Beautiful Brettljause at a South Styria Buschenschank
Austria is one of the world’s prettiest places, with epic landscapes, warm and welcoming people, and exquisite Austrian white wine. The food on the other hand is delicious, though somewhat misunderstood. We’ve eaten our way from north to south and created this Austria Food Guide to invite a new way of looking at — and savoring — what we believe is some of the best food in Europe!
Generally speaking, food in Austria is heavy with meats, cheeses, and carb rich foods like pastries and dumplings. But the stereotypes we have (imagine a thick and hearty goulash bubbling on the fire in an alpine chalet with a cow outside the door, freshly milked of course by a little girl with blond braids) only reinforce the idea that all Austrian food is rich and fatty.
OK, some of this may be rooted in truth. And we readily admit we still harbor romantic notions of well-behaved children in matching attire singing and snacking on “tea with jam and bread” — don’t even get us started on the Sound of Music in Austria (Spoiler: Austrians don’t care about it and most have never seen it!) :-0
But take a closer look, stay a bit longer… slow travel the different regions of Österreich, and you’ll find more than meets the eye. Austria food is most often associated with Viennese cuisine, which has been heavily influenced over centuries by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Sure, it can be hearty and filling, but not always.
There are significant regional variations in Austrian cuisine and as lesser-known regions tout their culinary chops and feature more of their regional products and ingredients, the Austrian food culture is changing.
Like many cultures around the world, Austrians value seasonality. Chefs are guided by this philosophy as they create, and recreate, regional Austrian dishes, introducing new interpretations of what traditional Austrian food means to them. Austrian food can be elegant and full of flavor. And beautiful too! Plenty of finesse and creativity goes into crafting food that brings the four seasons onto your plate in a revolving cycle of new variations and flavors. There really is something for every palate, including vegetarians — surprising veggie and vegan options that are bright, fresh, healthy, and bursting with flavor await.
Let us know if we’ve missed anything, and what you think of the incredible food in Austria!
TABLE OF CONTENTS –
Thinking About Food ~
I always have to remind myself never to think of food in terms of geo-political boundaries — country borders mean very little when you look at food around the world. It’s almost silly to say things like “I love Thai food” or “Italian food is my favorite”, as if all Italian food includes pasta or is always delicious! OK, Italian food was a bad example but you get what I mean, right?
Local food, wine, beer or spirits — wherever you go in the world — is the result of climate, soil, and growing conditions (agriculture) and how the local culture uses those ingredients and products. Food that is grown, livestock that’s raised, and the cuisine that’s created criss-crosses boundaries. Regions at similar latitudes with similar climate conditions around the globe generally share the capacity for growing certain food crops, and those crops are shared across boundaries.
Food is always regional.
Thinking of food this way not only helps you understand the origins of food, it helps to appreciate how regions relate to one another. It also helps you anticipate what foods you’re likely to find when you travel, and expand your exploration toward the flavors that you love. It’s why we love traveling for food. Like animals migrating for food sources, let your palate be your guide to help you find, enjoy, and understand the food you love!
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Rolling hills and wineries of south Austria
The country of Austria is made up of nine states, or länder in German (and in case you weren’t aware, the language of Austria is German.) But “Land” is also the German word for “country”, so Austrians use the word bundesländer to refer to the different federation states, or regions.
The climate, soil, and growing conditions between North and South Austria are distinct. You’ll find significant variations in meat offerings as well as food preparation and technique depending on the region you’re in. In fact, some regional food variations are so small, you might be surprised at the impact they could have on a region and its food products.
Take South Styria (Südsteiermark), for example, where the tiny pumpkin seed rules! This one food — seeds or the ever-present pumpkinseed oil — can be found on every table here in one dish or another, like traditional balsamico di Modena would be in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region.
Each region in Austria has its individual, unmistakable cultural identity, and, of course their own Austrian culinary specialties.
Austria Food Staples (What to Eat in Austria, and Where)
North Austria – Vienna, Upper and Lower Austria, and Burgenland
- The northern regions of Austria are known for their crisp Austrian white wines such as Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings. In springtime, fresh green and white asparagus is on everyone’s palate and on every menu. While the whole of Austria may be known for their white wines and you’ll be hard-pressed (no pun intended) to find local reds offered, you’ll find them in Burgenland, the smallest and newest Austrian state in the East. Here they produce Blaufränkisch, a dry and full-bodied red wine, as well as Zweigelt, the country’s most-cultivated red wine and lighter in taste than Blaufränkisch. The western part of North Austria, known as Upper Austria, is known for growing hops (which of course is used to make beer) and making cheese. You can see how the closer you get to the mountainous Alps, the heartier the food becomes, and the more that little girl with the blond braids milking the cow enters the picture!Austrian Snacks, Appetizers, and Condiments
Belegte Brote (Open-Faced Sandwiches)
So delish! Open-faced sandwiches from Delikatessen Frankowitsch in Graz are perfect any time of day.
