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Seven common myths about Austrian food you need to stop believing

Many Austrian dishes are famous throughout the world, from the mighty Schnitzel to the sumptuous Sachertorte. However, there is far more to Austrian cuisine than these big hitters.

Seven common myths about Austrian food you need to stop believing
Even the most elegant diners enjoy hearty food in Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Myth one: Austrian food is bland

Whether it’s smearing your sausage with a mixture of fiery horseradish (Kren) or mustard (Senf), or ordering a Bosna, a sausage which comes with fresh coriander and curry powder, munching on pickles or sampling a spiced Christmas biscuit, there are many flavours in Austrian food.

No Würstelstand (sausage stand) is complete without its jar of pickled chillis or gherkins. Bread is often gewürzbrot – seasoned with caraway, coriander or cumin seeds, while Lebkuchen biscuits are spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

In terms of the types of meat you will be offered in a traditional Austrian restaurant, offal is still very popular, along with a variety of wild game such as wild boar and deer. Goose is also widely eaten, especially around Martinigansl in November, when it is a seasonal festive dish. As mentioned earlier, horse is also a popular food in Vienna. 

Myth two: Leberkäse contains liver and cheese

Yes, Leberkäse translates directly as liver (Leber) cheese (Käse), and in parts of Germany it must contain these ingredients to be called Leberkäse.

It is all different in Austria. Here it is a fatty meatloaf which is most often made from pork, bacon or beef.

Sometimes Leberkäse is made with horse meat, lamb, or game, but in this case it should be labelled as such. Pferd means horse, in case you were wondering.

Myth three: Austrian food is just German cuisine

While the cuisines of Bavaria and Austria may have some aspects in common, such as a love of dumplings, for example, Austrian and German cuisines are not the same.

Austria has richer, sweeter desserts and more interesting deep fried meat dishes (in my opinion).

However, both countries love cabbage, especially pickled Sauerkraut and all kinds of meat, whether it’s raw beef, or cooked ham, bacon or pork.

Both countries also enjoy celebrating the asparagus harvest in the spring, the time known as Spargelzeit (asparagus time), along with other seasonal treats such as wild garlic (Barlauch) in Austria and southern Germany or young fermented wine in the autumn.

This wine is called Sturm in Austria and Traubenmost in Germany.  Of course, Germany has many regional variations, as does Austria, so perhaps it’s hard to compare the two.

Myth four: Austrian food is the same as Viennese Cuisine

Although Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and Sachertorte are rightly famous, Austrian food is about so much more than these Viennese specialities.

One of the most popular dishes across the country is Tafelspitz, boiled veal or beef in broth, served with a mix of cooked apples and horseradish.

But there is also Styrian fried chicken, served with a salad dressed with pumpkin oil, Schlipfkrapfen, a type of stuffed pasta from Tyrol, Linz’s famous Linzer Torte cake and Salzburger Nockerl, a pillowy meringuey dumpling shaped to look like a snowy mountain range.

The widespread love of Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings), shows the Austrian love of seasonal and regional ingredients. Apricot dishes of all kinds can be found in the Wachau region of lower Austria, which is famous for its apricot orchards.

Myth five: Austrian cuisine is fancy

Austrian food is all about Gemütlichkeit (comfort), whether it’s wallowing in a plate of cheesy pasta (Käsespätzle) after a day on the slopes in Tyrol or Vorarlberg, or trying one of the thousands of varieties of donuts (Krapfen) on offer at Carnival (Faschings).

It’s all about Gutbürgerliche – defined in the Duden German dictionary as a “cuisine that offers simple and unrefined dishes in ample portions”.

Of course the settings in Austrian restaurants may be very grand, especially in Vienna where you could easily be dining in some high vaulted cafe with waiters in black jackets, but Austrian food is all about tasty, simple, home-cooked style meals.

The typical example is an elegantly dressed woman in Vienna munching on a Leberkäse (meatloaf) sandwich for lunch. 

Myth six: Austrian food is monocultural

The Austro-Hungarian empire was once one of the most powerful in the world, and Austria’s food reflects its former glory and geographical reach.

Apfelstrudel is believed to be an Austrian version of a Turkish baklava. It’s often debated whether the Schnitzel originated in Milan (Cotoletta alla Milanese) or in Vienna.

