In the basement of the Café Residenz in Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, there
is a bakery. Every hour, a professional pastry chef enters the display kitchen to
demonstrate how to make the most Austrian of dishes – the apple strudel. The
flaky dessert is a key part of Vienna’s food and drink heritage, and the 20-minute
demonstration is just one example of the city’s culinary story being told
outside of restaurant walls.
Unchanged by palace bakers for 300 years,
the strudel recipe is precise. The ingredients of the filling are measured out
in strict ratios, and there are no short cuts. The raisins, for example, have
to be soaked in rum for at least 24 hours.
There is also an element of theatrics to
the creation process. The dough stretching is like folding bedsheets – the chef
pulls it across his body using his fists and elbows until it is flexible and
elastic. The key test, he said, is being able to read through it if it were put
on top a magazine or brochure.
As an experience, watching a Schönbrunn
Palace strudel being made neatly encapsulates the backstory of Viennese
culinary tradition. The palace was the home of the Habsburg dynasty which, from
Vienna, ruled vast swathes of Europe between 1452 and 1918. Through clever
intermarriage and conquest, the Habsburgs ruled as far afield as modern day
Ukraine, Montenegro, Spain and the Netherlands. The strudel was originally
introduced to the Balkan region by the invading Turks, who brought over a version
of baklava, and got passed on to Vienna when the Balkan territories were
Vienna’s tradition for fine chocolate
can be traced back to the Habsburg Empire too. Cocoa flooded into Europe from
the Americas through Habsburg-ruled Spain, and artisan chocolates became a
desirable luxury in Vienna. Numerous stores sell them, but Xocolatl Manufaktur in Vienna’s central first district runs three-
to four-hour workshops sporadically through the year, showing how they are made.
In the hands of chocolatier Thomas Scheiblhofer, high-quality chocolate is turned
into beautifully presented truffles.
The Wiener schnitzel, another dish inextricably
linked with Vienna, is another import – the breaded veal cutlets originated in
Milan, which was part of the Austrian Empire in the 19th Century. At
a relaxed Monday night cooking club in the Kochlounge, an events space in
the 4th district, novices can learn the art of what is now
considered a working class staple. But that distinction has not always been there.
Alfred Weber, who runs the Kochlounge, said the schnitzel originally became
popular because wealthy people liked to impress by serving golden-coloured
The relaxed three-to five-hour workshop begins
with a tour of the Naschmarkt
– Vienna’s huge, central food market – to buy the ingredients. Then the group
heads back to the Kochlounge to cook a dish that sometimes seems like a
workout. The veal has to be hammered flat, dunked in butterschmalz – a clarified butter – and dragged through flour and
breadcrumbs before being pan-fried. It creates a wonderful mess.
a few rounds in the kitchen, embark on an adventure through the maze of tunnels
at the Schlumberger Cellars, arguably Austria’s best known
wine label. It was set up in 1842 by Austrian Robert Schlumberger, who worked
in the vineyards of France’s Champagne region before falling in love with an
Austrian girl and deciding to bring the techniques he had learned back to home
grape varieties are grown elsewhere in Austria, but maturation of the sparkling
wines takes place in the dark 2.3km network of stone and brick tunnels that run
under the northern 19th district. On a 50-minute tour, it becomes
clear that geography is a key factor in the Schlumberger story. The cellars are
right next to the River Danube – the perfect strategic position for shipping
bottles into and then around the Austrian Empire once the wine was ready.
140,000 bottles are in the cellars at any one time, all being carefully
monitored by riddlers – people who turn each bottle an eighth of a circle every
few days, and gradually increase the angle it is stored at over a period of six
to eight weeks. It is all part of a three-and-a-half year vine to glass process
that mimics the process of how sparkling wines are made in the Champagne region,
and the results can be tasted in a sampling session at the end of the tour.
heritage products are not the only ones that can be experienced firsthand. In
the southern 10th district, the Gegenbauer
vinegar brewery offers hour-long tours of its
highly eccentric premises. Company owner Erwin Gegenbauer, who sold his
family’s sauerkraut and pickle business to start it up, said it is the smallest
professional vinegar brewery in the world.
brewery is a curious mix of low and high tech. The bottling is done by hand in
what looks like a simple shed, and because of space, the vinegar is stored in
barrels on the roof. But inside, computers monitor the temperature and
conditions so that the specially selected bacteria used to ferment the vinegar stay
random intervals during the tour, Gegenbauer stops for a tasting, dropping tiny
samples of the balsamic and fruit vinegars onto the tongues of his guests using
a pipette. The taste explosion is extraordinary – the flavours are so sharp,
yet each one bears the characteristics of the fruit it was made from.
and drinking is very complex,” he said. “And [in] every meal, every ingredient
has its own story.”