This is a guide about Austrian food and drink specialties.
It covers everything you need to know if you are a gourmand traveling Austria or if you want to simply learn more about our food culture.
The food guide is from the perspective of a West Austrian, so I may have mentioned more specialties from there because, well that's my expertise.
But I have also graduated from my hotel management college in Salzburg, so the things that I learned over 4 years of training have been added to this guide too.
Our culinary college focus was Austrian cuisine and local ingredients.
I hope you will find this guide useful! 🙂
- Knödel - Dumplings
- Clear Soups
- Suppeneinlagen - Soup Additions
- Fried Specialties
- Wild Game
- Käsespätzle - Cheese Spätzle
- Gröstl - Fried Potatoes and Eggs
- Butter Parsley Potatoes
- Cold Cuts and Speck
- Cakes, Torten, Cookies
- Poppy Seed Desserts
- Salzburger Nockerl
- Mozart balls
- Soft Drinks
- Pumpkin Seed Oil
Schnitzel are flattened meat cuts and there are countless Schnitzel varieties in Austria.
The most well know Schnitzel is the breaded Wiener Schnitzel, which uses veal meat cuts.
Wiener means from Vienna and that's where they came from. Nach Wiener Art on menu cards means with veal only.
Wiener Schnitzel with pork is more common in West Austria, due to the Bavarian, German influence and because it was a commonly used meat cut for poor farmers.
The pork Schnitzel is German and sometimes it's called Wienerschnitzel too in the west, which can be misleading.
They can also be prepared with turkey meat.
So, in a restaurant, you will mostly get an option to get a veal, pork, or turkey Breaded Schnitzel. Chicken Schnitzel doesn't exist in Austria.
A Wiener Schnitzel can be sandwiched between a Kaiser roll too, which is a popular lunchtime meal for busy people.
Contrary to popular belief, Schnitzel are not always breaded, unbreaded Schnitzel exist as well such as the Jägerschnitzel (with hunter's sauce and mushrooms).
Those are sometimes referred to as "naked" Schnitzel because they are not breaded.
A naked Schnitzel is usually served with a gravy sauce, a breaded Schnitzel is never served with a sauce. That's a big no-no in Austria!
Knödel - Dumplings
Knödel are dumplings.
They can be savory, served on its own or as a side dish or served in soups.
Well-known savory Knödel include for example the Tyrolean Speckknödel (bread dumpling with bacon pieces).
The Semmelknödel is popular in Austria too but it originated in South Bavaria.
Knödel can be sweet too, served as a dessert such as Marillenknödel (Knödel stuffed with Apricot halves) or the Germknödel (Yeast dumpling).
Most Knödel are round but some such as the savory Tyrolean Käsepressknödel (pressed cheese bread dumpling) are flat and fried in a pan.
When you go to a local inn (Gasthaus), you will always get an option for a clear soup as a starter.
It is said that clear soups help to get your stomach ready for the, often while, heavier meal to come.
A clear soup is essentially a clear broth.
They are not a French consommé because the French ones are prepared differently. The Austrian clear soups are effortless to make from scratch.
The most popular clear soup is the Rindsuppe (beef clear broth soup) and the Klaregemüsesuppe/ Klaresuppe (clear vegetable soup).
Suppeneinlagen - Soup Additions
Soup additions are served in a clear soup to enrich and turn it into a meal on it's own.
This includes Knödel, Schöberl (seasoned savory Biscuit dough), and Frittaten (pancake cut into strips).
Croutons and soup pearls aka puffs (look like chickpeas) are also commonly added to soups.
Plain Wiener-style sausages, called Frankfurter, are also used as a Suppeneinlage at times. Especially after a funeral or at a wedding.
Germkirchel are deep-fried flat yeast doughs, which are larger and fluffier on the border and somehow flatter on the inside. They may have a different name in other parts of Austria, neighboring South Tyrol (Italy) and Bavaria (Germany).
Daumnidai are thumb-sized deep fried yeast bread pieces.
They are super popular at local fairs in Tyrol, West Austria and you can have them with powdered sugar, lingonberry jam or Sauerkraut.
Goulash is a Hungarian meat stew but the Austrians have their own Goulash versions.
