Cooking is a big part of the Austrian way of life, with large family lunches a popular pastime. The cuisine is an amalgamation of a variety of cultures that came together during the Austrian Empire; Italian, Dutch, Slovak and German influences all play a part in the culinary culture of the country. The diet is heavily rich in carbs and dairy, and an Austrian kitchen typically contains a few vital ingredients.
Austrians love their dairy products and cream cheese is no exception. There is a multitude of ways in which you can incorporate quark into Austrian cooking, and it makes an appearance in both sweet and savoury dishes. Topfen strudel, a twist on the more conventional apple strudel, contains thick quark between layers of towering pastry. It is also used for kaesekuchen (cheesecake), mixed with chives as a dip for boiled potatoes and as a spread in meat sandwiches.
Pork is probably the most popular meat that you will find in Austrian fridges. Called ‘speck’ in German, the best Austrian ham is seasoned and then left to mature for several months. It is commonly served with sour rye, mustard and crunchy pickled gherkins for a perfect open sandwich. A favoured family dish, speck knoedel — dumplings served with sauerkraut and vegetables — is created using cured ham.
Sausage and mustard are old friends, going together harmoniously. At most good Wurstelstands around Vienna, you will be asked to choose between sweet or hot mustard on top of your hot dog or bratwurst. Most meat dishes will include the condiment on the side and it is a staple in most Austrian kitchens. Slightly less fiery than your average British mustard, it has a more subtle peppery flavour so can be used more liberally without your head being blown off.
Pouring cream, sour cream, whipped cream — take your pick — the lactose intolerant don’t have it easy in Austria, as many of their national dishes, the glorious sachertorte for instance, come married with a mountainous swirl of the good stuff. It is rare to peer inside an Austrian fridge and not discover at least one variety of cream — be it sour cream with chives for boiled potatoes or the sweetened variety for desserts. Sahne is German for cream.
There’s nothing better than a salty, sour gherkin served alongside your kasekrainer to add some crunch. Pickles are a staple accompaniment in the Austrian diet and it is unusual not to find a jar of them kicking around in the kitchen. Gherkins are served with sausages, meat dishes and on the side of pastrami sandwiches — Austrians will often pickle the gherkins themselves, in jars with onions and peppers.
Freshly chopped herbs can often be found, either fresh or frozen, in Austria’s kitchens. Sprinkled on soups, dumplings, meat dishes, and potato salad, they add a subtle flavour to complete an Austrian meal. Other herbs and spices popularly used within the cuisine include: bay leaves, caraway seeds, dill, white pepper and parsley.
The Austrian diet is very carb-heavy and the bakeries are well stocked with fresh rye, sourdough and soft semmel roll; an Austrian speciality, often paired with leberwurst (liver sausage) for a hearty snack. Rye bread (schwartzbrot) and carraway loaves are among the most popular. ‘Vienna bread’ is baked using a special production method, developed in the 19th century.