Eating Well: Vienna, Austria - #112

BURT WOLF: Vienna, one of the world’s great cities for good food. We'll visit some of their extraordinary coffee shops and find out who discovered our most popular drink. We'll uncover the story of the first croissant, and the battle it was baked for. We'll tour the town's food shops, and cook up some of their best-tasting recipes. Join me, Burt Wolf, Eating Well, in Vienna.

Vienna is a city of imperial beauty. Imperial is definitely the right word, since most of the great buildings in Vienna were constructed under the direction of one of the Austrian emperors, who ruled in Vienna for over six hundred years. Their palaces, personal residences, court buildings, they dominate the city, and give it a distinct character. The imperial lifestyle became part of Vienna's culture and is seen throughout the city. There are still splendid receptions given in the grand ballrooms, the waltzes of Strauss still dominate much of the music, the shopping has as inter-national an aspect as London, Paris, New York or Tokyo. It's what you'd expect to find in one of the world’s more interesting cities. And the town is still manageable in size. You can walk to most of the interesting sites. Saint Stephen's Cathedral, Schoenbrun Palace, Belvedere Palace, the Opera, the Vienna Boys' Choir, which has been singing here since 1498. And if you think these kids are well-coordinated, you've got to take a look at the horses in the Spanish Riding School. They've had their act together for four hundred years and they're Vienna's number one tourist attraction. And most attractive is Vienna's food and its fascinating history. 

A little over two thousand years ago, the city of Vienna was actually a small fishing village. Then the first of the Roman legions arrived. They built their temples and planted their grape vines. The temples and the grape vines are still here, only these days they're right smack in the middle of downtown Vienna. When the Roman Empire declined, Vienna went through a tough time. For about five hundred years, it was constantly subjected to invasion by barbaric hoards. The Visigoths came through, and the Vandals came through, even Attila the Hun stopped in for a piece of pastry. But by the year 1000, the first of the ruling families of Vienna took control. The Bobbinburgs came bob-bob-bobbing along. They turned the city into an important trading center. Crusaders traveling up and back between Europe and the near east, gave Vienna a taste for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. They also started the growth of the town's enormous sweet tooth by bringing in sugar. In the thirteenth century, the Hapsburg family took over, and began six hundred years of imperial rule. The Hapsburgs were lovers at heart, not fighters. They liked acquiring land through marriage, rather than might. And they did a pretty good job, too. In addition to Austria, they managed to add on Poland, Hungary, and parts of Switzerland, France and Italy, the Netherlands, even Mexico. And central to their power was their understanding that the way to a person's heart was often through their stomach. Why fight when you can flirt and feast?

Today, Vienna is the capital of a neutral nation. A democracy interested in political peace and gastronomic peace. A piece of strudel, a piece of torten, a piece of schnitzel and all the recipes drawn from countries that were once part of the Hapsburg empire. Let me take you on a little tour of Viennese cooking. 

Vienna's old market is one of the city's most famous landmarks. It's called the Naschmarket, which means the nibble market. For decades, it's not only been a central source of good food, but the main base for great gossip. You could find out if the fine tomatoes had come in from the countryside, as well as discover who was the apple of whose eye. Today the Naschmarket still reflects the position of Austria as a gateway between Europe and the near east. One vendor specializes in the dried, sweetened fruits and nuts of the near east. Next to him is a stand covered with the traditional produce of northern Europe, the cabbages and the root vegetables. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale are in the cabbage family. They're high in vitamin C and contain calcium,and phosphorus. They also hold a substance called beta-carotene, which our bodies use to make vitamin A. Beta-carotene appears to help block some forms of cancer. 

