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Posts from the ‘Food’ Category

IF THE WALLS COULD SPEAK – A SCHNITZEL WITH TURKISH INVADERS, BEETHOVEN, TWAIN AND JOHNNY CASH

Eating and sleeping are the only activities that should be allowed to interrupt a man’s enjoyment of his cigar. – Mark Twain

Print This Post Nestled amongst the cobblestones of the Vienna’s 1st district, beside the beautifully orange- and gold-tiled Greek Orthodox Church, is Vienna’s oldest tavern. 1350 (a whopping 665 years ago!) is the first documented date that the building is mentioned in Vienna city records when the place belonged to a knight commoner (yep – even knight status apparently has its hierarchies) by the name of Lienhart Poll. As early as 1447, the building was first used as a tavern which was named “Zum Gelben Adler” (To the Yellow Eagle).

Now let’s just stop here for a moment to appreciate the age of this place. The good old US of A is a

A look into the Griechenbeisl from outside

A look into the Griechenbeisl from outside

mere bubbling 239 years old. This place is almost 3 times older than that. Imagine! I know I’m a sucker for nostalgic tales but how can anyone resist wondering about the musings, confessions, sweet nothings, inspirations, gripes and debates these walls have witnessed while sheltering those who have passed through its doors from the harsh elements of fires, plagues, wars, and weather. Isn’t it cool to imagine?

Translated, the name “Griechenbeisl” means “Greek Tavern” but the Zwiebelrostbraten, Wiener Schnitzel and Tafelspitz you’ll find on the menu are all true Viennese specialties and have nothing to do with Greek food. The Greek in the tavern name refers to the Greek traders and merchants who liked to dine here in the 1800s.

The house came under attack twice when Turkish invaders attempted to seize Vienna (1529 and 1683). A remnant is still visible inside the tavern  — a cannonball from 1529 which was unearthed during renovation work in 1960 and remains stuck in the wall near the stairway at the entrance.

Former Guests of Griechenbeisl

Former guests of Griechenbeisl – Mozart’s signature is above the red label

Over the centuries, the tavern has expanded and along with it, the amount of rooms. Today there are eight dining rooms, each preserved in a different era and style. My personal favorite is the Twain room which you can request when making reservations (always make reservations before coming) but can be difficult to score since it is often reserved for private parties. The room is considered a historical monument and the ceiling is filled with the signatures of all the famous folks who have dined and drank within the walls. If you don’t land a lucky table in this amazing room, kindly ask your waiter if it is possible to have a look in. The waiters have long sticks that they can use to point out some of the better known guests. Historic guests include Beethoven, Mark Twain, Schubert, Wagner, Strauss, Count Zeppelin, Mozart, and Brahms to name a few. Then you have the more recent “promis” and these include, amongst others, Johnny Cash, Pavarotti, Barry Manilow, and Phil Colins.

Griechenbeisl Signatures in Mark Twain room

Griechenbeisl signatures in Mark Twain room

The guy who seems to be sleeping off his hangover in a cage in the floor at the entrance isn’t some sorry sap who failed to pay his beer tab. Well, then again, maybe he is.  But if you pause and listen, you might hear him whistling the song written in his honor and since sung by beer-mug-swinging admirers for decades– “Oh du lieber Augustin.” Supposedly he (Marx Augustin) sang and drank here in 1679. But he became famous because he was so intoxicated that when he fell into the pit dug out for the city’s plague victims, he simply made himself cozy and slept off his hangover (and you thought you woke up in some shocking places the morning after). We all know the amazing clensing powers inherent in an Austrian apricot Schnapps, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that good old Marx climbed out of the grave the next day and was fit for another round (and I’m not talking about the row-row-row-your-boat musical kind).

A dining room in the Griechenbeisl

A dining room in the Griechenbeisl

A meal in the Griechenbeisl will set you back — just for the main course — anywhere between 17 and 28 € depending on what you order. Granted, not cheap but this is no fast food joint and they do take plastic. Waiters decked out in suits and bow ties who can switch languages in a blink of an eye and actually correctly serve your Zweigelt in a decanter are bound to send your date’s heart aflutter. The menu is in German and English and you might even get some live music accompaniment from a zither for your meal (if you really want to show what a good guy you are, discreetly tip the zither player as you leave). The wine cellar is currently being renovated and sometime later this year, the restaurant plans to host wine tasting events. This isn’t Applebees or The Cheesecake Factory so leave your shorts and tennis shoes at home. Dressy casual is fine here but don’t expect to eat and run. Have an appetizer, have a Grüner Veltliner or Zweigelt, a Melange, a Schnapps and some very good Viennese food and then sit back and listen to the rustic tales of history and whisper to the walls some new ones of your own.

