Austrian cuisine is a style of cuisine native to Austria and composed of influences from throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Regional influences from Italy, Hungary, Bohemia, Germany and the Balkans have had an effect on Austrian cooking, and in turn this fusion of styles was influential throughout the Empire.
Austrian cuisine is most often associated with Viennese cuisine, but there are significant regional variations. Breakfast is of the “continental” type, usually consisting of bread rolls with either jam or cold meats and cheese, accompanied by coffee, tea or juice. The midday meal was traditionally the main meal of the day, but in modern times as Austrians work longer hours further from home this is no longer the case. The main meal is now often taken in the evening.
A mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack of a slice of bread topped with cheese or ham is referred to as a Jause, and a more substantial version akin to a British “Ploughman’s Lunch” is called a Brettljause after the wooden board on which it is traditionally served.
Food and Drinks in Austrian Cuisine
The most popular meats in Austria are pork, beef and chicken. The famous Wiener Schnitzel is traditionally made of veal. Pork in particular is used extensively, with many dishes using offal and parts such as the snout and trotters. Austrian butchers use a number of special cuts of meat, including “Tafelspitz” (beef), and “Fledermaus” (pork), named for its shape which resembles a bat.
Austrian cuisine has many different sausages, like “Frankfurter”, “Debreziner” (named after Debrecen in Hungary), or “Burenwurst”, “Blunzn” made out of pig-blood and “Grüne Würstl” – green sausages. Green means raw in this context – the sausages are air dried and are consumed boiled.
Bacon in Austria is called “Speck”, bacon can be smoked, raw, salted, spiced etc. Bacon is used in many traditional recipes as a salty spice.
Austria has an old hunting tradition since there are many woods across the country. In the Autumn season many restaurants in Austria traditionally offer game on their menu along with seasonal vegetables and fruits like pumpkins from Styria.
Austrian cakes and pastries are a well-known feature of its cuisine. Perhaps the most famous is the Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, traditionally eaten with whipped cream. Among the cakes with the longest tradition is the Linzer torte. Other favourites include the caramel-flavoured Dobostorte and the delicately-layered Esterhazy Torte, named in honour of Prince Esterházy (both originating from Hungary during the Austro-Hungarian empire), as well as a number of cakes made with fresh fruit and cream. Punschkrapfen is a classical Austrian pastry, a cake filled with cake crumbs, nougat chocolate, apricot jam and then soaked with rum.
These cakes are typically complex and difficult to make, and are generally not baked at home but eaten at a café or bought by the slice from a bakery. A “Konditorei” is a specialist cake-maker, and the designations “Café-Konditorei” and “Bäckerei-Konditorei” are common indicators that the café or bakery in question specialises in this field.
Austrian desserts are usually slightly less complicated than the elaborate cakes described above. The most famous of these is the Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), layers of thin pastry surrounding a filling of apple, usually with cinnamon and raisins. Other strudels are also popular, such as those filled with sweetened curd cheese called Topfen, sour cherry (Weichselstrudel), sweet cherry and poppy seed strudel (Mohnstrudel).
Another favourite is Kaiserschmarr’n, a rich fluffy sweet thick pancake made with raisins and other fruits, broken into pieces and served with a fruit compote (traditionally made of plums called Zwetschkenröster) for dipping, while a speciality of Salzburg is the meringue-like “Salzburger Nocken”.
The Danish pastry is said to originate from Vienna and in Denmark is called wienerbrød (Viennese bread). The Danish pastry uses a dough in the classic cuisine referred to as “Viennese Dough”, made of thin layers of butter and flour dough, imported to Denmark by Austrian bakers hired during a bakery strike amongst the bakery workers in Danish bakeries in 1850.
Austria is credited in popular legend with introducing coffee to Europe after bags of coffee beans were left behind by the retreating Turkish army after the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Although the first coffeehouses had appeared in Europe some years earlier, the Viennese café tradition became an important part of the city’s identity.
Coffee is served in a variety of styles, particularly in the Viennese cafés. An Austrian Mokka or kleiner Schwarzer is similar to espresso, but is extracted more slowly. Other styles are prepared from the Mokka:
- großer Schwarzer – a double Mokka
- kleiner Brauner or großer Brauner – single or double Mokka plus milk
- Verlängerter – “lengthened” (i.e. diluted) Mokka with more water plus milk
- Melange – half Mokka, half heated milk, often topped with foamed milk
- Franziskaner – Melange topped with whipped cream not foamed milk
- Kapuziner – kleiner Schwarzer plus whipped cream
- Einspänner – großer Schwarzer topped with whipped cream
- Wiener Eiskaffee – iced Mokka with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream
Italian styles such as cappuccino, espresso and caffè latte are also commonly served.