Austria’s Palatschinken (crêpes) and Gulasch come from Hungary, while many famous Austrian pastries originated in Bohemia. The ubiquitous Käsekrainer – a cheese-stuffed sausage comes not just from Upper Austria, but is an adaption of a Slovakian recipe.

Myth seven: It’s just meat

OK, so there is definitely some truth to this as Austrian cuisine is known to be hearty and vegetarianism is only a relatively comparative phenomenon, however Austria does offer a number of great vegetarian dishes. 

The traditional Käsespätzle can be found all over the country and is both traditional and vegetarian, while the Grießnockerl dumpling soup is a great way to warm up in winter.

Knödel are round, tasty dumplings made of either potato, bread or flour, although be sure to ask if it is vegetarian as occasionally they can have bacon pieces or be cooked in a meaty broth. 

Given the presence of cheese and egg, vegan stuff can be a little more difficult to find unless you’re in a larger town or city, but never underestimate the versatility of the humble potato. 

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Austrian traditions: How to celebrate St. Martin’s Day in Austria

Austrians celebrate St. Martin's Day, also known as Martinstag, even if it is not an official bank holiday. From traditional food to parades, here's how to enjoy the day.

Austrian traditions: How to celebrate St. Martin's Day in Austria

Austria is a very catholic country and several important dates for the church are official bank holidays. However, even the dates that are not holidays are still often celebrated by the population – even if just by preparing a traditional meal.

Martinstag, or St. Martin’s Day, is one of those dates that people don’t get off from work, but still, many Austrians will commemorate every November 11th. 

Who was Saint Martin?

According to Catholic tradition, Saint Martin of Tours was a “conscientious objector who wanted to be a monk; a monk who was manoeuvred into being a bishop; a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleaded for mercy to heretics”. 

As the legend goes, Saint Martin, a Roman soldier, gave a beggar half his red cloak to protect him during a snowstorm. 

READ ALSO: Five things you will find in (almost) every Austrian home

Through this good deed, Saint Martin is considered the patron saint of travellers and the poor and is seen as an example to children to share and be giving.

One legend has it that he hid in a goose stall when he was summoned by the church to become a bishop, as he felt unworthy. But the geese cackled so loudly that Martin was found – and now geese are eaten on his name day.

How is the date celebrated?

The main festivities revolve around the evening meal; traditionally, Martinigansl goose often served with cabbage and dumplings.

Mid-November was the time of year when farmers completed their autumn wheat seeding and slaughtered the fattened cattle before the winter.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: How do Austria’s public holidays stack up against the rest of Europe?

But across Austria, St Martin’s Day, and the weeks leading up to it, is marked by eating Martinigansl – roasted goose served with aromatic chestnuts, red cabbage and fluffy bread dumplings. The meal is just as important for some people as Easter and Christmas dinners.

Traditionally, the day is also the occasion for naming the year’s new wine. Therefore, it has special significance for the wine regions and villages in Burgenland around Lake Neusiedl.

Where can I try the traditional meal?

If you’re planning to try Martinigansl in Vienna, the Kurier newspaper recommends Rudi’s Beisl in the 5th district. Their goose is served with red cabbage, white cabbage and potato or bread dumplings for €29.90.

If you don’t eat meat, you could try the ‘goose’ at Cafe Harvest, Vienna’s second district. It’s made from soy fillets and served along with red cabbage and potato dumplings. It’s already available for €17.80.

READ ALSO: Vienna Christmas Markets: Here are the dates and locations for 2022

A goose broth with baked Kaiserschöberl croutons is followed by free-range goose breast with goose praline, red cabbage, and Waldviertel dumplings. Dessert is a sweet baked apple served with gingerbread foam. 


The St. Martins procession

In parts of Austria, children celebrate Martinstag by carrying paper lanterns they have made in school in an evening procession. In some places, the lantern procession ends with a Martinsfeuer (bonfire).

“Der Laternenumzug”, or lantern procession, is an annual celebration in honour of St. Martin’s Day. 

However, while St. Martin’s Day is an occasion celebrated by Catholics across Europe, including the UK, this children’s tradition seems to only be commonplace in German-speaking regions (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and some areas of Belgium, Italy and Poland).

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Laternenumzug

The procession is usually organised through local kindergartens and schools, and the children themselves often make the lanterns during their classes. The children are often accompanied by a man dressed as St. Martin in his iconic red cloak.