Potatoes originated in South America and were brought to Europe in the 1500s. After a few years, they became a very popular crop with European peasant farmers. That's because they grew underground and the invading armies that wandered all over Europe couldn't find them. Those armies would take everything they could from the farmers -- and potatoes, being hidden, were fabulous. Potatoes are very high in nutrients. They've got lots of vitamin C, lots of potassium, lots of fiber, and they're low in calories. Here in Vienna, they're used to make a wonderful potato soup. And in the hands of Vienna's chef, Karl Malafa, potatoes are turned into the kind of hearty peasant soup that has made country cooking famous. Onions are sliced, leeks are sliced and peeled potatoes are sliced. A little oil goes into a pan. Then the onions, the leeks and some fresh marjoram. That gets stirred and cooked together for about five minutes. Then beef broth is added. The lid goes on. And the ingredients simmer together for about twenty-five minutes. The lid keeps the soup from boiling away and helps seal in the flavors. Just at the end of the cooking time, a quarter cup of cream is added in, a technique from the old style of Austrian cooking. I tested the recipe with buttermilk, and again with low-fat yogurt, and both worked out fine. Just don't re-heat the soup after the yogurt goes in or it will separate. Next, a little pepper, and some ground cardamon seed. At that point, everything is blended into a puree. Mushrooms are sauteed and placed into the serving bowl as a garnish. A few pre-cooked cubed vegetables are also added, the soup goes in and it's ready to serve. 

Throughout most of history people ate small amounts of foods throughout the day. We were hunters and gatherers, catching small animals and sharing them. We gathered food and shared that too. What we hunted and gathered, we ate in what would be the equivalent of five or six small meals, spread out throughout the day. But the industrial revolution of the early 1800s changed the way people ate. Factories like to run with the fewest interruptions. So we shifted our eating habits to three meals a day. One before work got started, one after work ended, and a single interruption called lunch. Great system for production, not so great for good health. 

Researchers are telling us that our bodies were really designed to take in small amounts of food at one time. When we go to a big meal, we really endanger the system. Having a lot of food at one time can increase yous cholesterol, increase your body fat, increase your weight and impair your body's ability to deal with blood sugar. Those are all serious things, and you don't want to do that to yourself. Your best bet is to take the calories that you would normally have at breakfast lunch and dinner, pull out some of those, and have them as low-fat snacks in between those meals. Better for you, lots more fun, too.

There is no city in the world where music is so much a part of the history, the culture and the everyday life, as it is here in Vienna. This was the home of Strauss and Schubert, of Mahler and Mozart, of Beethoven and Brahms. Why? Why so much music? Well, to a certain extent the forces that brought this city great food, also brought it great music. For over six hundred years, this was the center of an enormous empire that stretched halfway around the world, encompassing people with different philosophies, different religions, different cultures, different levels of society. To be a great artist, you had to practice in a medium that was well understood by lots and lots of people. And music is the universal language.

And the royal court loved it. And remember, the ruling Hapsburg family preferred wedding to warring, and music is the food of love. For hundreds of years, when the music ended, the munching began. Find a concert hall, and across the street, there's a cafe. In Vienna, Beethoven almost always comes with boiled beef. And what are the classic dishes of this city? The meals on Mozart's menu? Well, the most famous is wienerschnitzel. 

Slices of veal are cut from the loin, placed on a flat surface, covered with a piece of plastic wrap and pounded until they're quite thin. The plastic keeps the veal from breaking up. A little salt, but no pepper; the chef feels that pepper would be too sharp for this dish. A little lemon juice on both sides. Then the veal is lightly floured, dipped in a mixture of beaten eggs and chopped parsley and breaded. Don't press too heavily on the veal when you're breading it. You just want a light coating. Then into a saute pan of hot, clarified butter or a mixture of butter and oil. The chef tests the temperature with the edge of the veal, to make sure it's hot enough. That's a very important tip. The oil should be heated to just under the smoking point, three hundred and seventy-five degrees fahrenheit. In that way, the veal will be properly cooked but it will absorb a minimum amount of oil. The pan is constantly shaken to keep the schnitzel moving. About forty-five seconds on each side, and it's done. Onto the serving plate, topped with cooked parsley, half a lemon, and you're ready to go. And what traditionally comes along with this dish, like Franz and Schubert? Viennese potato salad. Schubert may not have finished all of his symphonies, but he always finished his vegetables.

