Thursday, 24 January 2013

Austria part 3- FOOD!

Now we get to what is contestably the best part of this holiday: the food! Our good host really exerted himself on this front. Over the short time we were there, we made cheese fondue, meat fondue, white sausages and spatzle, as well as mom-made chunky stewy homemade goulash and Schnitzel. Breakfast was always a lovely fried up affair with the option of cheeses, cured meats and bread (kaiser rolls and seedy loaves), and lunch split between sandwiches on the lift and skihut fare.

I had slight issues with my camera fogging up in the warmth of these huts and it isn't nice to have hungry people look glumly on as you try to take photos of their rapidly cooling meals. So I only have a paltry three displayed here, all hearty Austrian favorites. First on the left is kaiserschmarrn, the most awesome of all the fluffy pancakes you could ever find. It is made by folding whipped egg whites into the batter, served as a very generous portion with a berry compote (possibly lingonberry in my case?) and a dusting of icing sugar. Due to its immensity, it is often eaten as a main meal. Even then, it was quite an exertion for our party of five to put away. The kaiserschmarrn we had also contained a hint of rum. Another dessert-come-main that I wish I managed to take a photo of is the germknödel. This is a giant bread dumpling filled with a plum jam (powidl) and smoothered in vanilla sauce and crushed poppy seeds. By the way, vanilla sauce seems to be the Austrian equivalent to custard, and applied liberally to all manner of puddings including the notorious apfelstrudel. You will find no custard powder nor custard in supermarkets markets but, in its place, cartons of vanilla sauce. Second is frittatensuppe, a savory beef consomme with strips of omelette sprinkled over that quickly plumps up as they float on the surface. Third is the more familiar frankfurter and chips.

Some of our hearty dinner affairs are depicted below. Here you see the preparation of our three-cheese fondue. The separation of oil from the milk solids wasn't particularly encouraging but a few additions, flour, white wine and sherry later and we had a lovely gloopy coherent cheese melt. A few gratings of nutmeg finished the fondue, which we had with an assortment of pickles. Never have I eaten so many pickles, or so little fresh vegetables, as the week I spent in Austria. In fact, my entire fresh vegetable intake for the visit consisted of several handfuls of salad.

Next featured are Bavarian white sausages, or Bayerische weisswurscht (had with sauerkraut and freshly baked pretzels). These came with explicit instructions pertaining to their preparation and consumption. They are not to be boiled (danger of exploding skins) but must left to bob in boiled water for 10 min. Their skins are not to be eaten, nor may it be removed by peeling. Instead, you should make an incision in the sausage from which you scrape out its contents or, you grasp it in your hand, bite off an end and use your teeth to drag out the meat. There was one other way how not to eat it, but I forget now.

 I think the crowning glory of our (or rather Matt's) cooking endeavors is the käsespätzle. There was even an authentic spätzlehobel to use! We began with the mise en place: grating out some mountain cheese and crumbling the grey cheese (a graukase), and chopping up the chives. According to the instructions in the recipe book, a dough of flour, eggs and milk was vigorously beaten for decent gluten formation before being dribbled into a vat of boiling salted water. Following that, they were boiled for a further 5-10 minutes, until their gnarly forms resurfaced. The spätzle were drained, fried in butter, covered in the grated mountain cheese, and when that melted, topped up with the graukase. It was then seasoned with salt, pepper and chives, and with regard to tradition, served with a glass of milk. Cheesy heaven. There was a furtive squabble for the burnt cheesy crust at the bottom of the pan. However, I have come to the gradual conclusion that I prefer my cheeses cold. No soft meltingness please. I rather enjoy the texture of the cheese over that. The graukase, for one, was delicious. It had the most amazing chewy rind, which was also far more mellow than its drier, tangier core. I wants more!

Almost last but not least: beer! My knowledge on beer tasting can hardly be even considered scanty. Null is the word. I have not learnt to like bitter yet. On the other hand, my companions are quite the budding beer connoisseurs and had a time sampling the Austrian brews. They also dapple in home brewing and happened to bring with them their latest batch, ripe and ready for its official tasting. A log of their brewing activities can be found on their website: Geofysisk Mikrobryggeri.

We were also treated to dinner at a most marvelous establishment in Hall, steeped with heritage. The restaurant itself was converted from the family home and retained portraits and relics of its domestic past in its beautiful wood paneled rooms. Alas, I was too intent on devouring my meal to retain the flood of information about its past, and left without even learning its name (fortunately my photo says it all, albeit in a language I don't understand). The food was excellent. There were two menus, one for native Austrians and the other for visitors who may wish for more continental dishes. I opted for the more Tirolean dishes available on the 'Austrian menu.' Thus, for starters, had a light beef consomme with a special (semolina?) dumpling (its name precedes me), Tiroler grostl for mains, and ended with moosbeernocken. The Tiroler grostl consists of sliced potatoes, fried with chunks of pork and finished with a runny egg. As it is typically served in the pan it was cooked in, you get to dig our all the lovely burnt bits. It is simple but so so good. Mine came with a sidebowl of sauerkraut and a scattering of speck and it was absolutely the best sauerkraut I have ever tasted: crunchy with a good balance of sweet cabbage and sour vinegar that made it feel very fresh. Moosbeernocken is basically a kind of blueberry pancake. The one I had contained insane amounts of blueberry, more blueberry than pancake batter actually. One gummy purple plateful had more blueberries than I would normally consume in a year (or felt like it). It isn't exactly stodgy, but definitely hits the mark as fruity comfort food. Many thanks to Matt and his family for this scrumptious meal!

Foolishly, I forgot to bring my camera with me. No foody pictures, and no pictures of the grand old town of Hall while brilliantly lit with lights. I was kicking myself all the way home. Early the next day, a meager few hours before my departure from, I roused my bf and dragged him out on a race with me to Hall in the hopes of catching some photos of the sun rising over these medieval buildings (due to its prominence as a salt mining village back in the day, Hall actually has the largest old town in west Austria). But the weather begged to differ. It chose to snow and I was left with these dull looking snaps, above, as I hurriedly tripped about town.

On an unrelated subject, but something I just have to mention, this is truly the most beautiful christmas tree I have ever encountered. It is as a christmas tree ought to be, decorated with silver tinsel and with boughs laden with chocolatey delights. Most of all, it was lit with flickering candles. The tree, and in fact the whole house epitomizes the dream life I've only ever read in stories. It is self sustainable and even feeds energy back to grid, comes complete with a pantry stacked high with utensils and accessories, and has a cellar stocked with all manners of pickles, jams, and chutneys, home-grown or foraged. To Matt and his family, thank you for this fabulous experience!

So long, Austria, and thanks for all the meat!

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Updates soon to come!

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