If you happen to have, say, a second edition Mastering the Art of French Cooking lying around on your bookshelf, as I do, you quickly realize that Julia Child was into butter. “Everything’s better with butter,” is almost a Julia quote, but the sentiment is correct nonetheless. I love butter, too.
A few days ago I read some rather uncharitable words about one of my favorite Viennese street foods from an ex-pat living here, and I was thus inspired to sing the praises of the lowly Döner Kebab. Or, if you prefer, Shawarma, Gyros, Tacos al Pastor, Sufflaqe, Tarna, or Dyuner.
What is the Döner Kebab? Literally, the Turkish words translate to “Turning Roast.” In its most elegant form, the rotating spit of lamb looks something like this. Anna Grace and I savored this treat in Istanbul many times over last summer. And personally, to me a well prepared Döner sandwich is darned close to haute street cuisine.
People. I’m talking about pumpkin pie.
Tomorrow is the oh-so American celebration of Thanksgiving. Growing up in an Eastern European household we ate roast turkey and stuffing, of course, but desserts were mostly Polish: poppy seed cakes, jam-filled cookies, and my great aunt Helene’s fruitcake. As a married couple, Whole Foods always came through with perfectly baked pumpkin and apple pies, ideal for discerning guests and also leaving me more time to play in the kitchen with the real food.
In the US the answer to the question of, “What are we doing for dinner?” was never, “Let’s go out for Austrian food!” But for a cafe or (maybe) two in Georgetown, there are no Austrian restaurants in the DC area. Why, I do not know. The country’s cuisine is welcoming to even an armchair epicurean.
This ubiquitous snack contains neither liver (Leber) nor cheese (Käse). So why the name? Linguists posit that leberkäse is from the Middle High German* word lab or laib (clotted or loaf) and the Slavic root word quas (feast). Whatever its etymology, this “clotted feast” or “loaf feast” is everywhere in Vienna, and throughout most of Austria and Bavaria as well. Street vendors and grocery stores sell leberkäse on semmel rolls for the quick snacker or harried commuter; and I spy the thick slices and fine-sliced wurst in the grocery trolleys of moms with children, single persons, and pretty much everyone in between, including my trolley.
Back in DC Tony and I rarely met for lunch; we worked in offices in different states not easily connected by public transportation, or by car. I think we met for lunch twice in 20 years, maybe. Here, though, we meet regularly, weather permitting, for street noodles and people watching at Schwedenplatz (Swedish Plaza), a main transport hub along the Donau, so named by Austria in 1919 in gratitude for the help of the Swedish people after WWI.
This week, however, we spiced up our street noodles and people watching (pun intended) at the Thai Festival on the Prater grounds. The Thai Embassy is hosting a weeklong event celebrating 60 years of friendly Thai-Austrian relations, and who can resist Thai food?
Thai Airlines was attracting visitors with its beautifully decorated pavilion full of glossy travel brochures. Hmm, Anna Grace did ask to where we might travel next summer…
Exotic impressions of Thailand filled the small Prater park, from carved fruits and vegetables, to market stalls and grocery stands.
Snacks to go, brown sugar glazed dried fish. An acquired, and addicting, taste.
People watching was top-rate, as well. The festival runs through Sunday, so there’s still time to enjoy authentic spicy food in Vienna. After Sunday, we’ll save a spot on the bench at Schwedenplatz for you.
This is what I have been doing over the last 36 hours. Eating.
Wednesday Evening. Crispy Pork Knuckle with Sauerkraut, Ham and Potato Gratin, and Apfel Strudel. And much Austrian red wine. Tony and I were at a social function where I could not exactly take photos of the food without perhaps embarrassing the US, but that’s why the Internet exists.
Thursday Evening. Not more than 3 hours had passed before it was time to head out to a biergarten chosen by our son to celebrate his 16th birthday, one serving copious plates of meat along with the steins of beer that he is now officially able to order without us! The boys selected platters of Austrian-style meatloaf with fried onions and mashed potatoes, while I thought I would play it safe with “Kleines Zander,” a small plate of fried Zander (similar to trout) and Kartoffelsalat (potato salad).
I should have known better. “Kleines” anything at a biergarten just meant that the plate was smaller, not the portion. I am convinced I was served the Guinness Book of World Records Zander. It was very good that Anna Grace had had cross country practice earlier in the day and could bail me out from my epic dinner fail.