Tradition Looks A Lot Like Chocolate Cake

Sachertorte (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I didn’t eat Wienerschnitzel in Vienna. Even though it’s where Wienerschnitzel was born. Even though it’s something you’re supposed to do. When you only have three days in Vienna, sometimes the schnitzel falls by the wayside. And though I shall live, I feel as if I’ve missed something important. A part of history, a tradition.

Tradition and tourism are two things that don’t often end well together. Rarely do locals hang out where the tourists do. I’ve been to Times Square numerous times – but never while I was living in New York. In Berlin, taking visitors to see the Brandenburger Tor is like being a tourist myself, since there’s really no other reason to be in that part of town.  Food for tourists is usually bad. Food for tourists is usually traditional (or Pan-Asian, why is that?). Ergo, traditional food is usually bad.

Aida (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Detail inside Paul's Church, Vienna (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Vienna, tradition and history infuse the city, from its tourism to its local life. Of course, tradition is a bit hard to avoid in a city where a marvelous monument or palace or church graces every other corner, where the buildings lining the streets sport corniced gables or hidden frescoes and other finely-wrought details. Vienna is a city that takes its past as a cultural capital seriously. Even today, there is music and art everywhere.

One lovely part of Viennese history is a tradition of elegant cafes and pastry shops serving afternoon coffee and cake. From outside, the cafes emit a honey glow, inviting the cold and the tired inside with the promise of whipped cream and jam, marzipan, macaroon, hazelnut – and of course, a strong cup of hot coffee with just a splash of chocolate liqueur. Inside, confections, cakes and sweets slumber in sticky-sweet stacks behind polished glass.

Cafe Drechsler (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wiener Riesenrad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At Hotel Sacher, we tried one of Vienna’s most famous desserts, the eponymous Sachertorte. We sat around a small table in the middle of pedestrian Kaerntner Strassse, warm under heat lamps, resting our tired feet. A Sachertorte is beautiful. A slim slice of moist, coarse-grained chocolate sponge cake with a paper-thin layer of apricot marmalade splitting it in two, draped in a smooth, rich coat of dense and buttery chocolate icing. For all its slimness, it’s too much cake, too rich and unforgiving, even when washed down with a milky cappuccino. We spent the rest of the day with bellyaches.

Cappuccino from Hotel Sacher (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Dusk in Vienna (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We had to stop at Aida, a chain of garish pink pastry shops around the city, at least once, for emergency cake. The night was quickly turning cold, and we had been walking all day and were tired. Our three slices of cake to-go were wrapped in pretty pink paper and we ate them on a dirty park bench beneath a giant H&M advertisement covering the façade of the church we had come to see and which was being renovated. David’s slice took the cake, so to speak – dense whipped cream sandwiched between angel food cake and laced with raspberry jam.

Unwrapping the cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Three fine cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mozartkuchen with marzipan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Another Viennese tradition is the open air Naschmarkt running along the Danube. There’s been a market here since the 16th Century, when mainly milk was the ware of choice. Today the market sells fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, olives, homemade jams and honeys, breads, meat and dried herbs. Towards the back of the market, locals sunbathe and brunch at outdoor tables. Tables get snapped up quickly by young, beautiful Viennese who order perfect noontime cocktails, such as the Hugo, made with elderberry syrup, mint, and sparkling wine or tall glasses of cold Austrian beer to pair with freshly prepared food, warm and flaky baskets of bread, grilled falafels, cornflake-crusted schnitzel.

And there we are, back at the schnitzel that I didn’t eat.

Sander filet with parsley potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fall in Vienna (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

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4 Responses

  1. Laurel says:

    So, no recipes this time?

  2. Grandma xo says:

    Oh dear. We ate at an unlimited buffet with your little brother tonight after we picked him up from the airport. While he had 3 plates of exactly the same food (medium rare steak, mashed potatoes with gravy and macaroni and cheese [which happened to be good]), I had some real food, and a sample of each dessert, a cookie [cookies aren’t dessert – they are staples] and a small dish of ice cream. I just thought my stomach was settled enough to go to bed, but reading your blog makes me nauseated all over again. ummmm

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