Traditionally, coffee is served with a glass of still water.
Drinking coffee together is an important social activity in Austrian culture. It is quite common for Austrians to invite friends or neighbours over for coffee and cake. This routine activity can be compared to the British afternoon tea tradition. It is also very common to go to a coffeehouse for dating.
Viennese hot chocolate is very rich, containing heavy cream in addition to chocolate, and sometimes thickened further with egg yolk.
Almdudler is an Austrian soft drink based on mountain herbs and with a flavour reminiscent of elderflower beverages. It is considered the ‘national drink of Austria’, and is popularly used as a mixer with white wine. The popular energy drink Red Bull became popular in the West starting in Austria. The headquarters of Red Bull is located at Fuschl next to Salzburg.
Beer is generally sold in the following sizes: 0.2 litre (a Pfiff), 0.3 litre (a Seidel, kleines Bier or Glas Bier) and 0.5 litre (a Krügerl or großes Bier or Hoibe). At festivals one litre Maß and two litre Doppelmaß in the Bavarian style are also dispensed. The most popular types of beer are pale lager (known as Märzen in Austria), naturally cloudy Zwicklbier, and wheat beer. At holidays like Christmas and Easter 14bock beer is also available.
Austrian beers are typically in the pale lager style, with the exceptions noted above. A dark amber “Vienna Style” lager was pioneered in the city during the 19th century but is now not common there.
Wine is principally cultivated in the east of Austria. The most important wine-producing areas are in Lower Austria, Burgenland, Styria, and Vienna. The Grüner Veltliner grape provides some of Austria’s most notable white wines and Zweigelt is the most widely planted red wine grape. Southern Burgenland is a region that mainly grows red grapes while the “Seewinkel” area around the Neusiedlersee has more mixed wine cultures.
Wine is even grown within the city limits of Vienna – the only European capital where this is true – and some is even produced under the auspices of the city council.
Young wine (i.e. wine produced from grapes of the most recent harvest) is called Heuriger and gives its name to inns in Vienna and its surroundings which serve Heuriger wine along with food. In Styria, Carinthia and Burgenland the heuriger inns are known as Buschenschanken.
Other alcoholic drinks
In Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Styria and Carinthia, Most, a type of cider or perry is widely produced, whilst Sturm, a semi-fermented grape-juice is drunk after the grape harvest.
At the close of a meal, schnapps of typically up to 60% alcohol or fruit brandy is drunk, which in Austria is made from a variety of fruits (for example apricots), as well as rowanberries, gentian roots, various herbs and even flowers. The produce of small private schnapps distilleries, of which there are around 20,000 in Austria, is known as Selberbrennter or Hausbrand. A very high percentage schnaps is called “Umblachter” and has up to 85% Alcohol.
For food consumed in between meals there are many types of open sandwiches called “belegte Brote”, or different kinds of sausage with mustard, ketchup and bread, as well as sliced sausage, Leberkäse rolls or Schnitzelsemmeln (rolls filled with schnitzel).
Traditionally you can get a Wurstsemmel (a roll filled, usually, with Extrawurst a special kind of thinly sliced sausage, often with a slice of cheese and a pickle or cornichon) at a Butcher or at the delicatessen counter in a supermarket.
There are also other common, yet informal, delicacies that are typical of Austrian food. For example the Bosna or Bosner (a spiced bratwurst in a hot dog roll) which is an integral part of the menu at Austria’s typical fast-food joint, the sausage stand (Würstelstand). Note that most Austrian sausages contain pork.
Regional Austrian Cuisines
In Lower Austria, local delicacies such as Waldviertel poppies, Marchfeld asparagus and Wachau apricots are cultivated. Famous are the “Marillenknödel” small dumplings filled with apricots and warm butter-fried breadcrumbs on it. Their influence can be felt in the local cuisine, for example in poppy seed noodles “Mohnnudeln”. Game dishes are very common. Lower Austria is striking for the differences within its regional cuisine due to its size and the variety of its landscape.
