbing coffee to-go. In Vienna, you may (and even are encouraged) to take your time enjoying your coffee. You don’t have to worry, as you won’t be expected to leave at any point.
Viennese coffee houses
Viennese coffee houses are traditionally known to have served as meeting points. Many of them still have newspaper or book stands inside. As a matter of fact, coffee culture is so prominent in Austria that since October 2011, the Viennese Coffee House Culture has been listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage element. The most popular coffee type in Vienna is Wiener Melange. It’s very similar to a cappuccino, but is made with milder coffee and has a smaller proportion of milk foam.
As we were planning our trip, we made a list of cafés we wanted to visit. It included the famous Café Central frequented by some of the most important historical figures such as Stalin or Trotsky, or Café Sperl which is said to have been one of Adolf Hitler’s favourites.
Unfortunately, the waitress at Café Sperl said they didn’t have any free tables that were big enough for 9. She refused to put two tables together and didn’t offer us an option to wait for a free table either. It led to us joking that we could now see why that place was Hitler’s personal favourite with such awful customer service.
It also discouraged us from visiting the most popular coffee houses in the fear that they would not be able to seat a group of 9. Still, the coffees I got to try at Café Oper Wien and Drechsler gave me a great taste of the Viennese coffee culture – although I would love to return for a tour of classic coffee houses located in the Austrian capital, a sort of café crawl if you will…
Some final food for thought…
If you’ve tried any Austrian dishes, what were your favourites? And if you haven’t, what would your perfect menu consist of? As always, any thoughts and recommendations are welcome. It’s never too early to start jotting down ideas for another Austria trip, am I right…?