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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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The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Sampling wine in beautiful surroundings is a great way to spend a summer afternoon in Austria. Here are the best places to add to your wine tasting wish list.

The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Austria is on the same latitude as the Burgundy wine region in France, so it’s no surprise that the Alpine country produces some of the best wines in the world.

But simply drinking Austrian wine and actually visiting a winery are two very different experiences, with the latter often transforming newbie wine connoisseurs into life-long oenophiles.

So, for anyone visiting Austria this summer – or for any burgeoning wine geeks out there – here’s a guide to the best wineries to visit to get an authentic taste of Austrian wine.

Where are Austria’s wine regions?

Grapes for winemaking are grown in every federal state in Austria, but the east of the country is best known as Austria’s wine region.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Austria’s wine industry

Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland and Styria are the most prominent wine producing areas in Austria, and Vienna is one of the few capital cities in the world that can boast a wine industry within the city limits.

In these regions, the land is less mountainous than in the west of Austria and the climate is slightly warmer, especially in summer and autumn. This is important for growing grapes, although Austria is still considered as a “cold climate” country when it comes to winemaking.

Wine-growing regions in Austria (© ÖWM / ÖWM)

Today, Vienna is considered as one of the world’s classic wine regions, and wine making is so embedded in the city that there is one wine producer for every 2,500 residents.

Austria is mostly known for producing white wine, such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay, as well as a wide selection of light red wines, such as Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. 

Additionally, Austrian winemakers produce some famous cuvée, such as Vienna’s Gemischter Satz (a blend of at least three grapes from the same vineyard).

Mayer am Nussberg, Vienna

A favourite with locals in Vienna is Mayer am Nussberg, which is technically a Heuriger (a wine tavern).

Mayer am Nussberg is located in the middle of a vineyard with views overlooking Vienna and is only open on good weather days from Thursday to Sunday (as well as public holidays).

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

Guests can sample a variety of wines by the glass or the bottle, including the Mayer am Nussberg classic house red and white wines. Snacks and regional delicacies are also available to order alongside the wine.

Visitors can make their way to the winery with the Heurigen Express (which runs from Vienna between April and October), by a hiking trail from the Kahlenberg Station or via tram line D.

Grafen Bergerin, Carinthia

Recommended by Carinthia resident Wyn Owen, Grafen Bergerin is the province’s highest vineyard, located at 880 metres above sea level in Flattach.

Grafen Bergerin is a fairly new vineyard – planted in 2012 – but already boasts 1,600 vines growing Regent, Zweigelt, Merlot and Rösler varieties.

Not only is Grafen Bergerin open to visitors for tastings, but owner Ernestine Berger also organises vineyard hikes from September to October, which ends with a wine tasting at the Weingut (winery).

Austria’s wineyards by the Wachau valley (Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Harald Eisenberger)

Domäne Wachau, Lower Austria

This is one of Austria’s top wineries that was voted number one in Europe and third in the world in the 2020 World’s Best Vineyards rankings.

It is located on the banks of the Danube River where winemaker Heinz Frischengruber works with vintner families from across the Wachau Valley to produce a range of white, red and rose wines.

Visitors to Domäne Wachau can explore the Baroque cellars and sample a selection of the wines every Saturday at 11am from June to October. The price is €15 per person and includes a tasting a four different wines.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Austria this summer

Tastings outside of the scheduled times can be organised by request, and they can also be facilitated in Czech or Slovak.

Additionally, Domäne Wachau runs special activities throughout the summer months, such as yoga and wine, music and street food events.

Hirtzberger, Wachau, Lower Austria

Wine buffs highly recommend Weingut Franz Hirtzberger in the Wachau for sampling Austrian white wines.

The Wachau Valley is an internationally-renowned wine region and UNESCO world heritage site, and the vines at Hirtzberger have been growing at the site since the 13th century. 

READ ALSO: Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?

The winery has also been in the Hirtzberger family for five generations and is still run as a small family business today.

As a result, the website advises visitors to book in advance to make an appointment for a tasting. They are closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Weingut Knoll, Wachau, Lower Austria

Another winery well-known for its white wines (and grand, distinctive labels) is Knoll, which has been in operation since the 1950s.

Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are the most famous Knoll wines to taste during a visit to the Dürnstein-based winery, but the family also produces highly-rated Gelber Muskateller.

The website advises guests to book an appointment for tastings in advance.

austria village BURGENLAND

The village Donnerskirchen in the region of the Neusiedler See in Burgenland (Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Andreas Tischler)

Umathum, Burgenland

For red wines, look no further than Umathum in Frauenkirchen in Neusiedl am See – another prime location for wine touring in Austria that is easy to reach from Vienna.

Umathum has 30 hectares of vines on both sides of Lake Neusiedl with around 85 percent dedicated to the Austrian red varieties of Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch.

READ ALSO: Discover Austria: Five beautiful hikes and destinations south of Vienna

Umathum has also been consistently ranked as a top wine grower in Austria since the 1990s, which further adds to its appeal.

The wine estate is open to visitors from Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Stift Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria

The architecturally-stunning Klosterneuburg Abbey in Lower Austria is home to one of Austria’s oldest wineries, boasting a blend of traditional and modern winemaking practices and centuries of history.

Wine tours take visitors through the Baroque cellar complex down to a depth of 36 metres to learn about the background to the estate and how it operates today. There is then an optional wine tasting at the end.

READ ALSO: Tips: How to buy wine in an Austrian supermarket

At the top of the tasting list should be the award-winning Wiener Gemischter Satz and the Pinot Noir, but all Klosterneuburg wines are regularly awarded high points by judges.

Tickets for the wine tour costs €11 and includes admission to the abbey. Wine tasting is an additional cost. 

Klosterneuburg is easy to reach from Vienna by bus, train or car.

Useful vocabulary

Wein – wine

Weingut – winery

Weißwein – white wine

Rotwein – red wine

Heuriger – wine tavern

Vinothek – wine shop