“Oh where have you been my blue-eyed son? Oh where have you been my darling young one?”
“And what did you eat my blue-eyed son? Oh what did you eat my darling young one?”
Well, quite a lot of sausage, of course. Blood sausage, for instance, one at a gorgeous, gothicky restaurant called Brezl Gwolb (that name looks like an anagram of something indecent) in the form of Blunzngröstl, i.e. a fry up in a pan with potatoes:
And blood sausage again from the buffet at Mayer am Pfarrplatz, a restaurant attached to a winery on the outskirts of the city:
The latter turned out to be pretty startling, an amazingly familiar taste. It had all the lardy richness of the black puddings of my youth in Yorkshire, a really similar flavor profile, as we say. Was it the breed of pig? The amount of fat? The seasonings? Possibly all the above. And for contrast, some white sausage:
There was some Landjager (the “walking sausage” of legend) bought at a supermarket and eaten in my hotel room:
There was some debreziner, eaten with breakfast at the Café Hummel, a spicy sausage with all the heat right at the very end as you swallow:
There were also a few frankfurters, and a Bosna from a Wurstelstand in the city center. Everyone says that these sausage stands are manifestations of democracy and equality, frequented by all kinds of people, rich and poor, plebs and Bourgeoisie, and even a few posh folk. No doubt some are more democratic than others, and some are certainly more architecturally interesting than others, but on a brief acquaintance the legend appeared to be essentially true.
On the non-sausage front, there were, of course, cakes – Vienna being famous for it’s cakes Sacha Torte and Apfelstrudel and whatnot. There were these - punsch krapfen, fruit cake inside, and that icing on the outside is so sweet it starts attacking your teeth before it even gets to your mouth.
There was also some of this – Preiseelbeer tartlet - Preiseelbeer is cranberry, though not exactly the kind of cranberry I was used to; but they were sour enough to satisfy my lack of sweet tooth:
But I the best single thing I ate in Vienna, and I’m tempted to say one of the best things anybody’s ever eaten in Vienna, or possibly anywhere else, was this “Hintere Schweinsstelze Frisch vom Grill” with all the trimmings, potatoes, horse raddish, sauerkraut (really not all that sour), and mustards:
This was eaten at the Schweizerhaus, in the Prater, the big permanent fairground, just downwind from Harry Lime’s Ferris wheel – (where as a matter of fact you can eat dinner in one of the revolving cabins).
The Schweinsstelze was absolutely great, but I was initially unclear about what I was eating. The word is variously translated as pork knuckle, pork shank, and pork hock. I would not have thought these terms were synonymous, but it seems they are. The body part in question is marked on the diagram below. Since this was “hintere” I suppose we’re only talking about the back.
As for how the thing is cooked, some online recipes seem to involve braising and then delvering a blast of heat at the end to crisp up the skin, but as far as I can tell ours were roasted, possibly spit roasted: you don’t get pork crackling like that any other way, surely. And in fact I’m not sure how you get crackling like that full stop. I imagine something like this but on an industrial scale:
The flesh was tender and delicious and very good, but really it was the crackling that made it. Lord knows I love crackling, and lord knows my attempts to cook good crackling are a hit and miss affair, but these guys at the Schweizerhaus have got it down so perfectly it almost makes me want to stop trying. Almost.
Once home I dug around in the Psychogourmet Memorial Food Library and found my copy of Time Life’s, The Cookery of Vienna’s Empire – no recipe for Schweinsstelze there (nor in the German volume either), but I did find this remarkable picture. The things on sale are sweets, made of marzipan, made to resemble sausages. Austria – my kind of country.
And many, many thanks to the blessed Del Barrett for organizing the Vienna trip, and being a guide through the city’s food labyrinth.