Mini sandwiches served open-faced at any time of day — what could be better! It’s an Austrian classic. In Vienna, the iconic Franciszek Trzesniewski is the place to try them. The shop is renowned for their food as art, beautifully presented rectangles of dark rye bread smothered in various toppings, from tomato and paprika to salmon and cream cheese. There are several locations around the city so you’re never far from a good sandwich snack.
In Graz, Delikatessen Frankowitsch is an institution, and there’s always a crowd any time of day. One or two with a glass of wine is our idea of a perfect lunch.
Wiener Würstels (Vienna Sausages)
It makes sense that Vienna sausages are a true Austrian traditional food. The word “wiener” literally means from Vienna, so if you love wieners, you’ve come to the right place. These smaller, thinner sausages are traditionally made of pork and beef in a casing of sheep’s intestine, then smoked at a low temperature. They’re everywhere in Vienna, and people snack on them throughout the day. If you want a bigger wiener, venture out to other parts of Austria. You’ve only just begun. 😉
Krainer Sausage or Käsekrainer (Cheese Krainer)
Krainer is a popular grilled sausage, similar to kielbasa, generally served with mustard (senf), grated horseradish (kren), and sometimes a kaiser roll (semmel). We rarely saw ketchup served with Krainer. Whether it’s plain or cheese-stuffed, it’s a comforting snack and a popular street food in Austria.
Leberkäse is a pressed meat we found near Vienna at a street food stand. It’s made from pork, and similar in consistency to SPAM or the Panino di Cotechino we ate in Modena, Italy. It’s usually served sliced on a roll with mustard on the side. It was tasty — a new way to try a quick Austrian snack on the go.
Roasted chestnuts (kastanien) in South Styria, Austria
Verhackert is a hearty specialty spread in Styria made of finely chopped, smoked bacon, perfected with additions such as garlic, onion and various spices. Delicious on bread, and an obligatory component of a non-vegetarian “Brettljause” (platter of cold cuts).
We know it may sound horrific to some of you that many cultures eat straight lard. Well, maybe not straight…sometimes they add herbs and flavorings to make it, you know… healthier. Herbs! This is Grammelschmalz, a spread made from greaves mixed with lard. See? Greaves! Actually, greaves is unmeltable residue left after animal fat has been rendered. Ok, so we wouldn’t eat this all the time, but when in Rome…or Austria. 😉
Ah, the smell of chestnuts roasting slowly over glowing embers. Chestnuts are best enjoyed in the fall in southern Austria with a Sturm in hand, anywhere along the South Styrian wine road. It’s the ultimate in south Styrian autumn wistfulness.
Kernöl (Pumpkin Seed Oil)
Known as the “green gold” of Styria, pumpkin seed oil is perhaps the one specialty food Steiermark (Styria) is known for. The oil is pressed from the roasted seeds of the Styrian pumpkin and has a nutty flavor that is perfect for adding the finishing touch (now across the world) to salads, pastries and even ice cream. Sounds strange, but we promise you it is absolutely scrumptious!
Wienerschnitzel (The National Dish of Austria)
Wienerschnitzel (The National Dish of Austria)
How can you say No to the National Dish of Austria? You can’t, and shouldn’t. It’s one of the most famous foods of Austria. Besides, Austrians know how to make it really well. Schnitzel is made from a thin cutlet of either veal or pork that’s breaded and then fried in butter or oil. Schnitzel in Vienna, called Viennese Schnitzel, is heavily regulated and can only be made with veal.
But in other parts of the country where schnitzel is often made with pork, it’s called Schweinschnitzel, though you won’t always find it called Schweinschnitzel on the menu. If it’s important you have veal and not swine, ask ahead of time. It’s a simple dish, but an Austrian traditional food you have to try.
