How much do you really know about Austrian food? In this post, we will take you through the sophisticated Vienna food culture, with some of the culinary highlights of restaurants in Vienna that we think are worth trying.
We’ll also give you some suggestions on restaurants you can visit if you want to set up your own Vienna do-it-yourself food tour.
Austrian food origins
If you trace the geography and history of Austria, it makes sense that traditional Austrian food shares similarities with many other nations. Starting from the rich coffee tradition of Turkey, sausages & bratwurst from Germany, goulash from Hungary, and the signature Viennese schnitzel dish with its Italian roots.
All merge together to form what are now considered to be traditional Austrian dishes.
While each region of Austria has significant cuisine highlights and differences, Austrian food in popular culture often means “food served in Vienna.” So, that’s what we are focusing on here in this post.
Vienna Food Tour: While you’re in Vienna, we can’t recommend a food tour highly enough. Join a local foodie who will show you traditional and exciting food spots in Vienna while getting insider tips on restaurants and cafes.
The top Austrian dishes
It seems obvious to start with the most recognizable – schnitzel. So we will. This is something you can find just about anywhere in Vienna. “Wien” – Vienna – is even part of the dish’s name. You probably know it as Wienerschnitzel or Wiener schnitzel.
Each region, and even different restaurants in Vienna, have their own Schnitzel varieties.
1. Viennese Schnitzel – Wienerschnitzel
Wiener Schnitzel is a must-try when you are in Austria. It is a thin piece of veal served with a slice of lemon and potato salad. You can either squeeze a lemon on the cutlet or not.
It’s not surprising why this Austrian food is famous all over the world – it is absolutely delicious and is the most popular Austrian food!
A good suggestion is to try it for the first time at The Bank Brasserie & Bar by Hyatt Hotel in Vienna. Their schnitzel is fresh, crispy, and simply perfect. Usually, schnitzel is really big, so if you are not very hungry, you probably won’t be able to eat everything.
The Bank Brasserie & Bar, Park Hyatt, Bognergasse 4, 1010 Wien
1a. Non-veal Austrian Schnitzel
Traditional Wiener Schnitzel is made from veal – Austrian law even protects its originality. However, if you’re a non-veal type, you can find varieties of chicken, turkey, or pork (appropriately named “Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein” – or Vienna Schnitzel from pork).
While Viennese Schnitzel is the main dish, you can order the local favorite side dish or potato salad and red currant jelly.
A slice of lemon on the side will add depth and freshness to Austrian Schnitzel dishes.
2. Vienna Sausages – Wiener Würstels
While most Austrian food comes from the kitchens of its thousands of restaurants, you can find street food, too. The famous street food in Austria is Viennese sausage. You can find Vienna Sausages – also known as Würstels – in many designated stands, locally known as Würstelstand.
Viennese sausages usually come with mustard and you wash them down with beer. Different varieties include cheese stuffing or the hotdog-style bun käsekrainer.
A variety of spicy bratwurst sausage is called Bosna or Bosner. It originated in either Salzburg or Linz. Bosna is popular in Southern Bavaria and Western Austrian cuisine. Just like a typical hotdog, Bosna usually comes on a grilled bun, with onion, mustard, and ketchup.
Viennese cuisine’s most used meat is veal. Take the wiener schnitzel (veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried), Tafelspitz (boiled veal or beef), Beuschel (a ragout containing veal lungs and heart) as some of the main dishes of Vienna’s gastronomic scene.
Tafelspitz literally means tip (of meat). It’s also the name of the meat cut. It’s boiled veal or beef in a broth of spices and root vegetables, served with a mix of minced apples and horseradish or with potatoes and sour cream with chives, according to your preference.
It is not only popular in the entire Austrian region, but it is also a well-known dish in the neighboring German state of Bavaria.
This dish doesn’t require a lot of preparation, and legend has it that it was one of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s favorites.
The best Tafelspitz in Vienna is in Plachutta, in the middle of the city, a few steps away from the train station Stubentor. Their meats come exclusively from local farmers, tasty, tender, and worth every euro. Just book in advance, since the restaurant is so popular with both locals and tourists. Plachutta opens at 11.30 AM and closes at 12 midnight. Expect an atmosphere of Viennese culture and a taste of home-cooking when you visit.
Plachutta, Wollzeile 38, 1010 Wien
Recipe: Here’s how to make tafelspitz at home.