“Street” scene from a recent visit to the Griechenbeisl:
Conversation at a neighboring table filled with no less than ten older refined gentlemen and not one single lady.
Waiter: Ah! A round of just gentlemen!
One of the guests from the table: laughing Indeed! Tonight we left the ladies at home.
Waiter: I don’t believe a word of it. Tell the truth. You guys all got kicked out. Print This Post

Griechenbeisl: Fleischmarkt 11, 1010 Vienna (subway: U4 or U1 to Schwedenplatz)
Open daily from 11 am – 1 am (food service: 11:30 am – 11:30 pm)
Definitely call and reserve a table and try to score the Mark Twain room: +43 1 533 19 77

Griechenbeisl Wikipedia Entry

 

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WATER SO GOOD IT’S CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED

Stay calm and drink more water.

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In the US, one of the first things that happens when you sit down in a restaurant, is that the server comes to your table with a shiny happy welcome-to-our-restaurant smile and pours everyone a glass of ice water.

Don’t come to Austria with American-made expectations. If you visit a restaurant in Vienna, you’re highly unlikely to be greeted with flashing pearly whites. Don’t take this personally. The servers here are highly trained professionals who receive normal wage and insurance and are therefore not likely to give you a cheerleader rah rah can-I-have-a-tip-to-make-up-for-my-below-minimum-wage-pay veneer.

The quality of Viennese tap water which originates in the Austrian mountains is very high

Most Vienna tap water truly originates from mountain springs

Next, don’t come to Europe expecting drinks served with ice. For that you’ll need to hop the train to Switzerland or Finland to one of the ice bars. No air-conditioning, no ice cubes, and no whining, so suck it up and deal.

 But you also will not receive the automatic glass of water. Pity. Because it’s healthy and we should all be drinking more water. You’ll see water on the menu and be astounded how much one can charge for a bottle a water. And you will be confused – prickelend or still when all you really want is normal glass of water. Can you get that here?

A resounding yes!

But is it safe to drink?

Triple yes!

And it will be some of the best tap water you’ve ever tasted. Promise. Because Vienna has a very high quality of water that comes straight to the city from pipes from the mountain regions of Rax/Schneeberg, Schneealpe in Lower Austria and Hochschwab in Upper Styria.

So how do you order water?

If you want to go with the bottled water – decide if you want it with or without the bubbles.

THREE TYPES OF WATER

With bubbles is prickelnd but that is difficult to say, so say simply “mit Gas”(with gas) and they will know what you want.

Voeslauer is a an Austrian mineral water brand

Voeslauer is a an Austrian mineral water brand

No bubbles is easy – still – remember by thinking of the old Christmas classic Still, Still, Still. Austrians will sometimes call it “ohne Gas” (without gas).

Uncarbonated water is called "still" in German. Sometimes Austrians will just say "ohne" (without) meaning "ohne Gas"

Uncarbonated water is called “still” in German. Sometimes Austrians will just say “ohne” (without) meaning “ohne Gas”

Good old high quality mountain water from the tap: Leitungswasser. Pronounced: Leit tungs wasser.

If the menu just says “Vöslauer” that’s the Austrian water brand like calling a tissue a Kleenex.

Gespritzt: A refreshing healthy drink Viennese love is juice, syrup of white wine “gespritzt” which means mixed with sparkling water.

“Gespritzt” drinks include:

Apfelsaftgespritzt: Apple Juice mixed with sparkling or normal water

Holundersoda: Elder flower syrup mixed with sparkling water (sound weird? Live a little. Try it. It’s a great summer drink and you won’t be disappointed).

weißen gespritzt

G’Spritzer

Himbeersoda: Raspberry juice mixed with sparkling water

Soda-Zitron:  Soda water with lemon juice

weißen gespritzt:  A Viennese classic summer drink – they’ll think you’re a local if you order this — white wine mixed with sparkling water

GOOD TO KNOW

Coffee with water on the side: Viennese coffeehouses take pride in their coffeehouse traditions. A good Viennese coffeehouse will serve your coffee on a silver platter. Next to the coffee will be a small glass of water and balancing atop of the coffee will be a spoon.

Tap water might not be free: Some restaurants in Vienna might charge for a “Leitungswasser.” Sad but true. And they aren’t ripping you off because you’re a tourist. If they charge, they charge everyone.