Austria and Hungary used to be part of the Austrian empire and they share some food history
The Rindsgulash (beef goulash) consists of bite-sized beef cubes, served in paprika caraway spiced meat gravy with other side dishes such as cabbage, potato, or dumplings.
The Austrian beef goulash resembles the Hungarian Pörkölt.
There is also the potato goulash soup which is a vegetarian goulash soup, also inspired by the Hungarian goulash. This one may include sliced sausages in some places.
Other goulash varieties exist too, especially the ones prepared with wild game.
Liptauer is a spiced bread spread prepared with cream cheese. The traditional one is made with cottage sheep cheese milk.
This bread spread had origins in Slovakia (part of the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire), where they have a sheep cheese called bryndza.
People in Austria love their Liptauer over sliced whole-grain bread or black bread and they sprinkle freshly chopped garden cress (a herb) over it.
Strudel in Austria are thinly layered stuffed baked pastries. The most well-known Strudel is the sweet Apfelstrudel (apple-filled strudel).
Classic Austrian Strudel are prepared with a so-called Strudel dough. Those are also commonplace in Hungary (historical empire connection).
A Strudel dough is a highly elastic dough variety enriched with oil. It is stretched so that one can read a newspaper through the dough. So we were taught!
The super thin dough is then stuffed with a filling before it is baked.
The filling can be sweet or savory.
So, Strudel can be also a main course meal, such as a vegetable strudel or spinach strudel, or a sweet strudel such as a topfen (fresh cheese/quark) strudel or an apple strudel.
There is a wild game season in autumn in Austria and that's when wild game specialties are commonly enjoyed.
The most common ones are venison, boar, pheasant, partridge and rabbit.
Often while they are served like an Austrian beef goulash/ Hungarian Pörkölt.
Seasonal mushroom varieties, such as Chanterelle are served along or braised sweetened red cabbage.
Käsespätzle - Cheese Spätzle
Käse means cheese in German. In dialect, they sometimes appear as Kasspatzl on menus in Tyrol (West Austria).
Kas is the dialect word for Käse and Spatzl stands for, you guessed it, Spätzle.
This dish is a super popular ápre ski meal, served at so-called Alms (mountain huts/grazing area) to visitors from around the world.
Gröstl - Fried Potatoes and Eggs
Gröstl is a simple poor-men's dish, which gained on popularity all over the world.
Boiled potato leftover are cut into slices and fried with lard or butter and eggs.
The idea is to use leftovers or to have a quick filling dish, so sometimes you would add bacon or sausage meat leftovers. It can all be topped with cheese too!
Farmers in Tyrol used to prepare and serve pan-fried potatoes and egg in one large pan.
It would then be placed into the center of the table where everyone in the family would eat out with a soup spoon.
Some people debate if Sauerkraut can be called Austrian or German. It's traditionally prepared in West Austria and in South Germany, so I guess we share this one.
Cabbage is shredded and fermented with spices and salt in a large crock.
It then needs to be rinsed and cooked further in a pan with spices and meats.
Sauerkraut can be served with sausages and bread dumplings or with fried yeast doughs (see Germkirche)
Butter Parsley Potatoes
Butter, parsley and potatoes are big in Austria!.
So, when you want a side dish with your favorite main course meal, you will frequently get an option of butter parsley potatoes as a side dish.
It's a simple but delicious side dish when served with Wiener Schnitzel and lemon slices.
Cured meats are part of the Austrian food identity.
The beloved Wiener Sausage is the most well-known sausage and a must-have if you find yourself in a beer garden at the Prater in Vienna.
Wiener links are more commonly called Frankfurter but I can't tell you why that is. It would imply that they are from Frankfurt Germany.
Another well-known sausage is the Käsekrainer, which was inspired by the Slovenian Krainer sausage, just filled with cheese. There was a huge spat between Austria and Slovenia regarding the origin. The Krainer was hence called a Slovenian sausage.
Our town St.Johann in Tirol, has a coarse long pork sausage called Sankt Johanner.
Debrezina and Knacker are popular in Austria but they are not a local specialty. Debrezina is Hungarian and Knacker German.
We also have something that resembles a meatloaf or corned meat, just that the meat looks and tastes like that of a wiener sausage. It's called either Leberkäse or Fleischkäse.