Tafelspitz (Beef or Veal Boiled in Broth With Vegetables)
Tafelspitz is a popular but simple dish of boiled beef (braised sounds so much better!) typically served with a variety of root vegetables, roasted potatoes, a savory broth, and horseradish sauce on the side. Don’t let the “boiled meat” throw you, it’s really delicious and satisfying.
You know anything pronounced brettel-YOWZA has to be good! This platter of cold cuts or cold meats and spreads is typical in the Buschenschanks of Styria. Known as charcuterie in some parts of the world, the Austrian version is always unique to the winery, or weingut, that’s serving it. It’s always fun to see the creativity with which some of them are made.
Backhendl (Fried Chicken)
We hate to call it fried chicken, but that’s essentially what Backhendl is. Fried pieces of Styrian chicken in crispy breadcrumbs, best enjoyed at a traditional Styrian Wirtshaus (Inn) or specialized Backhendlstation. However, there’s a big difference in taste from Austrian Backhendl and the comforting fried chicken you might get in the southern United States which is often coated in buttermilk. We found Backhendl to have a similar bread-coating as a schnitzel — with a tighter, finer, and crisper coating than southern fried chicken in the USA. As you can imagine, it’s one of the most popular Austrian food specialties.
Trout is a popular staple food in western Austria where the cold mountain waters from down from the Alps through Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Lienz into northern Italy and Slovenia. Served in a variety of ways, we enjoyed it both grilled with a wedge of fresh lemon and also in light cream sauces. Trout is a lighter tasting fish so I assumed a cream sauce would overpower the fish. I was so wrong. The sauce was light enough with just enough texture — a nice complement to the dish.
Lendbratl (Pork Loin)
Lendbratl is boned, lean pork loin cured in one piece, and aromatically spiced and smoked over beech and then hung for up to three months to enhance the flavors. There are regional variations in the spices used, but it’s usually simply presented. If you love pork chops or a good pork loin, try Lendbratl when you’re here. The extra aging and smoking process really makes it special.
Better or Wurst?
- Wiener Würstels (Vienna Sausages) – Made from beef and pork, the Vienna sausage is essentially a smaller version of the hot dog. Yes, please! Ja, bitte!
- Krainerwurst or Cheese Krainer (Käsekrainer) – A popular grilled sausage made from beef and pork, Krainer is a cured and smoked version of the brat with a mild amount of garlic. It’s generally served with mustard (senf) and grated horseradish (kren). Whether it’s plain or cheese-stuffed, it’s a yummy snack.
- Weisswurst (Bavarian White Sausage) – This smushy-soft wurst is actually native to Germany, and is popular in northern Austria near Bavaria. Made from veal and pork, they may look a little…unappealing, but they have a ton of good flavor.
- Bratwurst – This Viennese style white sausage is mostly pork and originally hails from Germany.
- Breinwurst – This regional cooked sausage from South Styria is made from pork (particularly the head, called Sauschädl) and “Brein”, a mixture of grains like millet, buckwheat, pearl barley, and also rice, precooked and mixed with the minced meat to form a sausage stuffing. The casing is usually cow intestine, and the sausage tends to burst if roasted too quickly. Breinwurst is traditionally made in slaughter season during the colder months, and typically served with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes.
- Currywurst – As the name suggests, these sausages can be made with a curry-flavored meat mixture, or simply served with curry sauce and fries on the side as a snack. Either way, they’re a nice flavor change.
- Cevapcici – (pronounced Sa-VOP-chee chee) Though technically not a wurst since it’s not in a casing, this molded sausage is another cross-border sausage specialty shared between south Austria and Slovenia. The lack of casing gives it a less-fatty, more hamberger-like taste
Woaz is simply corn or maize, and grows abundantly in Austria. In southern Styria, the corncob is called a Woazstriezl, and in harvest season is popularly grilled until crispy. It’s a great street food to snack on!
Spargel (Spring Asparagus)
Sweet, white asparagus is one of those local foods that’s highly anticipated by Austrians every spring, and you’ll find it on menus everywhere prepared in different ways — steamed or grilled drizzled with lemon, or slathered with hollandaise. In soup it’s absolutely sublime, especially if you’re not a fan of the stalk. If you love asparagus, head to Austria in springtime for Spargelzeit!
Vogerlsalat (Lamb’s Lettuce)
This small plant also goes by the name of corn salad, or mâche, and has lots of small leaves. You’ll find it in south Austria year round even through the cold seasons, usually mixed with other specialties like Austrian potato salad (Erdäpfelsalat) or Käferbohnen. In Styria, it’s given an original Styrian twist with flaked potatoes, still warm, served with lashings of pumpkin seed oil.