Flavored water at the grocery store

Flavored water at the grocery store

Public water fountains: The first district has public water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle for free. I have taken a photo of one for you. This one is located at Höhe Markt next to the ice cream shop and across from the very fancy Merkur grocery store. The German term for drinkable water is “Trinkwasser.”

“Because water should not be a luxury item”: Vienna is the first city in the world to place its water under constitutional protection. Since December 2001, the city of Vienna has protected its water for future generations in the Vienna Water Charter.

Read more about Vienna’s Water Charter (in German).

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10 Things I Get Now – Austria’s Hidden Gems

When the realization is deep, your whole being is dancing. – Zen saying

1) Sundays, Holidays, midnight – forget the beer, milk or bread run, everything’s closed. So sleep in, everything’s closed!: When you first move here, you open your college-sized fridge Sunday morning to find nothing but a tube of mustard and an expired container of yoghurt, and naïvely believe you’ll start the day shopping. You make your way to Billa to find it closed, and then to Spar – closed, until the reality of life in Austria slowly begins to dawn on you – nothing here is open 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. 7/11? Nope. Not here. In fact, grocery stores usually close by 8 pm Mo – Fr, by 6 pm on Saturday and don’t bother opening at all on Sundays (and you were indignant about the blankets covering the alcohol section in Lowe’s grocery store in NC on Sundays till noon hampering your barbecue drink run). At first you’re annoyed, and then, when you find yourself urgently needing that Dirndl for the Almdudlerball but with no time between work and “Gassi gehen” with Rambo-the-Dachsund to buy one, you feel the ever increasing pang of homesickness and longing for a Super Target. But after a good deal of time (yes, it takes time), you will start to appreciate this anti-shopper mentality. You wake up on Sundays bombarded with no suggestions to go shopping — because you can’t – everything is closed. And this leaves you with 24 glorious hours for a leisurely breakfast – or hey! why don’t you sleep in a little longer and just do  brunch – and then what? A stroll to see the roses in Volksgarten, an afternoon at the Albertina, a bike ride along the Danube, an outing to the Wachau, a trip to see Iqhwa at Schönbrunn Zoo or simply “Faulenzen.” If you get really desperate, you can engage in the favorite Viennese Sunday contact sport of “Elbow-Shopping-at-Billa-at-Pratersten or Sparring-Shoppers-at-Spar-at-Wien-Mitte” but I’d let this crutch go and count your blessings that no one expects you to shop on a Sunday.

Bratlfettenbrot

Bratlfettenbrot

2) Bratlfettenbrot: Remember deep fryers and Crisco shortening? Kind of like that. Dark bread slathered with a spread made from the pan grease and topped with a couple raw onion rings, crushed black pepper and paprika. If you prefer the crunchy bits of grease in it, there’s always – Grammelschmalzbrot. It took me many years, a New Year’s eve in an Alpine hut with a group of friends and apricot schnapps, to fully appreciate the appeal of Bratlfettenbrot. In the right setting, with the right people and accompanying drinks, it truly is good (unless your arteries tend to clog).

3) grocery carts with coins: maybe it’s because I can never seem to find the 50 cent, 1 € or 2 € coins but for a long time, chained together grocery carts that can only be released with a coin seemed like the Austrian reminder that I, as an expat, arriving at the store with no grocery cart coin in hand, didn’t have my Billa shopper act together. But carts always abound and are neatly put away, and awaiting even the latest last minute expats rushing through the doors Saturday night at 5:50 pm.

4) buy your grocery bags: Reminder number two of poor grocery store planning skills occurs frequently at the check-out line with the realization that one has brought no backpack, linen bags, wicker shopping basket, or shopping trolley. But find comfort in the fact that by bringing along your linen bag, you are being environmentally friendly and saving yourself the 10 cents per bag you’ll be charged otherwise.

5) pay WC: see grocery cart problem above. But here you have the issue at rest stops along the Autobahn and it’s not like you’re given a lot of alternatives. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate the cleanliness 50 cents per person can promote in public restrooms. A bit of a hassle for a lot of clean.

6) main meal at lunch: in the good old days, Austrian shops, banks, post offices, all closed for two hours around noon and if you needed to quickly send off a letter during your lunch break, you were out of luck because Frau Postbeamterin was at home having herself some Knödel and Kraut with the family. Though those days have long passed, you will find that high noon on the weekends is many Austrians favored time for the day’s main meal. Dinner will often consist of some bread and cold cuts, soup or salad. Though I initially missed my evening tacos, I’ve come to appreciate a place where I can go for a stroll along the Donaukanal or a run in Prater, hours after my mid-day lasagna and get a good sleep without worries of heart burn, indigestion, or an amply-sized gut.