Small new potatoes are cooked in simmering water until tender. Then, they're allowed to cool down. Still warm, but cool enough to handle, they're peeled and sliced into rounds about a quarter-inch thick. A little fresh pepper, a little salt, some wine vinegar, a little vegetable oil, and in keeping with Austria's sweet tooth, a few tablespoons of powdered sugar, a little mustard, some chopped red onions and some hot beef broth. The ingredients are mixed together and left to rest for half an hour outside of the refrigerator. It's important that the broth be warm, and that the salad be left to marinate for thirty minutes. It's given a final mixing by hand. For most chefs, their hands are their best tools, especially for a dish like this. Your fingers are delicate enough so they won't break up the soft potatoes, but strong enough so you get a good grip. The potatoes go onto the plate, there's a garnish of greens, and finally, a speciality of Austria, oil crushed from pumpkin seeds. It comes from a part of Austria called Styria. Chefs call it the green heart of the country. Arnold Schwarzenegger comes from the green heart of Styria, too, but nobody crushes Arnold's pumpkin. 

Good cooks have always known how important the right seasoning is to a recipe. The right amount of salt and pepper, fresh herbs, special spices. For thousands of years, these have been highly valued commodities that have changed the course of world history. Remember what Columbus was really looking for was a cheaper way to get spices from Asia to Europe. Every European ruler knew that if they controlled a spice route, they would be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, but even if a dish is properly seasoned, there is a trick of the trade which will increase your pleasure from the flavor. 

Each seasoning stimulates a different pattern of taste buds in your mouth and the more a taste bud is stimulated, the less it responds and the less taste you taste. The way to avoid the problem is to alternate bites of the foods on your plate. Don't take two bites of the same food in a row. Each bite should be a different food, stimulating a different pattern of taste buds. The result is more flavor from the same amount of food. And that can be a great help to people who are on a weight loss program. Very often, when you are on a low-calorie diet, you feel the need for more food. Sometimes you can satisfy that need for food by just getting more flavor, and this is a great way to do it. 

Spices are the dried flowers, seeds, leaves, barks, and roots of various big, woody plants that are usually found growing somewhere in tropical countries, but how do I tell a spice from a herb? And “herb” is the correct English pronunciation. The first spice venders to come to the colonies from England, came from a part of England that had a very specific accent and they mis-pronounced the word as erb, we kept it that way. Whether it's an herb or an erb, it's different from a spice. It doesn't come from a woody plant in the tropic, it comes from a perennial plant, usually put down from seed, every year. And the most flavorful parts are the flower, the stem and the leaves. 

If you're substituting dried herbs for fresh ones, the general rule of thumb is to use half as much dried as fresh. Dried herbs have a much more concentrated flavor and you'll only need half as much to get the same results. And it's always a good idea to crush the herbs before you add them to the recipe. Breaking up the structure of the dried plant releases the natural oils that produce the best flavor. It's also a good idea to remember that dried herbs are sensitive to light. You don't want to store them in direct sunlight. That will reduce their flavor. 

This book is a reproduction of a medieval health book. Page after page of illustrated recommendations on how to use specific herbs and spices to help cure illness. Some of the ideas go back over five thousand years. And in those days, herbs and spices really were the medicines. Let's take look at what it says here. Sore throat. The medieval medic recommends a little bit of sage to clear that up. Stomach upset. Poor thing. Out into the garden for a few basil leaves. Can't remember why you went to the doctor in the first place? Rosemary. Ancient doctors believed that a bit of rosemary would help protect you against the loss of your memory. But before we start laughing at these recommendations as unscientific, let's see what researchers have to say about herbs and spices today. 

Many scientists believe that the loss of memory associated with aging is partially caused by oxidation of brain cells. Rosemary contains a series of anti-oxidants. Sage for sore throats, why not? It contains some of the same compounds as antibiotics. I'm definitely not recommending that you start medicating yourself with herbs and spices, that would be nuts. But it is nice to take a look at the old books and see that they still have some sage advice.