It's a square-shaped pressed pork and beef meat thing, which is sometimes seasoned too. It's cut into slices and enjoyed between a Semmel bun with mustard, mild chilis, gherkins, or ketchup.
It's called and known as Fleischkäse in West Austria (Vorarlberg and Tyrol) and Leberkäse in east Austria. People in the east won't understand the word Fleischkäse at all.
Fleischkäse makes for an affordable delicious no-fuss lunch!
Cold Cuts and Speck
Cold cuts are a common sight in grocery shops.
You can get 100 grams or more of cold cuts sliced and packed. The sellers like to work in Decagram, which is a metric unit between kilo and grams
The most common cold cuts are various salami varieties, Extrawurst and variations of that with something in it such as mushrooms or bell pepper.
You can also ask for a sandwich prepared with your favorite cold cut and a Semmel bread roll. This is called a Wurstsemmel.
Ham slices also exist in different qualities. It's a meat lovers dream come true!
Speck is a specialty from Tyrol, it's cured bacon lard. South Tyrol also calls it their own because they used to be part of Austria before WW1 and now they are Italian.
Speck makes a great food gift for gourmet food lovers and keeps well for months too but we store it in the fridge.
We have a great cheese varieties in the mountain.
There are countless names and cheese is still prepared the old way in many Alms in the mountains.
Heumilch is used which can be translated into hay milk. Cows eat only hay from the fields and in summer they are left to graze the so-called Alms, grass fields in the mountains.
The milk quality is therefore one of the best in the world and the cheese that is made with it is of course creamy and intense in flavor.
Look out for Bergkäse, which translates to mountain cheese. Some villages have a small market on Fridays where they sell their cheese.
The Kaiser Semmel (emperors roll), which is simply called Semmel is the most commonly available bread across Austria.
It appears with poppy seeds or sesame seeds too.
Austrians usually just have a semmel for breakfast with butter honey or jam. That's it! So it shows how important this bread is.
German origin wholewheat bread are also super popular in Austria and a bread called Schwarzbrot, which is a black rye bread.
Kipferl or Salzstangerl are kinds of bread. Kipferl are moon-shaped bread dipped in lye. Salzstangerl are elongated bread with salt on it (kid love this one).
There are various brown mustard sauce varieties across Austria. Villages have their own ones too.
Mustard paste can be a mixture with horseradish too.
Horseradish on it's own is also a common condiment.
Both, are commonly served with meats, especially sausage links.
There are 3 main jam preserves in Austria.
The apricot jam is called Marillenmarmelade or konfitüre (they don't make a difference between marmalade and jam).
Apricot jam is not only enjoyed over a slice of bread, it's also an important ingredient in cakes and Torte.
A layer of apricot jam is spread over the cake in between layers, this is called Aprikotieren. This is the secret ingredients used to make Austrian Torte and cakes
Red Currant Jelly is the second most important jelly. It's used in some of the upper Austria cake and cookie specialties. Such as the Linzertorte and the Linzeraugen.
The third most important jam is the Lingonberry jam. It's also the most precious jam and a small tiny jar can cost up to 10 Euros.
Lingonberry jam is served with meats such as the Wiener Schnitzel like a sauce.
The Lingonberries are hard to get because they grow at 1000 meter heights on treacherous slopes.
Other popular jams include the local blueberry jam and the local variety of plums (Zwetschken) turned into a jam.
Kaiserschmarrn is a scratch pancake dessert.
Thick pan cake pieces are cut into smaller pieces in the pan during the frying process and are then covered in a layer of sugar.
Regional varieties exist, such as the blueberry Kaiserschmarren prepared in the mountains called Moosbärmiasl.
Cakes, Torten, Cookies
Cakes in Austrian homes are usually square because they are prepared in a square baking pan.
They are not that high and often while they include fruits such as plums or pears.
These are more like afternoon coffee break cakes, which are served at all times with whipped cream and of course a cup of coffee.
Torte, on the otherhand, are these grand perfect looking layered cakes.
The most famous Torte are the Sacher Torte, Linzer Torte and the Esterhazy Torte.
Cookies are mainly prepared during the Advent time before Christmas.
Poppy Seed Desserts
Poppy seeds were brought by other cultures to Austria from the east and by the Jews.
The most common variety are the blue/grey poppies. They appear on breads and treats.
