Friday, April 24, 2015

Cafes, Pastries and Melange in Austria

“In Austria, it’s all about the whipped cream,” my aunt Sharon says as she sips her mélange.
 Mélange, in all its creamy glory 

They serve it with everything in Austria, sacher torte, strudel, coffee, everything. Viennese waiters with too much pride will ask if you want whipped cream with a raise of an eyebrow, a waggle of their mustache, daring you to decline. Say no to the forthcoming mountain of whipped cream, and risk offending them and their centuries old culture, but then again, do as you wish, because your very existence has already pissed them off.
Apple strudel, coffee and cream
The Viennese cafes in particular are equipped with an arrogance so refined its almost breathtaking. One waitress dropped the money we gave her, scoffed at us, and tapped her foot impatiently while my aunt scrambled to pick up the loose bills. Another waiter, when confronted with two loud-mouthed Americans and their traitorous Viennese relative, demanded how long we’d need the table before letting us sit down. Thirty minutes we told him, and he held us to the number, for when twenty minutes had passed and we asked for the check, he waived us away, convinced that we were still enjoying the ambiance and his ice-cold presence.
In Graz the arrogance is more under control. My aunt took Raquel and me to a tiny café, and when Raquel asked (GASP!) what one of the pastries was the waitress smiled and indulgently told us the name and ingredients of every fantastic confection behind the glass. And when Raquel decided on the very first one the woman had named, she served us with a smile and a raised eyebrow, daring me to put whipped cream in my coffee.

The coffee in Austria is as delicious as the confections. In Vienna, be sure you order the mélange. It’s no different from a cappuccino, but to order such a refined drink in vulgar Italian risks being ostracized. In Graz ordering a cappuccino doesn’t invoke the same visceral reaction, but to order a mélange tells the server you’ve been to the capital city, something Austrians respect, even if only because they know you’ve strolled through Schonbrunn and dealt with a café far snobbery than theirs.  
Esterhozy, mélange, and poppyseed cake

But worry not intrepid traveler! All said snobbery is worth the confectionary perfection. For to be in Austria and not taste sacher torte or apfel strudel is a sin of carelessness most egregious. To not venture out and sample esterhozy--a slice of almond and cognac invented by angels in Hungary--or the dense mashed poppy seed cake my cousin can’t stop eating is a lapse of judgment as foolish as admiring the grand canyon with one’s eyes closed.

So dine on! Walk into a café, peruse the delights behind the glass, and trust they taste as good as they look. Remember that to fear being snubbed is folly. Those sneers and scoffs of the Viennese are much deserved. Your waiter is old enough to have served Kaisers and Kings. You’re but a tourist taking up space at a table once reserved for royalty.

Want more Austrian adventures? Click for meat, taboos, or here for food from my year in Japan.

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