4. Goulash – Gulasch
When you think of Goulash, you probably think of Hungary. And you’d be right! But while goulash is a famous Hungarian dish, it’s also popular in the Austrian food scene. There was once a thing called the Austro-Hungarian empire, after all, and they share many things! Goulash is one of those things that made it to the tables of both countries after the empire collapsed.
Goulash is a type of meat stew with vegetables, paprika, and other spices. Sometimes you can find goulash with more broth to make it a soup dish. Unlike its Hungarian counterpart, a side of rolls, bread or dumplings (Semmelknödel) is usually a part of the Austrian goulash dish.
Saftgulasch (Austrian or Viennese Goulash) is a twist on traditional Hungarian goulash. It is a slow-cooked hotpot dish – at least three hours of preparation – consisting only of lean beef and a huge quantity of onions.
The end result is a flavorful tender beef dish with a thin dark brown sauce.
5. Paprika Bread Rolls
High on your list should be a visit to the classy-stylish snack bar of the Brötchenmanufaktur (bread maker), Franciszek Trześniewski, in the city center of Vienna. They’ve been selling bread rolls since 1905, long before “take-away” or “food to go” became popular terms.
Franciszek Trzesniewski wondered how to “eat” a bread with “accident-free” toppings: by chopping up the toppings. This special way of production always remained a secret.
Classics such as cucumber with egg, young herring with onion, or chicken liver have been around forever.
There are 11 branches in Vienna.
Famous Austrian Desserts
No Austrian food experience would be complete without one of Austria’s famous desserts.
And these are mouth-watering.
Sachertorte is one of Vienna’s most famous specialties. It’s a dense, rich, dark chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam in the middle, covered in dark chocolate icing with a mirror shine. It usually arrives with thick whipped cream.
Sachertorte was invented in Vienna in the 1800s and has since become one of Austria’s most famous exports. You need to try it in a beautiful Viennese dining room or coffee house for maximum impact.
Exactly where you should try it though is surprisingly controversial! Both the Demel Bakery and the Hotel Sacher in Vienna claimed to sell the original and best Sachertorte, so it’s probably your duty to sample both. But if you can only pick one, go for Cafe Sacher.
Their elegantly-sliced Sachertorte is almost too beautiful to eat.
Cafe Demel, Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien
Café Sacher Wien, Hotel Sacher Wien, Philharmoniker Str. 4, 1010 Wien
Recipe: Food and Wine has a recipe that’s delicious!
Austrians love sweet desserts, and one of the local favorites is the Palatschinken. It is an adopted dessert from Hungary.
A scoop of apricot jam or vanilla ice-cream is applied to a thin pancake or crepe and folded or rolled into an easier shape to hold by hand and enjoy.
Recipe: Yes, you can make these amazing Austrian crepes at home!
Another Austrian dessert is the Kaiserschmarrn – the emperor’s pancake. It is named after the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s favorite dessert – chopped up fried but fluffy pancakes, apples and raisins or nuts, mixed together and topped with icing sugar.
4. Apple Strudel – Apfelstrudel
When in Vienna, you absolutely must try apple strudel. Available from almost any cafe or restaurant in the city, it’s an important throwback to Austrian history wrapped in delicious phyllo dough.
Its name originally means “whirlpool” and is named after the beautiful swirl designs you see when it’s made. Besides being insanely delicious, it would be absolutely wrong to visit and not try a strudel, since it is one of the national dishes of Austria.
While they were great from cafes and restaurants, you’ll also find great apple strudel at highway cafes. Get one on your first day there, and then just keep eating them daily until you leave. You really can’t go wrong!
Strudel and Royalty: Yes, they have an actual Strudel Show and tasting at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. If you’re visiting, be sure to book it!
Recipe: While it’s certainly better to eat this in Austria, you can make strudel at home.
Notable Austrian Drinks
Maybe not surprisingly, Vienna has a huge coffee addiction. The invading Ottoman Turks also brought coffee culture to Austria, and long after the occupation ended, the coffee addiction remains in Austria.
Vienna has a sophisticated coffee culture throughout the city. You can always find many amazing cafes, some dating back more than a hundred years, throughout the capital city.
Viennese Coffee & Kaffeehaus Kultur
Even after all these years, the Viennese truly know the art of blending coffee well. Vienna is one of those few European cities that keeps its imperial roots intact even while incorporating modernism.
