Monday, April 27, 2015

Meat in Austria

The sound of crisp, freshly fallen bacon under foot. The playful shadows of the bratwurst branches. The glisten of a thin ham leaf, daring you to climb the breaded Weiner schnitzel tree trunk ever higher. The ham forest is the dream of Austria, to visit here and not embrace it, will leave you hungry.

Leave your vegetarianism at the border. It’s true you could survive off of coffee and sweets, but to deny yourself meat while in Austria makes about as much sense as not visiting the cathedrals. Both are magnificent, ubiquitous, culturally significant, and more fun than preachy vegetarians or atheists.   

Noble ham, why do the poets do not praise thee?
Is it because when they eat their mind gets lazy?
My first taste of meat in Austria came from simple ham. My cousin insisted we get it for breakfast. After a year in japan, I thought that ham for breakfast sounded absurd and gluttonous, but my taste buds disagreed. The first bite of salty, cured perfection brought tears to my eyes. I ate and wept and generally prayed to the Pig Gods for making their flesh so delicious.

And that was just the start of my meat-venture.

Late last Friday night, the rave taking place in a courtyard between two art museums was just winding down. Through twisty streets and hidden staircases we stumbled until we arrived at a dance club inside the emperor’s former stable that served sausages in its hallowed halls.

I sauntered up to the counter ordered a käsekrainer and waited for the guy behind the counter to serve me between his fierce dance moves. Käsekrainer is a sausage stuffed with cheese, and is even better than it sounds. I smeared the juicy meat in mustard, put it on a thick slice of rye bread, and piled fresh horseradish on top.

Perfection, or so I thought until the next day.

 leberkäse, pulled pork, and beer
For that was when I ate leberkäse which translates to liver cheese, though is neither. It is bits of leftover pork and beef mixed together and baked until it has a crunchy crust. I had it cut into a thick slab and served on rye bread with mustard. My cousin insists it’s a man’s food. If this is indeed the case then I am as manly as they come, for that first bite of leberkäse completed me. Its texture is similar to bologna, but with a crunchy crust. The piece I had was studded with pumpkin seeds, and the nutty bite punctuated the smoky richness of the meat wonderfully. Surely there could be no better!

Yet again, I was mistaken.

A buschenschank is where every meat-venture through Austria must end. It’s a small farm or vineyard that only serves house-made food and booze. This means that your bretteljause—a cutting board overflowing with cured meats, fresh cheeses, and hard sausage—is always cold, and can only be consumed with house made wine and schnapps.

I insist you consume the wine and schnapps, for I did not, and I suffered mightily because of the bratelfett. Bratelfett is a mound of rendered fat that is best eaten on bread with a slice of ham and a pile of fresh horse radish. It is rich. It is wonderful. It’s like eating butter made of bacon. I loved it. And hence, I should have drunk the schnapps. For I had only wine, so I awoke the next morning clutching my chest at the pork fat that had congealed inside of my arteries.

There is a treatement: gurktaler apfenkrauter, an herbed liquor that tastes like dandelion whiskey, which, while not necessarily a bad thing, is not the most pleasant way to start a morning. I survived, but many beers were needed to sustain the digestion.

So, come to Austria, explore the ham forest, but be sure to keep a flask of schnapps handy, in case you climb to the most succulent branches of Austrian cuisine.

The dreaded yet delicious bratelfett

If you enjoyed this post, there's more! Check out coffee culture or taboos in Austria. Or keep eating farther east with food from Japan.

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