Chef Stephan Zoisl may have worked around the world, but the Austrian native still has a soft spot for his home country.
When you think of Austria, you probably think of beautiful architecture or classical music. However, this Central European country has its fair share of fine cuisine as well. Chef Stephan Zoisl, who helms Chef’s Table, a restaurant that specialises in bespoke gourmet cuisine, tells us which Austrian dishes we need to zoom in on.
1. Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese escalope)
This is the most famous dish from Austria; it’s like chicken rice in Singapore. The most important component to the Original “Wiener Schnitzel” is that the meat has to be veal – this is how it is traditionally served. As veal is expensive, cheaper options like pork and chicken are now used for the schnitzel. Beef or fish is is never used. Actually, by culinary law, only the veal schnitzel is allowed to be sold as “Wiener Schnitzel”. If chicken or pork are used, it has to be declared as “Schnitzel”.
A Wiener Schnitzel is a thin veal escalope, taken mainly from the veal sirloin / the veal rump part – called Nuss (Nut). Unfortunately Singaporean or American butchers won’t sell it on its own. The veal slice (escalope) is seasoned with salt, placed in flour, and egg mixture before being breaded with very fine bread crumbs. It is then fried in a frying pan — no fryer allowed! — in either hot oil, or for the best taste, in clarified butter.
The original Wiener Schnitzel should “soufflé” in the frying pan – it’s a result where the crust (breadcrumbs) pops up like a pillow instead of sticking to the Wiener Schnitzel. It is mainly served with potatoes and a slice of lemon. In a few small regions, they serve it with rice.
2. Tafelspitz (Boiled Beef)
This is a boiled beef dish served with root vegetables, crème spinach, roasted potatoes, horseradish, and beef consommé. Beef consommé/broth is the number one soup in Austria and there are hundreds of different ways to serve it. A good broth needs good meat to give lots of taste – the best version is the Tafelspitz, which uses a premium cut that is called Tafelspitz!
3. Leberkäs-Semmel (or Fleischkas-Semmel)
This is like the simplified version of a burger – it needs a “Semmel’ (emperor bun / white bread – similar to baguette but round in shape; very airy and crisp). The filling is the “Leberkäs” (meat loaf) and includes mustard, pepperoni, or cornichons. The average Austrian will eat about one a week or maybe more, as it is very tasty. However, it is also high in calories – one Leberkäs-Semmel is more or less similar to eating two Big Macs!
4. Scheinsbraten (Roasted Pork)
There are several different ways of preparing this dish, depending on the cuts of the pork. The seasoning used – garlic and caraway seeds – are also very important. It is either served with dumplings, which are very different compared to Asian dumplings. They are made from bread or potatoes and very hearty. The dish is then served with white cabbage salad or in some regions, with braised red cabbage (Rotkraut). The best way to eat this is with a pint of ice-cold beer.
5. Gulasch (Goulash)
Part of Hungarian and Austrian heritage. Braised beef cubes are cooked with onions and paprika sauce, similar to a stew. Most of the time, it is served with Spätzle (small dumplings made of flour, butter, egg, milk, salt, and nutmeg). This is also another must-try! For a Singaporean, this dish most resembles Beef Rendang – but with lots and lots of gravy. This dish is served almost everywhere in Austria, just like the Wiener Schnitzel.
6. Blunz’n (blood sausage)
This definitely needs to be on the list! Made from pork and lard, the taste of the sausage is full of umami. It’s best if the sausage is cut into slices and fried. A crust will start to form on both sides of the sausages due to the blood in the sausage, and this helps to keep the meat moist and juicy. It is then served with Sauerkraut. Similar to blood pudding in the UK, the sausages are black so there’s no blood visible. If only we could import this to Singapore!
Before moving onto the sweet items, here’s a very quick mention about cold cuts, cheese, and bread. It’s every Austrian’s staple food. There isn’t any household that won’t have any of these items at home. Butter and bread is also important to an Austrian, just like how rice is important to the Chinese. Austria is also very famous for its bakeries, especially the old traditional ones. (FYI, a baguette ain’t French. It’s Austrian!)
If you pass by a bakery in Austria, try out as much of the bread as possible. A must try is the “Laugenbrot” – it is a very soft, light, and chewy bread. Most Singaporeans love it and is one of the items we have at Chef’s Table, along with cold cuts and cheese.
7. Sachertorte (Sacher Cake)
A very rich chocolate cake that originated from the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. They still serve the original recipe and even do international shipping for it. Picture layers of chocolate cake with apricot filling and a chocolate glaze, served with lots of whipped cream. This is best enjoyed with a cup of coffee.
8. Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel)
There are two versions to this – rolled in filo pastry or in a special dough (Mürbteig). In Austria, filo pastry is the most known version. Did you know that is also Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favourite dessert? The dessert is made up of slices of apples, raisins, cinnamon, and stroh rum.
9. Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s Mess)
This is mainly eaten in winter as it’s the perfect dish after a day out being in the cold. It’s a shredded pancake that is traditionally served with apple or plum compote. It is very hard to get these days, so be sure to give it a try if you chance upon it.
10. Salzburger Nockerl
This is an iconic dessert, and is not easy to get. Everyone in Austria knows this and has most likely eaten it. It’s the Austrian’s version of a soufflé – the egg white is folded under the main mixture and the arrangement of the mixture resembles four peaks. The four peaks resemble the mountain peaks surrounding the city of Salzburg. Served with a raspberry jam or sauce underneath the soufflé, this dessert has to be made a la minute, and requires certain skills.
On November 16, Chef Zoisl will be collaborating with two of Austria’s oldest and most renowned wineries, Winery Gross and Winery Hillinger, as well as one of Austria’s most famous distilleries, Distillery Farthofer, for an exquisite six-course menu. Each dish will be created using the freshest seasonal ingredients available and Chef Stephan will narrate the story of each dish and the inspiration behind them. To make reservations, click here.