Vienna has been a bridge between Europe and the near east. Its culture and its cuisine have been influenced by both areas. Coffee is a perfect example of what I mean. Coffee originated in Ethiopia, and by the sixth century Arab communities in the area were cultivating coffee. The Moslem sect called the Dervishes loved the stuff. They realized that when they drank coffee, they had more energy and they were able to stay up longer. That gave them more time at prayer. So they figured it was a gift from their God. The called it 'kava,' which is where our word coffee comes from. Moslem armies attacked Vienna in 1683. When their siege failed and they headed back to the Near East, they left behind them sacks and sacks of coffee beans. The Viennese discovered it, figured out how to brew it and opened up their first coffee houses right then and there. The caffeine in coffee that kept the Dervishes whirling still affects many people, but the type and intensity is very different for each person. Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system and can give you a jump start and increase your alertness. How much you should drink for a positive effect and at what point you've had too much is dependent on your personal caffeine tolerance. Members of the American Dietetic Association feel that if you are pregnant or you have a heart problem, you should discuss caffeine with your doctor. Coffee, however, in moderation can be one of the great joys of life. Nobody knows that better than the Viennese, where coffee drinking is a keynote in the symphony of daily life. When you go to make a cup of coffee, you have to start with fresh water, not water that comes out of the hot water tap and not water that's been standing around. If it's old water, it's not going to have enough oxygen and oxygen is essential to give coffee a clean, clear taste. 

When you're choosing a brewing method, forget about your percolator -- it keeps water and coffee together for too long. Two or three minutes is the maximum amount of time. Otherwise you draw out vinartanic acid and that's not good. The best brewing method is the single pass-through system where the water passes through the coffee one time only and quickly. The water should be just under the boiling point. 

Here's another sweet piece of gastronomic history from the city of Vienna. When the Turks attacked Vienna in the 1680's, they permanently changed the way people eat. Not only did they introduce coffee to the cities of Europe, but it resulted in a food which changed the way people in Europe had breakfast and is now beginning to affect the people of the United States. At the time of the siege, the city of Vienna was totally surrounded and nothing was getting in; nothing was going out and things were not looking too good. And a baker who had a shop near the city wall got up early one morning, bakers do that, to start working on his bread. While he was working on it, he heard something going on underneath his shop. He suddenly realized that the Turks were trying to tunnel under the city walls. He notified the guards. The guards counterattacked; the Turks fell back. The city was saved. The ruler of Vienna rewarded the baker by giving him a patent to produce a bread and the shape of the design on the Turkish flag. It was to remind the people of Vienna that they had devoured the Turks. The symbol was the shape of the crescent moon and the bread was the first croissant. So the next time you have a croissant for breakfast or it's offered to you as part of sandwich, remember you owe it all to a Viennese baker in the 1600's.

The Austrian empire was really serious about managing through marriage. So when things got a little tense with the Prussians during the 1860's, the Austrian Archduke Albrecht arranged for a marriage between his daughter and a member of the Prussian royal family -- Duke Phillip of Wartenberg. The old couple married and settled down in a simple house, set up housekeeping. Phillip hung a picture of himself over the staircase, so everybody would know it was his place, but after a while, Phillip got tired of living in one building and moved on. You know, dukes can be that way and it was a good thing he did too because at the time the city was getting ready for the World Exhibition of 1873 and the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph needed a royal and imperial building to house all of the royal and imperial guests that would be coming to the city. And that's how Vienna's Imperial Hotel came to be. 

And wait, here's more...


(CONTINUES) The night before the Emperor himself was to inaugurate the hotel, an apprentice cook set about preparing a cake that he wanted to offer to his beloved mama, five extra-thin layers of almond paste, interspersed with chocolate, topped with marzipan and finished with chocolate icing. It was the first square chocolate cake in culinary history. And the Emperor loved it! And that is how the world-famous Imperial Torte was invented. And it shares its name with the hotel in which it was created. Vienna's Imperial Hotel is placed on the main street that rings the old city. A magnificent structure on the outside, it is even more impressive on the inside. The grand staircase invites you up to the imperial chambers. Old world luxury on top; modern technology underneath. The royal suite gives you a clear idea of what life was like at the tippy-tippy-top. The hotel's restaurant is a favorite dining spot for serious eaters. The chef has given a light, creative touch to the traditional Austrian ingredients. And what could be more traditional for Vienna than a piece of Viennese apple strudel? Flour and egg and a little oil are used to make a very smooth dough. It's given a light coating of oil to keep it from drying out and set to rest for half an hour. Meanwhile, apples are peeled, quartered, cored and cut into 1/8 inch slices. They go into a bowl and are mixed with the juice of lemon, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, chopped walnuts and a little sour cream. When the dough is fully rested, it goes onto a floured cloth where it is rolled out and pulled into as thin a sheet as possible. They say the great strudel makers get their dough so thin that they can read a newspaper through it. Now I get my news from television, so I'm just going to estimate a quarter of an inch. Holes are repaired with patches, crumbled cookies go on, the apple mixture, more crumbled cookies. The dough is rolled up around the filling. The strip goes onto a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes until the dough is cooked through. And out of the oven, sliced while it's still warm and served with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Strudel is at the heart of Austrian cooking and what a sweetheart it is too! 

