Fun Stuff > Food
Wine, Wiener & Song
What is nicer than walking through the vineyards in late summer? Fresh wine grapes can taste extraordinarily, as can sweet and fermented grape juice. Not just served in Heuriger Wine Taverns, but nearly at every corner, "G'spritzter" or "Spritzer" is the national summer drink. Wine mixed with sparkling water represents a refreshing alternative to over-sweetened soft drinks and calorie-heavy beer. It is funny that the Austrian expression "Spritzer" (not to be mixed up with "Sprite") is a loanword also known in English - just like bratwurst, lederhosen, rucksack, poltergeist, angst or doppelganger. While it is mostly unknown in Germany, where the "Schorle" rules instead.
The technical term for a beverage of white or red wine "sprayed" with carbonated water possibly made it into the English vocabulary via the Pennsylvania Dutch - wrongly labeled former German immigrants in this case, for Dutch sounds closer to "Deutsch". Very popular during hot "dog days of summer" for its refreshing taste (and going into the blood faster thanks to carbonation), its consumption can also lead to misunderstanding. As with an American colleague, who thought that the wine was so bad here that it had to be watered down. At times when alco-pops and coma-drinking were foreign words, people would occasionally mix their red wine with Coca Cola and refer to it as "Cola Rot - Coke Red" or "Bonanza". Anyway, a Whitesnake song comes to mind: "You can tell me it's wrong, but I love wine, women and song!"
Walking through vineyards in late summer is quite something. We called the above picture
Grape-Grandma, by the way.
Almi-dudli-what? The typical Austrian herb soda "Almdudler", some kind of blonde Root Beer, has been famous for its advertising slogan "Wenn die kan Almdudler ham, geh i wieda ham - If they haven't got any Almdudler, I'm going back home again." Its name originates from the alp-yodel or mountain-doodle. Almdudler mixed with wine would be called "Tiroler - Tyrolean" in the East of Austria, while firming under the name "Suesser Spritzer - Sweet Spritzer" in the West. "Dog Days", by the way, is a term already used in the Roman Empire for the hottest period of the year (in Latin: dies caniculares). They refer to the "Dog Star" Sirius, which forms the beginning of the star constellation of the "big dog (canis major)" that is visible during July and August. This has nothing to do though with the habit of eating dog meat on the three dog days in Korea. But that is a different story...
"Wiener" on the other hand is not only the German term for a male inhabitant of Vienna, it usually describes the ordinary hot dog. A type of sausage distributed in the early 19th century in Vienna, Austria, by a butcher of German origin, who had moved down from the city of Frankfurt to be exact. So, while being known in Germany as "Wiener Würstchen - little Viennese sausages" and everywhere else as "Wiener," in Vienna itself the sausages are called "Frankfurter Würstel," in Austrian German short "Frankfurter," in English sometimes just "Franks." And that is good that way. Just imagine the neverending confusion the other term could cause at a local hot dog stand or "Würstelstand" in Wien (Vienna). A "Wiener" ordering a "Wiener" could be easily taken as a strange form of dual personality. Or a "Wienerin," a Viennese girl, ordering a "Wiener" and being constantly asked whether she needed a man.
In the 1930ies even a car was built that was shaped like a hot dog, to promote the popular sausage in a bun in the US. The first "Wienermobile" is on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, MI. In confusion of culinary terms, a Californian fast food chain specialized in hot dogs calls itself "Wienerschnitzel," while not selling any. More accurately, a Chicago hot dog chain is known as "Vienna Beef." "Wiener Schnitzel" actually means "Viennese cutlet" and stands for another popular Austrian dish, deep fried veal or pork. Similar to the "Costoletta alla Milanese" in Italy with its golden-brown breading, which on the other hand is said to go back to the Byzantine custom of gold plating food. "Pariser Schnitzel - Parisienne cutlet" is prepared in a similar way, but coated only with egg, no breadcrumbs.
