If music is the food of love, food (and drink) could as well be the sound of music in Austria.
A visit to Austria can be an eye opener for a foodie. There are many asides to a grand feast though. Here are some of them that we came across.
MORE AUSTRIAN THAN FRENCH
While the French may smirk at the idea, the history of the croissant is disputed. Austrians have been credited with creating this popular item on the breakfast table. It is said that in 1683, during the Ottoman Turks siege of Vienna, a baker working late at night heard the Turks tunnelling under the walls of the city. He alerted the military which saved the city from invasion.
To celebrate the victory, the baker baked a crescent shaped pastry, called Kripfel. It was in the shape of the Turk’s Islamic emblem, a crescent moon. The idea was that when his fellow Austrians bit into the croissant, they would be symbolically eating the Turks.
Another story talks of an Austrian artillery officer who opened up a bakery in France and popularised many Austrian foods, including the Kripfel. French bakers began imitating his Viennese pastries, and the “Kipferl” became “Croissant”, which is French for “crescent”.
Another story says that Marie Antoinette missed the Kipferl so much that she brought a Viennese baker to Paris to teach the Parisian bakers how to make them. Probably that’s true, since like her, we also lost our heads savouring Austrian bread and confectionery.
Thankfully, we retained our heads.
Confectionery beyond compare
One can’t emerge from Salzburg without them. Mozart’s music and the chocolate-covered nutty flavoured balls that bear his name are everywhere in Salzburg’s Altstadt (Old Town) district.
Those in the know say that the handmade Mozartkugels, are the ones wrapped in blue-silver tin foil. The red-gold tin foil varieties are imitations of the original exquisite tasting chocolate truffle created in 1890 by Salzburg confectioner Paul Furst. Not that it changes the yummy treat in any way.
Each ball has a green pistachio marzipan core covered in a layer of nougat. The creamy, nutty centre is then pierced with a small wooden stick and coated with a thick layer of dark chocolate. The stick is removed after the chocolate hardens, the small hole covered with chocolate, and the balls are wrapped in shiny foil. It is all done by hand in the original sweet. The confectionary has won lots of awards, starting with one at Paris in 1905. Today, they are everywhere, with Mozart’s face emblazoned on them.
Few visitors leave Salzburg without them. The red bright boxes and gold covered balls are in every bag checking out of Salzburg.
SAYING CHEESE AT ZELL AM SEE
Zell am See could be Austria’s well-kept secret. It’s a destination that offers a lake cruise, mountain drive and a glacier ride and skiing – all in a day. However, amongst its many joys, cheese is also a celebrated pleasure.
The picturesque village of Zell am See (a fast growing tourist destination for water and winter sports) holds a farmers’ market on the town square every Friday, where besides cheese; farm produce of different varieties is sold in droves. Most cheese in Austria is produced by cooperatives and private individual farms using traditional methods, some recipes being handed down from generation to generation. With a freshwater lake from which you can practically drink water directly and with grass grown in naturally organic hillsides, the milk from the dairies is indeed perfect.
There are other offerings of a particularly extensive range of cheeses and flavoured cheese dumplings, not to mention handmade Berger chocolates. Our favourite, however, was the excellent cheese available in a mind-boggling variety.
As the pleasant man at the counter of Feinkost Lumpi, the popular shop, enjoins us to taste a few samples, we end up buying some to take away for those at home – only to realise later that we had nibbled it all before we got back!
A Tyrolean delight
BREAKING BREAD AT GRAND EUROPA
When a Tyrolean would pray, he would probably say – Lord, Give us this day our daily bread (but make it in the three flavours, please).
We had dinner at the centuries old restaurant at the hotel Grand Europe in Innsbruck. The Grand Europa Hotel is part of Innsbruck’s history that sits right across the main rail station. Hosting kings and Presidents, since its establishment in 1869, it is now renovated and expanded but the aura is kept intact with history lurking in every corner.
Now baking bread is as Austrian as it can get. The shape of the Kaiser rolls in our bread basket had five sections. Each section has a different taste and the sections blend together as the roll bakes. Sometimes the surface is dusted with rye flour prior to baking, which helps to hold the shape as it bakes. They are also known as Vienna rolls. The ones served at our table was simpler bread but with three distinct colours and flavours in each piece.
The bread is raised fresh daily in the hotel’s own bakery. “The three flavoured bread is so easy to bake,” says our friend and guide from Innsbruck Tourism, “Just knead the dough in three different flavours and lump them together when it is baked.” Sounds simple enough, but not many bakeries can spin out the consistency and flavours like the one at Grand Europa.
Well, if it was good enough for the Bavarian king Ludwig or King Gustav of Sweden who dined at the same restaurant, it’s fine for us too! However, we don’t know if royalty would have ever asked for second helpings of the bread basket before the main course!
With no imperial graces or royal attitudes to protect or worry about, I sure did.