To understand how the people of Vienna feel about sweets, all you have to do is take a look in a classic, old Viennese cookbook. You'll find that about 20% of the book is devoted to appetizers, soups and main dishes. The rest of the book--all 80%--will be given over to sweet desserts and baked goods. People of Vienna don't have a sweet tooth. It's an entire upper plate! In the old days of the Austrian empire, every family that could afford one had a woman who baked sweet goods and desserts and that's all. Even today, Vienna is the center of the pastry world. And to see what's going on here, and get the full effect, all you have to do is stop into a shop called, Demels.

Vienna's most famous pastry palace opened in 1786. Within a few years, it was the official sugar baker to the Imperial Court. For over 200 years, this business has been the culinary cornerstone of Viennese cooking. They've held onto the old traditions and kept up a level of quality, not as a business practice, but as a matter of national pride. And wonder of wonders, there's a piece of reliable scientific research that indicates that a sweet at the end of the meal is good for weight-loss dieters. Looks like people who've grown up in Western societies have become conditioned to a sweet at the end of the meal. It works like a bell, telling us that the meal is over and we can stop eating -- and without that signal, many people tend to overeat. So don't desert dessert. Just try and make sure that you're torte is tiny.

Most people believe that when they are cooking at home, they have a fighting chance for a low-calorie dish, but when they are eating in a restaurant, they feel they're trapped in Fat City. And they give up all hope for a low-fat, low-calorie meal. But that doesn't have to be the case. There are a few very simple things that you can do to help avoid the problem. First, think about the type of restaurant you're selecting. If it's French food, you're going to be confronted with high-fat sauces on many dishes and irresistible desserts. On the other hand, if it's a Chinese restaurant, you'll have a wide selection of low-fat dishes and fresh fruit for dessert. Picking the right type of restaurant is your first opportunity for control. And when you go into the restaurant, check out the items in the menu that you're interested in. Find out if they've been cooked with cream. Ask the waiter about the preparation techniques. Usually if something on the menu is described as “crispy,” it means it's been deep-fried, but it can also have been roasted for a long time to get that crispiness. You have to ask to find out. When your dish comes to the table, eat the foods that you like best first. Then you won't be tempted as the meal goes on. And have the waiter take the dish away as soon as you're satisfied. A lot of over-eating takes place just because the food is sitting there. Boredom is not a valid reason for over-eating. 

So anything from Vienna on the relationship of good food to good health? You bet. Members of the cabbage family -- broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale are excellent for you. Potatoes: lots of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and they're low in fat. Buttermilk is a nice, lowfat liquid that can make a good substitute for cream in many soup recipes. If you're going to do any deep-fat frying, make sure the oil is at 375 degrees fahrenheit before you put in the food. That will help reduce the absorption of fat. And a sweet little bit of news, a little sweet at the end of the meal, can act as a signal for many people and tell them to stop eating. So don't desert dessert, just act in moderation. And finally, you may ask, how can the good people of this city constantly partake of this fabulous food and not feel guilty? Easy. This is the hometown of Sigmund Freud, the birthplace of psychoanalysis. When you feel guilty about something you've eaten in Vienna, you just lie down and talk about it until the guilty feeling passes. "You see doc, I have this dream about a big piece of chocolate cake and a hand kept putting white cream on top of it, but a voice...

 (CONTINUES) kept saying, "Moderation. Moderation." Well, that's Eating Well in Vienna. Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for something good to eat that's good for you too. I'm Burt Wolf.