The 6 Must Try Austrian Dishes
These are my musings on the best local dishes I have ever enjoyed, during my stay in Austria. I was there in summer 2016 for my 4-month internship at a small-sized local NGO. The internship experience was so great, that I got to meet talented young individuals, whom I keep in touch with up until now, and I have been able to implement the skills taught in my internship in my current role in Singapore.
The food was also good in Austria. While it is not easy for me to replicate the taste of Austria in Singapore due to higher ingredient costs (here, most of the food is imported from foreign countries, as Singapore manufactures very little due to its small land sizes), sometimes it’s good to just reminisce about the old Austrian days to make myself happy in my hectic daily life in Singapore. Those good memories are still fresh in my mind.
Before jumping right into the specific food and my stories on it, I would like to tell a bit of the backstory of the food. As the Habsburg Empire had ruled a wider region (now present-day Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia) in Europe, the modern Austrian cuisine has a lot of influence from the former parts of the Empire and localized the imported dishes to the local Austrians’ liking. I hope you will be exploring this kaleidoscope of dishes and experiencing them the way I used to eat during my time in Austria.
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Kasespatzle (homemade Austrian pasta garnished with melted cheese)
The origin of this dishes is highly debatable – some argue that this hailed from the Swabian region, and some others state that the oldest record of Kasespatzle dated back to the hand-written cookbook in the early 17th century. The name might have come from the movement kneading doughs into a bite-sized piece, but there is no historical proof of it. In modern times, this dish is known for a portion of comfort food after a long hike in the crisp Alpine air. Otherwise, you can find it in most local restaurants. Served in many parts of German-speaking countries, the Vorarlberg Kasespatzle (Vorarlberg is in the West of Austria) is highly popular in Austria. The pasta is made from fine flour, as mentioned in the name origin, finished into small bites sunk in grilled cheese. The texture is truly heavenly, melting in the mouth. Fried onions and spring onions add spices to this creamy heaven dish (they actually do a great job!).
Manner wafer packs
Take me back to Austria – I always exclaim whenever I find this in Candy Empire outlets (a Singapore’s leading importers for international confectioneries, this is the only place I can purchase Manner products). Manner is a traditional Austrian family business establishment that was founded in the late 19th century. Armed with strict quality control, carefully selected ingredients and iconic pinkish packages, this brand is famed for being a signature souvenir in Austria. Manner Schnitten (a packet of hazelnut chocolate wafers) is must-try; not so sweet nor so tasteless, this never seems to fail to impress my sweet tooth. The hazelnut always transports me back to my brilliant days in Vienna. Right now I always try Manner chocolate wafers for a snack time or whenever I am craving for it. I have thought that Manner is available in the shops in Central Europe only. However, I am obviously wrong as Mannar sweets are available in Singapore too.
Schlutzkrapfen (half moon pasta filled with ricotta cheese and spinach)
I encountered this dish when I was exploring in Innsbruck in Western Austria which is known for its landmark, the Golden Roof. I hopped into a cafe and was looking for something vegetarian. Reading up the menu, the pasta with vegetable fillings sounded nice for me, so I ordered it. I was thinking of the long pasta with chopped vegetables, but it turned out that it was flattened pasta with something inside it and was garnished with a sprinkle of cheese and chopped spring onions. The melted butter worked a ton to make this dish slippery in my mouth. More importantly, I still remember a waitress coming to my table and asking if it was good. I told her it was so tasty – I was so touched by her caring about customers’ satisfaction and my heart was filled with warmth. Originated from the South Tirol (now part of Italy), it’s prevalently a common food in neighboring Tirol as well. A huge amount of labor is involved to make this despite the fact that it looks so easy to make.
Sachertorte (a bitter chocolate cake with the apricot jam base)
One of the “must eats” in Vienna, Austria. It is a truly local specialty created at the end of the Habsburg period. Did you know that there was an absurd but important fight behind this cake? The two Viennese pastry giants, Demel and Sacher had been in a “sweet” war state for a long time that even led to a ridiculous court case; who should call themselves an “original Sachertorte”? How much apricot should be used to perfect the cake? What is the appropriate temperature for liquid chocolate? Seriously, they have argued all this in the state court, not in the cooking class or any of the sort. In the end, Sacher won the battle and now prides themselves on being “an original Sacher torte.” Besides history, I personally preferred the Demel one as it is more sweet and fluffy than that of Sacher. What is the difference between Sacher “Sacher torte” and the Demel counterpart? The former got slightly higher pricing and more cake layers and increased apricot inside the cake. The latter is a bit cheaper and much creamier.
A representative of Vienna’s cosmopolitanism. In Vienna, there are loads of markets selling “exotic”’ ingredients coming from almost all over the world. You can find cuisines and ingredients from Russia, Turkey, Japan, India and more. Originally from the Middle East, this is one of Viennese finger food options found in the international markets. Made from mashed chickpeas, the Falafel balls can be eaten in the form of Falafel wraps or accompaniment with flattening bread. Either way, Falafel comes with a bunch of cut vegetables and yogurts inside the whole oat wrap or pita bread. Being a perfect vegan staple, this is the dish my friends used to offer me as they knew I only have limited food choices as a vegetarian. There is a ton of Falafel stalls all over Vienna, but my favorite Falafel stand is the one in Brunnenmarkt. Known as a crazy cheap market where everyone can get a wider array of ingredients at incredibly lower prices, this market offers a portion of Falafel wrap that also costs less than USD 1 or so, making it probably cheapest in town. Needless to say, the taste of the wrap is as good as the one in any other Viennese markets.
My favorite Austrian dessert! Buttery pastry and a couple of apple slices and a bunch of raisins works magic and make me feel like heavenly. The legend has it that Austria imported the sweet Baklava dessert from the Middle East. Baklava is made of fluffy pastry and sugar and syrup, meaning it’s sinking pastry in the syrup. Being on a more fruity side, Apfelstrudel is a localized version of Baklava– this is a good example of Austrian dishes, as a lot of them can track a trace from the former Austrian empire region which they had been imported from. There are countless Apfelstrudel recipes online, and some of the recipe authors are generous enough to share their family recipe with the world. However, the universal rule is that the dough should be so thin that the pastry chef can read a newspaper through it.
About the author: Mami works in Singapore full-time for about 2 years. She has traveled to different parts of the world extensively and absolutely loves exploring a new place she has never seen. While not working or traveling, she spares her free time playing a dragon boat sport or learning a foreign language.
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