Käferbohnen (Runner Bean)
This oversized purple-ish black bean has become one of my favorite things to eat in South Styria. They are so delicious, flavorful, almost al dente — and they’re super healthy for you. Usually drizzled with Styrian pumpkin seed oil, the delicately nutty, brown, violet and black speckled Styrian runner bean (or string bean) has given rise to the stuff of culinary legend: the Runner Bean Salad (Käferbohnensalat). I wish I could find them in the US — I’d eat them all day long!
Goulash is one of those foods with so many variations it’s hard to tell who made it first. From most accounts, Goulash originated in Hungary as a typical herdsmen food, and was heavily seasoned with salt and paprika thanks to the availability of chilis left behind by conquering armies. Today, the stew has many variations and adaptations. We ate it in southern Austria made with chunks of beef, then again in the Wachau Valley in northern Austria made with sliced pork. What was even more interesting is what it was served with: crispy polenta cakes in the south and dumplings in Upper Austria and Tyrol.
Kürbiscremesuppe (Pumpkin Soup)
Delicious cream of pumpkin soup made from freshly harvested pumpkins, enhanced with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil. As you can see below, there are so many variations from the airy bisque we had in Styria (left) to the hearty rendition near Vienna (right).
Potatoes, Dumplings, and Pasta
Schnupfnudeln is something my mother-in-law simply called Gnepp, and now I understand why! This hearty pasta is similar to a heavy gnocchi or egg dough. Made from potatoes it’s typically served with pork and sauerkraut. In Salzburg, they add cheese to similar style dumplings and call it Kasnocken, small dumplings fried in a cast iron skillet and topped with caramelized onions. Whew, it’s a filling dish, but so yummy!
Erdäpfelsalat (Austrian-style Potato Salad)
If you’re like me and love potatoes and acid in any combo (think salt & vinegar potato chips or french fries with malt vinegar) you’ll probably love Erdäpfelsalatas much as I did! Austrian-style potato salad lets the potato flavor shine through — and it’s healthier for you too. No mayo! In Styria, it’s no surprise you’ll find it mixed with pumpkin seed oil, though in other parts of Austria, corn or sunflower oil is used with a touch of cider vinegar.
Sterz is cooked polenta, and is a popular dish in Austria. You’ll often find it formed into cakes with herbs or cheese added. We had the most delicious polenta cakes in Styria. Coming from Italian families, it’s one of our favorites — fried, grilled, or mush!
Dumplings in Austria are like pasta in Italy. They’re ubiquitous and can be found in so many shapes, sizes, and consistencies. You’ll often find them served with goulash. If cheese is added, they’re called Kaspressknödel and elevates the dumpling to a whole new level!
A traditional Austrian comfort food, this dumpling stir-fry is a typical dish using leftover dumplings. You can add just about any ingredients you have or want to jazz it up, but we had it with fresh spinach, tomatoes, and chopped green onion. Yum!
Sachertorte, a classic Viennese-style Austrian dessert
Kaiserschmarrn is a light, caramelized fluff pancake that can be found throughout Austria, Slovenia, Bavaria, and Croatia. Traditionally made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, then baked in butter, other ingredients like nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds can be added depending on taste and region, though this isn’t considered traditional. The pancake is split with two forks into pieces while frying and usually sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Kaiserschmarrn is typically eaten like a dessert, or can also be eaten for lunch as a hearty meal. Traditionally, Kaiserschmarren is accompanied with Zwetschgenröster, a fruit compote made from stewed plums.
Most people may think Strudel when they think of the popular Austrian desserts, but Sachertorte should top your dessert list for what to eat in Vienna. The dark chocolate cake, invented by Franz Sacher for an Austrian prince in the 1800’s, is made with apricot jam and topped with a dark chocolate ganache. To me it epitomizes the elegant traditions of Vienna! A classic. And if you get a chance, try a slice at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna.
Strudel is the quintessential Austrian dessert. But it doesn’t just come with apples though Apple Strudel (Apfelstrudel) is the most common in Vienna and just about everywhere in Austria. But we also had an amazing strudel at Weingut Hack-Gebell along the South Styrian Wine Road made with pumpkin. “It was what I had so I needed to use it” the owner Anna told us. It was delicious!!