In Slovenia you could find both "Dunajski zrezek - Vienna Schnitzel" and the same stuffed with ham and cheese called "Ljubljanski zrezek - Ljubljana Schnitzel," which the French probably took over at some point under the name of "Cordon Blue." Its name goes back to a French decoration King Louis XV had given to his cook Madame du Barry for good services. The term "Blue ribbon" is still used to describe something of high quality (or simply yummy). Occasionally, you will find its cheaper version, stuffed Livercheese. Going by various names, "Leberkäs - Livercheese" in Austria and Bavaria, "Fleischkäse" in Switzerland and "Mesni sir" in Slovenia, both translating to "Meat Cheese," behind it there is the same thick sliced sausage, usually eaten hot in a bun ("Leberkässemmel"). As a "Hausmeister Cordon Blue - Janitor Cordon Blue." it is breaded and fried like a Schnitzel, filled with ham and cheese. However, if a Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese cutlet) is shaped like St.Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom), short Steffl, two unmistakable Austrian landmarks are combined in a unique way. Gotta stop now, I am getting hungry!
"Do you know what livercheese is made of? From the leftovers of sausage. And sausage? From the leftovers of livercheese. So it goes on forever... - Wissen Sie woraus der Leberkaes gemacht wird? Aus den Resten der Knackwurst. Und die Knackwurst? Aus den Resten vom Leberkaes. So geht das ewig weiter..."
(Josef Hader, Silentium - Silence, 2004)
Wiener Schnitzel - Viennese Cutlet, the real stuff,
this one even St.Stephen's church shaped...
Wienerschnitzel in the US,
a California Hot dog chain, really!
Better now, back from a hot dog stand, having "A hot one with a sweet one - A Hasse mit am Siassn," short for a hot dog with sweet mustard. The sausage would be the "Burenwurst" or "Klobasse" kind, which you could also call "Burenheidl" or "Boer skin." The etymology may be derived from the Afrikaans "Boerewors" (for farmer's sausage - "Bauernwurst") respectively from "Kolbasz," the Hungarian word for sausage. Another form of Hot Dog Slang ("Wuerstelstand-Jargon") would be ordering a "A pus-finger with a hunchback - An Eiterfinger und an Buckel," synonym for a Cheese Kransky sausage ("Kaesekrainer") and a bread heel ("Scherzl"), no kidding. Quite disgusting as far as the expression goes, but delicious in respect to the everyman-food you get in exchange. A way to survive in Austria. So let me just start all over and explain from the very beginning. Did you know that as by an old Viennese song even angels come here for vacation...
Angels come to Vienna for vacation (to eat hot dogs)
Talking so much about tribute in the new world and sending a picture of me standing next to an overseas Vienna road sign back home, one reply said that I shouldn't forget that there is only one original. The very first Vienna was established in good ol' Europe quite some time ago, about 2500 years ago to be more specific. From early Celtic settlement to the military camp Vindobona in the Roman province Noricum, the city of Vienna looks back at a proud history as capital of the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" and the Austrian Empire. Following the empire's dissolution after World War I, as capital of a downsized Austrian republic it has often been referred to as hydrocephalus of the small country. In German language called Wien, in Chinese called WeiYeNa, as the City of Music it gave home to and inspired classical composers from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert to Johann Strauss. Its coffee shops are of worldwide fame, some with typically grumpy waiters, as if enemies of their own tip. Vienna is known for its coffee culture between old fashioned Corner Cafes (not Starbucks) and innumerable ways to brew coffee. The name of the most common "Melange" is derived from the French word for mixture. Just as the typical Viennese inhabitant is a mixture between Eastern and Western culture, consuming "Kaffe und Kipferl - Coffee and (the half moon shaped) Croissant" as leftovers from the Turkish Siege of Vienna in the 17th Century. A mixture of regular coffee and milk, the Melange is served with whipped milk on top, similar to "Cafe au Lait," as the French call Milk Coffee. Looking similar to Italian "Cappuccino," a double Espresso with whipped cream making it the same colour as the Capuchin friars' brown robes ("Kapuziner") with their "little hood (= Cappuccino)." Not to be mixed up with the Spanish "Cafe Cortado," an espresso "cut" with a little steamed milk and usually served in a glass (just like the Viennese "Einspaenner - One-Horse Carriage," an espresso with whipped cream that was preferred by carriage drivers in the old days).