7) having to ask for the bill: when you first come to Austria, and your German is iffy at best, it’s understandable that you want to avoid all situations where you are forced to use any. In an attempt to go native in China, I once ventured into a local restaurant and after memorizing the word for tea, proudly ordered a tea. Instead of just bringing any tea, the waitress insisted over and over again, to little ignorant not-understanding me that I choose which tea I’d prefer (know the expression: not for all the tea in China – later I discovered page one of the menu  was dedicated to teas). The waitress walked away in frustration and I fled to find a Pizza Hut. If you choose to flee an Austrian restaurant when the waiter fails to bring your bill, I guarantee you, your bill will arrive promptly. (But I am by no means endorsing this method). But you should know, that Austrian, particularly Viennese waiters, are experts at giving you time to sit, relax, eat, drink a coffee, enjoy a schnapps, chat a bit, and not have to be bothered with the bill until you’re good and ready for it. After living here awhile, you’ll be shocked by the passive-aggressive speediness of bills slapped down on your table in US restaurants before you’ve even had the chance to shuffle the first spoonful of peach cobbler into your mouth.

8) removing shoes: you always remove your shoes when entering an Austrian home and even if the host insists you don’t have to (etiquette almost requires this but it is not meant seriously), you should remove them anyway. As someone who always seems to have a hole in her socks, this was always a bit embarrassing. I’ve learned to wear good socks or none at all and I appreciate not having shoes tracking dirt through my place when I have guests.

9) dogs in Vienna: it seems like every second Viennese owns a Scruffy and they go everywhere – restaurants, subways, they even have their own parks here. I just didn’t get it. Particularly in the days that required every person living in Vienna to do the infamous “Vienna shuffle” to avoid taking home a Scruffy souvenir on the bottom of your shoe before the very successful clean-up-after-your-dog campaigns. But since the “Nimm ein Sackerl für mein Gackerl” campaign that included hundreds of city dog-poo sheriffs controlling the dog owner’s clean up obedience and the 36 € fine for first time offenders if they “overlooked” it, dogs seem to be tidy co-inhabitants of this metropolis. And apparently 70% of the Viennese agree with me about the campaign’s phenomenal success and 47,200 Gackerl Sackerl in Vienna’s public trash cans every single day is nothing to turn your nose up at. And if you want to make friends and influence people in Vienna, get a dog. I’ve seen Omas chatting up bicycle gang members while Oma’s Daisy sniffs out Bicycle Gang Member’s Rambo.

soccer

Gotta love soccer

10) Soccer: I’m originally a Pittsburgh girl so sports consisted of baseball, football, hockey and hunting. Soccer? Pleease. Get a real sport. But I’m a convert. I love the game. And I explained why a while ago on my post about the World Cup. What’s not to like about 22 fit guys flexing their tone bodies in an attempt to get a ball into a net? Not to mention the fun of watching a roomful (or barful) of grown men waving their beer glasses and griping at a TV screen about all the off-sides the idiot ref missed. Print This Post

Interesting Links:
The Gackerl Sackerl App to help you find a free bag for your dog’s – well – you know: https://www.data.gv.at/anwendungen/gackerl-sackerl/

This guy ended up paying a whopping 470 € fine for not having a Sackerl for his Kessja (the criminal offender is pictured in the article with her owner). http://www.heute.at/news/oesterreich/wien/art23652,1016678

Article about the success of the Gackerl Sackerl campaign – warning: if you’re sensitive about images, you may not want to click on the link: http://www.krone.at/Tierecke/Wiener_Gackerl-Sackerl-Kampagne_ist_ein_Erfolg-Laut_Umfrage-Story-390372

Article about the Vienna “Waste Watchers”, fines and law: http://www.wien-konkret.at/leute/haustiere-tierschutz/hundekot-in-wien-hundstruemmerl/

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Ten Austrian Things I Still Don’t Get

Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.
– Phil, Groundhog Day

1) Villacher Fasching: http://www.villacher-fasching.at/ as presented on ORF2. And if ORF statistics are to be believed, a record-breaking 1.3 million Austrians tuned in this year. Just because you’re fluent enough to understand all the words, doesn’t mean the joke will make you laugh. If you’re a person (like me) who finds clowns to be some of the most petrifying fiends on the planet, you’re bound to agree that the scary-movie version of “Groundhog Day” would be “Villacher Fasching Day” in which every night you go to sleep only to be jarred awake by blaring “Lei-Lei” numbers hailing in another grand day of fun, games, and laughs on Villacher Fasching. It’ll put enough fear into even the naughtiest non-Austrians to compel them to swear strict piety and no Milka during Lent if only the bad jokes will stop already. (Yes to Villach, no to ORF Villacher Fasching).