Burgenland’s cuisine has been influenced by Hungarian cuisine and Balkan cuisine owing to its former position within the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Dishes consist mainly of fish, chicken or pork. Potatoes are the most common side dish, for example mashed potatoes with onions called Grö´ste (coming from “geröstet”, roasted). Thanks to Hungary’s Balkan influences, often Burgenlandish dishes are spicier than elsewhere in Austria, often indicated with the terms “Zigeuner…” (“Gypsy”) or “Serbisch…”Polentais a popular side-dish within Burgenland’s Croatian minority. On St Martin’s Day (November 11) a Martinigans (St Martin’s goose) is often prepared, whilst carp is a typical Christmas dish.
In Styrian Buschenschanken (inns), Verhackertes (a spread made from finely chopped raw bacon) is served. Schilcher, a very dry rosé, is the regional style of wine in West Styria. A typically Styrian delicacy is pumpkin seed oil, which lends itself particularly to salads on account of its nutty taste. Many varieties of pumpkin dish are also very popular. Heidensterz, resembling a dry, almost crumbly version of grits made from buckwheat flour, is a local dish enjoyed in cold weather.
Carinthia’s many lakes mean that fish is a popular main course. Grain, dairy produce and meat are important ingredients in Carinthian cuisine. Carinthian Kasnudeln (noodle dough pockets filled with quark and mint) and smaller Schlickkrapfen (mainly with a meat filling) are well-known local delicacies. Klachlsuppe (pig’s trotter soup) and Reindling (yeast-dough pastry/cake filled with a mix of cinnamon, sugar and raisins) are also produced locally.
Various types of dumpling are an important part of Upper Austrian cuisine, as they are in neighbouring Bohemia and also Bavaria. The Linzer Torte, a cake which includes ground nuts and raspberry jam, is a popular dessert from the region.
“Linzeraugen” are fine, soft cookies filled with a jam made of redcurrants called “Ribisel-Marmelade”, which has a sharp flavour.
Kasnocken (cheese dumplings) are a popular meal, as are freshwater fish, particularly trout, served in various ways. Salzburger Nockerln (a meringue-like dish) is a well-known local dessert.
Tyrolean bacon and all sorts of dumplings including Speckknödel (dumplings with pieces of bacon) and Spinatknödel (made of spinach) are an important part of the local cuisine. Tyrolean cuisine is very simple because in earlier times Tyroleans were not very rich, farming on mountains and in valleys in the middle of the Alpine Region. Tyrolean food often contains milk, cheese, flour and lard.
The cuisine of Vorarlberg has been influenced by the cuisine of neighbouring Switzerland and Swabia. Cheese and cheese products play a major role in the cuisine, with Käsknöpfle and Kässpätzle (egg noodles prepared with cheese) being popular dishes. Other delicacies include Krutspätzle (sauerkraut noodles), Käsdönnala (similar to aquiche), Schupfnudla (made from a dough mixing potato and flour), Flädlesuppe (pancake soup), Öpfelküachle (apple cake) and Funkaküachle (cake traditionally eaten on the first Sunday of Lent).
Popular Dishes of Vienna
Viennese cuisine is the cuisine that is characteristic of Vienna, Austria, and a majority of its residents. Viennese cuisine is often treated as equivalent to Austrian cuisine, but while elements of Viennese cuisine have spread throughout Austria, other Austrian regions have their own unique variations. Viennese cuisine is best known for its pastries, but it includes a wide range of other unique dishes.
- Rindsuppe (beef soup) – a clear soup with golden colour.
- Tafelspitz – beef boiled in broth (soup), often served with apple and horseradish and chives sauce
- Gulasch – a hotpot similar to Hungarian pörkölt – Austrian goulash is often eaten with rolls, bread or dumplings (“Semmelknödel”)
- Beuschel – a ragout containing calf lungs and heart
- Liptauer – a spicy cheese spread, eaten on a slice of bread
- Selchfleisch – smoked, then cooked meat with sauerkraut and dumplings.
Powidl – a thick sweet and spicy jam made from plums.
- Apfelstrudel – apple strudel
- Topfenstrudel – cream cheese strudel
- Millirahmstrudel – milk/cream strudel
- Palatschinken – pancakes similar to French crêpes, filled with marmalade, jam, sprinkled with sugar etc. They are also served in savoury versions i.e. with spinach and cheese.
- Kaiserschmarrnsoft – fluffy pancake ripped into bites and slightly roasted in a pan, served with applesauce or stewed plums.
- Germknödel – a fluffy yeast dough dumpling filled with spicy plum jam (Powidl), garnished with melted butter and a mix of poppy seeds and powdered sugar, sometimes served with vanilla cream.
- Marillenknödela – dumpling stuffed with an apricot and covered with streusel and icing (powdered) sugar. The dough is made of potatoes or Topfen.