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Eight Austrian food mistakes you only make once

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Eight Austrian food mistakes you only make once
One of Vienna's beautiful coffee houses. Coffee culture extends into Austrian offices as well. (Photo by Rick Govic on Unsplash)

Living in Austria as a foreigner doesn't come without its culture shocks, especially when considering the unwritten rules of the world of eating and drinking. Here are some of the gastronomic mistakes you'll probably only make once.


Ask for a 'coffee' at a cafe

You might get your first sense of the infamous angry servers in Vienna if you go to a coffee house and order… coffee. This can sound strange initially, but the issue is that there are many different types of coffee preparation, from the Wiener Melange to espresso and the Einspänner.

If you are not specific with your order, you will get an angry look from the server, who will then ask you, with different tones of exasperation, which type of coffee you want. The good news is that there is practically no wrong answer. Viennese coffee is famous, traditional and absolutely delicious. 

You can find the coffee menu (and English translation) of one of Vienna's most famous coffee houses HERE.

READ ALSO: Caffeine, war and Freud: A history of Vienna’s iconic coffee houses


In fact, just not being specific in general

The diversity in food comes not only with coffee but with several other items as well. For example, you might be excited to go to a bakery and, after practising during your German class, ask for some Brot, but that won't do. There are countless types of bread, perhaps the most traditional being the round Semmel

Similarly, if you are heading to a traditional sausage stand (Würstelstand, bitte!), get acquainted with your many options. The sausages include Käsekrainer, Debreziner, Frankfurter, Burenwurst, Bratwurst, and Currywurst, with different types of preparations or sizes. Additionally, you'll be asked to choose between Semmel or another kind of bread and pick your sauce (usually mustard or ketchup).

If you want a hotdog, you'll have to choose the sausage and perhaps also a side. Speaking of hotdogs, if you expect something huge, filled with sauce, in a loaf of soft bread, that is not happening. Traditionally, the sausage is added to a long dry bread (it sticks out in the end, so you eat it "vertically"). 

You can find an example of a menu from one of Vienna's most traditional sausage stands HERE.

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

A Würstelstand in Austria Photo by Marcel Schachinger on Unsplash

Forget to keep your fridge stocked on Sundays

This is a classic newbie mistake in Austria. Unlike many other countries, all stores and supermarkets (with few exceptions) are closed on Sundays, the country's official "rest day". This means that if you are not prepared, you might end up with an empty fridge and an equally empty stomach.

The same applies to public holidays, and it has long been a complaint of international residents in Austria that Sundays and public holidays are boring.

The solution usually is to head to a fuel station store, order food or go to a restaurant, all options that are more expensive than just cooking a home. 


READ ALSO: Why everything in Austria is closed on Sundays – and what to do instead

Not check ahead if you have any restrictions or are a vegetarian/vegan

Austrian food is delicious, but there are few options depending on your diet. For example, gluten-free products are less common than in other countries, and many main dishes are meat-based. In some traditional restaurants, you might even struggle to find a vegan potato salad (as some are made using meat broth).

In the west of the country, lactose-intolerant people will also struggle, as much of the cuisine is based on the famous Alpine milk made in the region. So, if you plan to go out for a meal, it is worth checking the menu (Speisekarte) ahead of time.

READ ALSO: Four underwhelming Austrian dishes – and what to eat instead

Pictured is somebody getting cash out of their wallet.

Photo by Emil Kalibradov on Unsplash

Forget to bring cash to a restaurant

Cash is king in Austria – and it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

Although the pandemic has tipped the scales slightly towards an increase in card payment, cash is still the payment of choice for many Austrians and businesses.

You might even get a grumpy roll of the eyes when trying to pay with cash in some places, though most servers will immediately tell you where the next ATM is located (sometimes, it is not as close as you'd like!). 

This attitude towards cash is reflected in the saying “Nur Bares ist Wahres” (only cash is true), with a pre-pandemic study showing that 83 per cent of Austrians preferred paying with cash.

There are three reasons for this – freedom, anonymity and control. 

Austrians like to have the freedom of not relying on a bank, the anonymity to spend money on whatever they like and control over spending.

For international residents from card-favouring countries like the UK, Ireland and most of Scandinavia, the best way to deal with this is to get used to carrying cash.

After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

READ ALSO: Why is cash so important to Austrians?


Underestimate the spiciness of other cuisines in Austria

One of the best things about Austria is its diversity, particularly its capital, with more than a third of the population being foreign-born. 

This brings many benefits to its cultural life and many options when it comes to food and dining.

If you go to a traditional restaurant in Austria, don't expect that the food will be spiced "to Austrian or European standards". However, if you order a spicy dish (and you usually can choose the level of spiciness), be prepared to feel the burn, really.

Kebab is a very popular food in Austria (Photo by T Foz on Unsplash)

Believe the 50 percent off promos on kiosks

Street food is very popular in Austria, and especially in Vienna, you will find little kiosks selling everything from sushi to schnitzel (sometimes in the same place). One thing widespread in Asian stalls is that, luckily enough, you can always find a 50 percent promotion.

Great, isn't it? However, if you take a closer look, you'll realise that the 50 percent sticker has been painted on that notice board for years. 

Still, delicious food at affordable prices, but don't make the mistake of thinking you were lucky.


Eat a kebab from a dodgy place

Speaking of street food, one of the Austrian staples is the kebab, a cooked meat dish that originated from the Middle East. You can find a kebab stand practically anywhere in larger cities, and they are usually (the only things) open until very late in the evening.

However, no matter how drunk you might be, try and watch out not to eat kebab from a dodgy place. Most stands are great and have even a fixed clientele, but you might run into a kebab place with old meat, non-refrigerated food, or that guy who just came in from his smoke break and didn't even wash his hands before preparing your food… we could go on. So, just watch out. 

When in doubt, you should follow the locals and look for where the queues are - some (the best) kebab stands have long queues no matter what day or time. 

At the same time, though, we have to say that eating from a dodgy kebab place might be a very quintessential Viennese experience. It does happen to almost everyone eventually.


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