But the most common use is a poppy seed filling which is used to fill pastries and baked goods.
You can find multiple poppy seed pastries in local Austrian bakeries such as poppy rolls, poppy Strudel, or filled cookies like the Jewish Hamantaschen.
Salzburger Nockerl are a specialty from Salzburg city and foreigners love them when they visit Salzburg.
They are baked meringue peaks that are suppose to remind one of the mountains behind Salzburg.
That said, Salzburger Nockerl are not that commonly made by locals at home. Yet, they are definitely delicious!
The oldest restaurant in Europe, the St. Peter Stiftskulinarium in Salzburg, is serving some of the best Salzburger Nockerl in Austria.
The biggest export of Mozart related things is of course the Mozart ball.
Mozart balls are made of nougat, pistachio marzipan and chocolate.
They are called Mozartkugeln in German.
The company also sells similar treats under the name of Mozart such as Mozart coins and Mozart chocolate liqueurs.
They make nice food gifts for family and friends back home.
Austrian kids in school learn that the Turkish lost the battle for Vienna in the renaissance and when they left beaten, they also left some dark brown beans, the coffee bean.
So, called coffee houses are the soul of Vienna, they are tall large rooms decorated in the classic Vienna style of the last century.
When you want to order a plain coffee (Americano style) ask for a Verlängerter, which means stretched out.
A kleiner Schwarze is an espresso, a shot of a strong coffee. That's the one you get when you order a coffee in Italy.
A Melange (french meaning mixture) is a coffee infused with cocoa.
The Jagatee or Jagertee is a specialty from Tyrol, it has been popularized due to the not-so-awesome Apre Ski Party scean.
Jagatee is infused by schnapps, rum, wine, tea, orange slices and spices.
Austrian rum is prepared from sugar beets by a company called Stroh. They make some of the strongest liquor, at 80%.
It's prepared like a mulled Glühwein but it tastes differently.
It's great when you feel cold and you want to warm yourself up quickly before you go back on the slopes. Yeah we Austrians ski a bit tipsy...
A Schnapps is a clear distilled liquor.
Fruits such as apricots, pears and plums are fermented and then distilled into Schnapps.
It's a local tradition that farms still do today. In fact only farmers get to have a license to distill Schnapps and those are rather limited and hard to get.
So, locals with a good load of fruits will go to a farmer who will cut the fruits small, ferment, and distill them for them.
Most commercially available Schnapps isn't worth mentioning, the flavors don't come close to the real deal.
You drink a Schnapps in a shot glass to warm up on a cold day.
Austrian beer isn't that well known around the world because other countries are just superiour in it but local beers are quiet lovely as well.
Many towns and villages have their own age-old breweries where they produce commercial quantities of beer.
Austrians drink a lot of beer, they consume almost as much beer as the Czech, which consume the largest quantity of beer in the world.
Lager and Märzen beer are the most common beers in Austria.
The most well known beer brands are Stiegel, Gösser and Puntigamer.
Austria is also a wine country. This is not that well known around the world.
Both, white and red wines are produced in East Austria. Lower Austria and Styria are known for the best wine.
You can go to a Buschenschanken, which is a local inn run by the wine farmers.
They serve up their wines and meat and cheese boards. It's just amazing and our favorite thing to do when in Styria.
Elderflowers are a secret local specialty!
They grow in May mostly and that's when the flowers are harvested.
They are either turned into a cordial or they are dipped into batter and fried crispy.
The elderflower cordial is a common summer drink to beat the heat. It cools you from within.
You can buy it at local farmers markets, they are more common in West Austria.
The most well known stimulating soft drink in the world has its base in Austria, Red Bull.
One of the owners is Austrian and the other party is Thai. Thailand has its own version of a red bull sold in small glass bottles. The ones you get in Austria are the same ones for the rest of the world.
Almdudler is a soft drink which tastes like herbs. You can only find it in Austria and it's commonly sold in all restaurants and shops.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumkpkin seed oil is also called the black gold of Austria.
It's mainly produced in East Austria in Styria, the green region.
Pumpkins are deseeded and the seeds are cold pressed pretty much the same way as it was always done in the past.
Pumpkin seed oil is dark green and a few drizzles over your salad or in your pumpkin soup is just delicious!