>>> Want to Learn to Make Traditional Austrian Strudel? Check out this Apple Strudel & Salzburger Nockerl Class with Get Your Guide!
Potize (Nut roll)
A pastry made from a rolled yeast dough, similar to a strudel, packed with a nut or poppy seed filling. You might know this Austrian dessert as simply “nut roll” or “poppy bread” depending on what’s inside. It’s perfect for breakfast or with tea.
Palatschinken (Austrian crepes)
Austria’s version of thin pancakes or crepes, Palatschinken are simple and delicious with sweet and savory fillings. They are also chopped into thin strips and added to soups. At first, we thought they were noodles, but discovered they had a unique taste. They’re really very good!
Austria is well known for their sweets so if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love it here. Let’s start with the snappy wafer candy snacks known as Manner Wien. Light and airy wafer snacks can be found throughout Austria and Europe, but Manner Wien is so Austrian, or at least Viennese. Maybe that’s because Wien is German for Vienna.
If you’re a chocolate lover, hang on to your wrappers, because Austria has some great stuff. Let’s start in Salzburg, where Mozart balls (Mozartkugel) are an institution. These small, round confections are made of pistachio marzipan and nougat, then covered with dark chocolate. They were originally known as Mozart-Bonbon, created by Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst around the turn of the 20th century and named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Finally, chocoholics, this one is for you — Zotter Chocolate! This chocolatier in eastern Styria is making the most incredible chocolate with beans from around the world. The owners committment to fair-trade and developing long-term sustainable relationships with farming families in these communities make it taste even better. And if you get a chance to take a tour, you’ll have the most fun you’ve ever had!
>>> It can be hard to find these Austrian treats in the US, but thanks to Amazon they’re just a click away (click image below). In the nick of time too — we’re on our last bars of Zotter!
English-speakers: it’s pronounced SCHtorm, like a thunderSCHtorm! Eagerly anticipated on cold and gloomy days, the beverage known as Sturm is simply the first press of the season — pressed grape must, in which fermentation has already kicked in. It can be white, red or schilcher-colored. Sweet with a moderately noticeable alcohol content, it’s preferably drunk chilled. And if you drink too much, that’s just what you’ll be. This stuff has a kick! As the fermentation process continues, Sturm gets even SCHtormier — the sugar content falls, the alcohol content rises. It’s fresh until the end of October or so, and it can be pressed from chilled grapes until December.
Austria is best known for the crisp semi-dry to dry white wines that draw visitors from around the world. Chardonnay, called Morillon in Austria), Pinot Gris(Grauburgunder, or Gray Burgundy), Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder, or Blue Burgundy), Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder, or White Burgundy), and Gelber Muskateller are the grapes most often used, though there are red wines produced in the eastern Austrian region of Burgenland. If you can, find a Weingut (winery) or tasting room and do a tasting. Austrian wines are crisp, bright, and excellent!
Lest you think Austria is solely about wine, the beer is good too, and some of it is truly unique. We visited a local brewery whose beer is enjoyed throughout the country, but it doesn’t last long. Die Brauerei in Leutschach (South Styria) makes an excellent day trip from Graz and has been producing all natural beers in small batch productions for 11 years now. There are no preservatives, so they only last 2 months in the bottle and are made to drink right away. But it’s the brewmaster’s philosophy that we really love. Owner Wolfgang Dietrich makes a great case that beer — like a fermented kombucha — is a food and healthy for you. And we agree! His beers are a little different with each batch but one thing remains constant — they are full of flavor, drinkable, and refreshing.
Austria Wine Fun Fact
The Austrian name for Chardonnay, or Morillon, is said to have originated by the French who came to Austria and got so drunk on Chardonnay they couldn’t remember the name of the wine. So they called it Morillon after the name of the town in France from whence they came. This could also be an urban legend, I don’t know. The story was related to me at an Austrian wine festival, where we too were drinking good Chardonnay!
Recommended Hotels in Austria
If you’re looking for where to stay in Austria, you have a million choices! Honestly, we agonized for weeks over where to stay in certain areas because we wanted to find a place with just the right feel — charming, comfortable, and affordable, with local character. Not too much to ask, right? Here are the places we would highly recommend and would stay at again and again.
Hotel and Restaurant Zum Schwarzen Bären (Black Bear Inn), Emmersdorf an der Danau in the Wachau Valley
Where to Stay in Salzburg and the Wachau Valley (North Austria)
Boutiquehotel Villa Sissi, Salzburg