One of those imperial habits includes Vienna’s Kaffeehaus Kultur. Kaffeehaus Kultur typically refers to the tradition of spending hours at cafés, sipping on coffee and engaging oneself in intellectual activities such as discussions, debates, and exchanges of ideas.
Many historical figures from all walks of life are said to have walked into these many cafés for enriching conversations, which happen to go very well with coffee. Even today, you’ll find many such coffee houses in Vienna which boast of imperial interiors, reflective of the past.
You can find some delicious and freshly-made pastries and cakes in these cafés with a wide range of coffees. These coffees are all made with different recipes – the premium ones mainly served with alcohol.
Remember, coffee in Vienna comes with a glass of water to cleanse your palate and enjoy the taste. Here are a few of must-visit Cafe Houses around Vienna:
Café Museum, Operngasse 7, 1010 Wien
Café Sperl, Gumpendorfer Str. 11, 1060 Wien
Café Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien
Café Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien
Have chocolate with your coffee
Coffee in Vienna (or anywhere in Austria) is not complete without one of its famous desserts, or even a piece of Salzburger Mozarttaler (the Salzburg Mozart Medallion), a piece of Austrian chocolate candy.
Soft drinks of Austria
Although not really associated with Vienna food or drink, Red Bull is one of Austria’s most famous brands. If you’re a big fan of this energy drink, you can visit Redbull Headquarters in the small town of Fuschi.
There’s a well-known phrase in Austria: “Wenn de kan Oimdudla haum, geh’ i wieda ham!” (If they don’t have Almdudler, I’ll go back home!). Ask any local Austrian, and they will nod in agreement.
Almdudler is a traditional sweetened carbonated soft drink with elderberry herbal extracts. It’s the unofficial drink of Austria. You can find Almdudler everywhere in Austria in several different types: original, light (sugar-free), uncarbonated, and g’spritzt (mixed with carbonated mineral water).
A variety of this Austrian drink is Almradler. It is an equal mix of Almdudler with Austrian beer. In wine-producing region of Austria, they sometimes mix the Almradler with red or white wine.
It tastes very refreshing and surprisingly addictive.
Beer in Austria
What would Austrian food be without great beer?
Wieselburger Bier has been a popular Austrian beer since 1770. In the Vienna region, try the Wieselburger Stammbräu that comes in the traditional clip-lock bottles.
Ottakringer is one of the last remaining big Austrian breweries. Located int he 16th district of Vienna, Ottakringer products are very popular among native Viennese, who consider the brewery to be one of their pride and joys.
Ottakringer Brewery only has a few different products. The most popular is the Ottakringer Helles with 5.2% alcohol, followed by Goldfassl Pils – a light pilsener. If you want to try something very different, try the Ottokringer Radler – it’s half Helles and half lemonade. It is refreshing, and definitely has a distinctive taste!
Traditional Austrian wine: Sturm and Most
Both Sturm and Most drinks are seasonal grape drinks, and its alcohol fermentation ranges somewhere between grape juice and full-bodied wine.
While most of the wineries in Austria harvest their grapes for wine, they traditionally set aside a section of grapes to produce Sturm and Most.
It is a seasonal drink, typically available in the early fall season around September. They taste very sweet, and Most has a more sour taste than Sturm. While you can’t taste the alcohol, it’s usually between 4-8%.
Gourmet gastro: Looking for something a little more “high-end? Experience private wine cellars, incredible ingredients, artisan chocolates, new interpretations of classic dishes, rare truffles, and more on this Vienna gourmet food tour.
Genuss Festival Food Fair
If you happen to be in Vienna in early May, you don’t want to miss the Genuss Festival Food Fair, Austria’s largest food festival. Genussfestival Vienna is an annual event to highlight Austrian cuisine, and it is held at the Stadtpark, Vienna’s City Park. Around 200 vendors from all over the country come together to celebrate Austria’s Culinary Heritage.
You can taste some rare Austrian dishes, including cheese products, jam, and an Austrian pasta called mohnnudeln.
The date for the Vienna Genuss Festival is May 8-10, 2020. Check out their official webpage (in German) here.
Buy a Vienna Pass: If you are visiting Vienna and looking for some of the top things to do in the city, consider purchasing the official Vienna Pass. We wrote an extensive review of the Vienna City Pass, which can be a very useful tool to save money.
But you have to know how to use the Vienna Pass properly for it to be worth it. After all, it’s a bit pricey!
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Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been to over forty countries and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. He’s a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.