A recent week-long vacation to two historic European cities was filled with great memories (with friends and family), loads of laughs, tons of food, gallons of beer and gorgeous views. It was interesting to discover Prague and Vienna to be such melting pots of cultures and cuisines. While Prague made me feel like I had travelled back in time (along with a thousand other tourists)… Vienna turned out to be a sprawling, bustling city celebrating the old AND the new in a seamless way…. poised to welcome what future holds, with open arms.
Perhaps because of their close proximity and shared history, there were a lot of similarities in the cuisine. I mean, history literally narrates itself as you walk through the streets. It was also delightful to note that both cities are rich in the arts! So, as you walk around, it is quite common to be stopped by vendors selling tickets to classical music concerts happening in city’s famous parks and palaces. So cool! Did you know that Mozart had a close connection to both cities? He lived in Vienna for many years, where he started to make a name for himself, but Prague is where he truly received the fame and fandom…. In fact Don Giovanni premiered in Prague and was received there with greater enthusiasm than in Vienna.
But, for a food blog, I digress!
In Vienna the local specialities are the Wiener Schnitzel, Goulash, CurryWurst and Bratwurst – Oh! With a side of creamy golden potatoes. And the place to try these is: Plachutta – practically a local institution with many locations around Vienna!
As a result of recent influx of immigrants, Vienna also has tons of middle-eastern food purveyors. Naschmarkt is a great outdoor food market offering hundreds of varieties of foods, gift items, souvenirs and spices from all over the world. After doing your day’s food-shopping, sit down and relax at one of the many restaurants and enjoy some ethnic cuisine and beverages. A must visit!
Vienna is also known for its coffee houses. They have been an integral part of its history and culture. We visited the classic and most well known ones: Cafe Central, Cafe Demel and Cafe Sacher. While oozing old-world charm, nowadays these places are typically brimming with tourists. But when there, be sure to order sweet treats like sachertorte, mozart torte and a local speciality called kaiserschmarren (chunks of pancake/cake like treat, dusted with sugar and served with a dipping sauce which kinda grows on you).
While in Prague the Goulash with dumplings, Pigs’s Knees, Roast Duck, Beef in Cream sauce and sausage will show up on practically EVERY menu! I really enjoyed the goulash at U Fleku restaurant and brewery – one of the oldest restaurants in the city offering classic traditional fare ….and beer arriving at your table until you vehemently tell the server over and over again, “No More” :-). The dumplings in Prague are a must try. They were totally unexpected. They are often made with bread and/or potatoes. In Prague, I also enjoyed the beef in cream sauce with dumplings…. pretty rich and luscious textures and flavors in the sauce were perfect with dumplings I used to sop it all up.
The sweet treat you will see everywhere in the old city was Trdelnîk. This rolled dough is wrapped around a stick and then grilled in front of you. Topped with sugar, it can be eaten as is or alternately filled with cream or ice cream.
The dining highlight of this trip was a tasting menu at Steirereck restaurant in Vienna. I loved its ultra modern decor set in the heart of a public park. It is currently #10 in World’s 50 best restaurants and holds two Michelin stars! The standouts of this place were the showcasing of regional cuisine and ingredients with an opening homage to dishes from neighboring countries. Each course was presented with a card describing the dish, its ingredients and its inspiration. It was such a fantastic little touch! I also LOVED that this restaurant’s policy is to let you enjoy your seat at the table for the entire evening if you choose. No one will rush you to make room for the next reservation. Isn’t that nice?!!!! As we sat down, the evening sun was enveloping the entire interior. And through the course of the evening we got to enjoy the sunset through the windows looking out into the park property. So unique and so special.
The local cuisine in these two cities is influenced, or perhaps dominated by the neighboring countries. And I found most things to be somewhat mild, lacking bold flavors. So, after a few days of eating the local food in each city, it was a welcome change to head to some Asian or Italian restaurants.
Couple of tips before I wrap up this article: Neither city offers tap water in restaurants. They encourage you to drink the local beer. And if you really really want water – they will bring you bottled water and charge you for it.
Also, beware the bread course in Vienna. It shows up automatically, as does the extra charge on your bill.