2) ORF Fees: Though I love the passive aggressive advertisements of the sweet television warning you that you better be paying your required television fees even if you are watching on internet or – God forbid – have a radio stashed behind the rest of your contraband – , and I avidly watch the great shows on ORF III and am a big fan of the Mittagsjournal in Ö1 radio, I still don’t get it. Every month we are required to pay a whopping 24.88 € in fulfillment of our public duty and civic contribution for such other outstanding educationally beneficial, culturally superior shows such as the Villacher Fasching (see 1 above) or this past Saturday night’s Vera in ORF 2 with 82-year old Richard Lugner and his 5th and most recent young wife, the 24-year old (not Hasi (bunny), not Mausi (mouse), not Bambi, not Katzi (kitty)) Spatzi (sparrow!)). ORF III — yes. Spatzi — no.

3) Blunzengröstl, Beuschel and Blutwurst: There are some Austrian foods, namely those containing blood, coagulated blood proteins, heart, lung, spleen and liver that I just don’t get.

4) Sunbathing Nude in Public: If you have the physique of Anna Fenninger or David Alaba— by all means. But let’s face it. The folks perfecting their russet leathery sheen at the “FKK” Areas of the Neue Donau and FKK areas of some Vienna public pools are not contributing to urban beautification or helping the collagen and elastin fibers of their skin either.

5) Screenless Windows: Austria does indeed have mosquitoes and flies. Screens have been known to be effective shields against pesky critters. Just sayin.

6) Width of the Roads and Parking Spaces: Not every car is a Smart but in Austria, it feels like that is exactly the car they used to measure the ideal size of parking spaces and lanes. My initial indignation about the generously-sized Frauenplarkplätze (parking spots designated for women only) has quickly evaporated in the midst of frustrated rants when attempting to squeeze my car between the BMW x5 and Ford Transit at Bauhaus. And don’t look at me like that. I am extremely skilled at parallel parking. Really. It’s not my driving, it’s the lane width. Here – read an article by the German Auto Club that backs me up if you don’t believe me – cars are getting wider and the European parking spaces and lanes are too narrow to accommodate them: http://www.spiegel.de/auto/aktuell/uebergrosse-autos-viel-zu-breit-a-795662.html

 7) Highway Construction Sites: Same problem as in number six – far too narrow to drive safely but to increase the fun, they route the only lane open right up next to oncoming traffic, which should be going slower but they have yet to do the “double the fine in construction zones” rule here and slower here is maybe 80 km/hr which is still 50 mph in a construction zone, smack up next to Mac trucks barreling toward you with nothing more than some orange traffic cones to keep everyone in line (and forming queues has never been a strong point for most Austrians). And just to up the fun, the construction sites here will last for up to 5 miles long. No, there won’t be any work going on for 4.5 miles of the five, but hey – why not block it all off at once – drivers like that cozy feeling. Along the way are cute little smiley signs that let you know how much further you still have to suffer through the construction – the friendlier the face, the closer you are to the end of the construction end and your wits.

8) Church Taxes – Catholics in Austria pay church taxes. It was introduced here decades ago, and the Catholic church in Austria sees no reason to make it go away. Austrians will get notices from the Catholic church to let them know how much someone of their pay range should be paying in taxes (one year a work colleague of mine became suspicious that she was being underpaid after her Catholic Church tax statement arrived in the mail and estimated her at a higher income level). And if you do something wild and crazy like leave the church and later decide you want to rejoin, say to be the Godparent of a niece or nephew, then the church has been known to remind you of all the back taxes you owe them before you can join the club again. I just don’t get it. Why can Catholics in America be part of the club with or without taxes but in Austria, they’re being forced to pay. Does Pope Francis know about this?

9) Carry-your-pooch-in-a-purse Phenomenon: dogs like to walk, don’t they? Taking-your- dog-for-a walk means you both walk. You and the dog. Right? Am I right? Someone tell me I’m right.

10) The David Hasselhoff Craze: For most Americans, Michael Knight faded into the sunset with his talking car, and Mitch Buchannon took a dive and never popped back up again. But Austrians knew better – “Don’t hassle with Hoff” – he’s everywhere here. Singing, dancing, David-Hasselhoffing around. Seriously. See for yourself: http://www.oeticket.com/de/kuenstler/david-hasselhoff-275/profile.html#artist-content In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up at the Villacher Fasching.

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