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FOOD & DRINK

Discover Austria: In Vienna, snails are slowly reclaiming their culinary fame

On the outskirts of Austria's capital Vienna, farmer Andreas Gugumuck tosses some extra cereal to thousands of snails inching over planks and lush greenery.

Discover Austria: In Vienna, snails are slowly reclaiming their culinary fame
Snail breeder Andreas Gugumuck sorts snails in a basket at his "Wiener Schnecken" snail farm in Vienna on June 18, 2022. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

Far from being pests, the slow-moving molluscs have become his main produce.

“It started as a joke,” said 48-year-old Gugumuck, a former computer scientist who now raises more than 300,000 snails annually in an effort to resurrect a lost culinary tradition of the Habsburg empire.

Twelve years ago, an article featuring a renowned Vienna chef serving snails piqued his interest. After some research and poring over old cookbooks, he “found out that Vienna was a real snail capital”.

Back when this predominantly Catholic country strictly observed religious holidays, wealthy priests and monks were forced to give up meat during Lent and other religious holidays — and found snails to be a worthy, less sinful substitute.

A chef presents a snail skewer at the “Wiener Schnecken” snail farm (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)
 

In the 19th century, snails gained popularity across the city of Vienna, with a market in the centre serving them deep fried, sprinkled with sugar, or with a side of cabbage or bacon.

Though France is well-known for its garlic and butter escargots, in Vienna, snails used to be so popular they were shipped down the Danube by the barrel load.

‘It’s a great taste’

In Gugumuck’s restaurant next to his farm, he now serves snails in risottos and on pizzas, stuffed in dumplings, with sausages, as “snail and chips”, and even in sweet cinnamon buns.

Making it in the snail business wasn’t easy, he said. He recalled how chefs around the city initially turned their noses up, thinking diners would steer clear of intimidating invertebrates.

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

But Gugumuck started setting up events and guided tours at his snail farm to re-establish the tradition, and today, some of those chefs look enviously at the small bourgeoning enterprise which, Gugumuck said, is fully booked eight weeks in advance.

Snails are pictured at the “Wiener Schnecken” snail farm. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

Greater awareness of meat-eating’s environmental impact has also helped boost business, Gugumuck believes. Snails need little space, water or food, but he said they are packed with four times as much protein as beef, making them “a real future food”.

READ ALSO: Seven common myths about Austrian food you need to stop believing

For the most part, Gugumuck’s customers are pleasantly surprised. “It’s a great taste — you have to try it,” said Patrick Filzmaier, a 33-year-old bank employee who attended a wine tasting at the farm, complete with electro music.

He likened the flavour to nuts, meat, and baked goods. “It’s small but it fills you up,” he said.

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FOOD & DRINK

Hugo, Almdudler and Radler: 5 drinks to try in Austria this summer

It is easier to face the summer heat with a proper cold drink in your hands. Austrians know that well and have created (or made popular) several delicious alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Here are five you should try.

Hugo, Almdudler and Radler: 5 drinks to try in Austria this summer

The debate of which is the perfect summer drink is undoubtedly a very controversial one.

While many people would argue that nothing can beat the Italian Aperol Spritz (which is also very popular in Austria), some would rather stay with a simple cold beer.

If you are team Spritz, then you should know that Austria has a love for things g’spritzt, with their own versions of sparkling drinks (with or without alcohol). However, for those who prefer a beer, the alpine country is home to several famous brands, including the Styrian Gösser, the Viennese Ottakringer, and Stiegl, from Salzburg.

READ ALSO: Five Austrian destinations you can reach by train to escape the heat

In any case, when living or visiting a new country, it’s always fun to try out the traditional dishes and, in this case, beverages.

Here are five drinks you should try during the Austrian summer.

Hugo drink summer drink austria

Hugo is a very popular (and sweet) summer drink in Austria (Photo by Greta Farnedi on Unsplash)

Hugo

Some say this is the Austrian answer to the Aperol Spritz, but its sweetness from the elderflower syrup makes it quite different from the bitter bright orange Aperol.

There is also a bit of controversy as to where this drink, which Austrians love to drink during a nice summer afternoon, originates.

Internationally, it seems to be widely accepted that this alcoholic aperitif comes from South Tyrol, a German-speaking region of Italy with deep Austrian roots. Ask any Austrian, though, and they will tell that just proves the drink is from Austria.

READ ALSO: Eight ways to talk about the heat like a true Austrian

Italian or Austrian, the sweet drink is made with prosecco, elderflower syrup, seltzer and mint leaves. Serve it with lots of ice in a large glass, and you have a perfect summer drink.

white wine drinks party

Mix your white wine with sparkling water and you get a refreshing gespritzt (Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash)

weiß gespritzt

This is extremely popular, relatively cheap even in fancy restaurants, and somewhat controversial, but take some white wine and add a little sparkling water (sometimes ice) and you get a weiß gespritzt, or a g’spritzter.

READ ALSO: The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Not everyone appreciates mixing your wine with water, but it makes for a refreshing and lighter drink. In Austrian restaurants, you might be asked whether you want a summer gespritzt, which means it has higher water content and, therefore, is lighter, or a “normal” one.

It is by no means an Austrian drink, and you may have to ask for a Weinschorle instead of a Gespritzter in Germany, but it is a popular drink in the German world.

gösser radler drink

Austrian brands sell some of the most popular Radlers in Europe (Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash)

Radler

A Radler is another drink that though not from Austria, is extremely popular here. Not only that but some of the most popular Radlers are sold by Austrian brands.

Traditionally, all you need to make a Radler is to mix beer and lemonade. However, the drink is also found bottled and sold by beer companies such as Gösser and Ottakringer. The mix has also expanded and you can discover Radlers with a citrus or berry mix.

READ ALSO: Austrian old folks toast success of ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ beer

It is a lighter and sweeter beer, perfect for enjoying the summer with a fresh drink that is not so alcoholic.

Mixing apple juice and sparkling water creates a perfect non-alcoholic summer drink. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

Apfelspritz

Following the Austrian love for adding sparkling water to drinks, a very common and non-alcoholic beverage is the Apfelspritz.

It is a mix of apple juice and (you guessed it) sparkling water. It is popular in Biergarten as a non-alcoholic alternative, with kids joining in on toasts with their apple and soda mix.

The drink is also very common in Germany (where it is known as Apfelschorle), Switzerland and Hungary.

READ ALSO: Cash and Schnapps: A guide to visiting pubs and cafes in Austria

almdualer gerhard schilling

Almdudler’s CEO Gerhard Schilling holds a bottle of the traditional Austrian drink (© Philipp Lipiarski)

Almdudler

Another option for a summer light and non-alcoholic drink is the Almdudler, which is technically the name of the Austrian brand that sells the famous carbonated soft drink.

The drink is a blend of 32 “natural alpine herbs, beet sugar and soda water”, according to the website. It has a very distinctive logo and can be found in almost all Austrian households – being one of the most popular beverages in the country.

Did we forget about your favourite summer drink? Then let us know in the comments below or send us an email at [email protected]

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