Coffee Joke at a Heuriger (Wine Tavern)
Coffee is not the healthiest drink, but it is ok as long as you don't feel like the guy, who went to the doctor's to ask: "Doctor, whenever I drink coffee, my right eye hurts! Can you help me?" The Doctor replied: "Yes, take the spoon out of the cup." Usually I drink tea, when I am ill. As beer is made of hops and malt, sometimes a waiter would kid when you got a cold, whether you wanted to order "hops blossom tea," meaning beer really. Seasonal wine ("Heuriger" = of this year) is served in local Heurigen-Taverns, where music is played on accordion and fiddle, reflecting mood stamps from merry with wine to sadly depressed up to schmaltzy. Song themes vary from angels coming over to Vienna for vacation to the almost sober customer, believing he is an incarnated vine pest for literally biting the wine like a bug eating grapes. As it is also the place where German beer garden culture meets Hungarian cuisine in the Viennese Beisl-Restaurant, the local singer-songwriter Wolfgang Ambros once stated: "A goulash and a small beer that is a life elixir!" One of my favourite puns regards the old Hungarian meat dish goulash. "Wie macht man aus Schweinsgulasch ein Rindsgulasch? Man dreht den Teller um, dann rinnt's Gulasch." The gag is based on the similarity of the German expression "Rind - beef" and "es rinnt - it runs (down)," which in order to rhyme in English could be replaced by a sound word for vanishing: "How to turn pork goulash into beef goulash? You turn the plate, and piff goes the goulash." In the end it is just "Vienna, only you know me up, know me down," as Falco sang in "Vienna Calling."
Here is now a joke about national dishes: A Swiss, an Frenchman and an Austrian are working on a construction site. As they sit together for lunch, they open their lunch boxes. Says the Swiss worker: "Again a Swiss cheese sandwich, I have had the same lunch for ages. If I get it one more time, I'll jump off the building!" Complains the French worker: "Another French baguette, I can't stand it. One more of those and I'm going to jump, too." Grumbles the Austrian worker: "And I've got a Schnitzel sandwich, again. Another one and I'll jump as well!" As they meet again the next day, they open their lunch boxes, find the same sandwiches inside, lose it and jump off the building to their death. At the funeral, the three widows meet. Says the Swiss widow in tears: "I thought the lunch was his favourite, he never said a word." Sighs the French widow: "I had no idea. I wish he would have told me, I could have made him something different." Finally, the Austrian widow doesn't cry: "I don't understand it either. In the morning, he just left like every day, after he had prepared his lunch package!!"
Chicago-style Dogs, hot ones...
As for the above story, did I mention that on the same day workers from Germany, Greece, Italy, China, Japan, North America and Spain were also found? Next to them there were their lunch packages containing a butter pretzel, a souflaki wrap, a slice of pizza, a crispy spring roll, a fresh rolled sushi, a plain cheeseburger and a variety of tasty tapas...
The typical "Mundl" (Big Mouth)
While Heurigen songs usually romance about the golden Viennese heart ("das goldene Wienerherz"), in the 1970ies a local TV show portrayed a less charming side, bad tempered with a quick tongue, preferably speaking heavy slang (quotation: "Mei Bier is ned deppert - My beer is not stupid!"). It was titled "Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter - A true Viennese does not go down." And so up to this day the "Mundl", short for the first name Edmund, stands for a rude Viennese, who speaks strong dialect and just can't keep his mouth shut! However, in contrast to the noisy, beer drinking redneck, let me point out the difference between the loud beer garden culture and the fine, quiet Austrian wine culture. Heurigen-Songs like the merry "Es wird ein Wein sein, und wir werd'n nimmer sein - There will be wine still, and we won't be anymore" remind one of the own mortality and put the importance of all the small stuff we sweat in relation to matters of life and death.
Dedicating a page to forms of Austrian lifestyle and mentality, what comes to mind is the proud statement of a deeply patriotic playwright, as Austrian as apple strudel so to speak. His best known historic drama describes the rise and fall of thirteenth-century Bohemian King Ottokar, who had inherited the Austrian dominions through marriage with the much older Margaret, Duchess of Austria, and last of the Babenberg dynasty. The play ends with Ottokar's defeat on the battlefield by Rudolf, founder of the Habsburg dynasty. However, bypassing censorship, the story was actually designed as an allusion to the then contemporary fate of French Monarch Napoleon, and his second marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria.
"There, the Austrian stands up before anyone, has his own thoughts and lets others do the talking -
Da tritt der Oesterreicher hin vor jeden, denkt sich sein Teil, und laesst die andern reden..."
(Franz Grillparzer, 1823, Koenig Ottokar's Glueck und Ende - The Fortune and Fall of King Ottokar)