When the cold air bites in the city of waltzes, you’ll probably want to spend more time indoors. There are plenty of things to do in Vienna in winter that involve sitting around a table, knife and fork in hand, feasting on some delicious Viennese cuisine.
Renowned celebrity chef Rick Stein visited the city for his Long Weekends series and, as you’d expect from one who travels the world looking for the best places to eat, he came up with a bounty of eateries. Each offers its own special magic, famous dish or claim to fame.
Wiener Schnitzel in the City of its Fame
Step through the revolving glass doors of the glorious Hotel Imperial lobby where 19th century Viennese splendour is abundant in the gigantic crystal chandeliers and the ornate statues, carved from marble so many years ago. With a reservation at Café Imperial, you will be seated at a table in the 1873-established eatery where Executive Chef Rupert Schnait will prepare the world’s best Wiener Schnitzel for you.
The thin slice of veal is breaded and fried in clarified butter to golden perfection and served along with parsley potatoes and mixed salad. You may like to follow that with the hotel’s exemplary in-house special, the Imperial Torte, a magnificent layered chocolate truffle cake made with almonds. If your schnitzel filled you beyond wanting dessert, the cake can be purchased in a custom-made wooden box and you can take it home with you.
Vienna’s First Coffee House
Coffee first came to Vienna in the 1680s when Colonel Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki was given a sack of the beans following a mission he accomplished when Vienna was besieged and Kulczycki was sent to pose as a Turkish soldier. His success in the mission earned him fame and riches and he received the rights to be considered a member of the wealthy bourgeoisie. He used his money to open Vienna’s first café at Domgasse 6 and began offering coffee to customers. At first it wasn’t well received but with the addition of milk and sugar or honey, and at last, Vienna was considered the world capital of cafes.
Rick Stein demonstrated more of the foodie things to do in Vienna - a visit to another famous landmark, the Café Landtmann where he gorged on fresh apple strudel with vanilla sauce (aka custard). The Landtmann has been the coffee house of choice for illustrious members of Viennese society for hundreds of years and famous customers who have spent their time there have included Dr Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster, Hillary Rodham Clinton and even Sir Paul McCartney. Known for its formality, the oak-panelled café upholds old-fashioned traditions of polished manners and royal standards.
Fried Steak and Onions, Viennese-style
No-frills, local dishes are the order of the day at Rudi’s Beisl Restaurant where the chef whips up one of Austria’s favourite dishes, Zwiebelrostbraten. A pan fried steak dish, it is served with a reduced beef stock sauce, deep fried onion rings, fried potato, gherkins and mustard. Rick pronounced it ‘greedy food’- so good that he would rather not even talk while enjoying it!
Dine like an Emperor
Following a walk around town to the building where Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro, Stein dropped into the Plachutta Restaurant to enjoy Tafelspitz, a boiled meat dish that people come from all over the world to eat. First ‘course’ is the vegetable broth in the beef stock. It may sound quite ‘down-home’ but at the Plachutta, it is served from glamorous copper pots by waiters who attend to your every need.
It is eaten with sliced pancakes then followed by the rich, warm marrow bone on toast. And finally, the boiled meat slices are served with house-made apple sauce, freshly grated horseradish, bread sauce and spinach. Tafelspitz was a favourite dish of the Emperor Franz Joseph who reigned in the early 20th century. Hence, one of the great foodie things to do in Vienna in winter is to dine like an Emperor, even if it is the humble beef and vegetable broth he so enjoyed.
The Chocolate Cake Vienna made Famous
Aside from the Imperial Torte mentioned above, Vienna is mostly famous for another chocolate concoction, the Sacher Torte. Steeped in history and controversy, the legendary torte was created by 16-year old Austrian Franz Sacher who first made it in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna. Rick visited the Demel Bakery where, around 1938, legal issues arose about the legitimacy of being allowed to call the cake ‘The Original Sacher Torte’.
An intense legal battle was waged over various elements such as whether margarine or butter could be used and if there should be a second layer of jam inside the cake. In 1963, all was settled and the Hotel Sacher ultimately earned the rights to call the dessert ‘The Original Sachertorte’ and the Demel was allowed to decorate its tortes with a chocolate seal reading Eduard-Sacher-Torte. What could be a better thing to do in Vienna in winter than savour a luscious, historic chocolate cake around which such passions were inflamed for decades?
Market Delights along a 1-kilometre stretch
Towards the end of the Long Weekends episode, Rick visited the Naschmarkt, the most popular markets in Vienna where he tried some traditional sSauerkraut made by a local and presented in a massive barrel. Visitors love the 1-kilometre long Naschmarkt for its people watching opportunities and to sample foods that are unique to Vienna as well as local crop produce, cheeses, sausages and wines. On Saturdays, a flea market is held at the end of the Naschmarkt and is the most popular day for tourists lucky enough to be in town on the weekend.
Safe, beautiful, hospitable Vienna
Vienna is generally a safe place for tourists, with occasional incidents such as pick-pocketing in high density tourist areas, slippery staircases or lost luggage. You’ll be extremely glad you purchased travel insurance*!
Follow in Rick Stein’s footsteps and do visit Vienna for a long weekend or a couple of weeks. This history-rich city and its beautiful architecture will provide you with lifetime memories!