Having just returned from an eight-day sojourn in Vienna and Prague, I'm a bit melancholy but frankly quite thankful to be off the diet of meat, potatoes, bread, and beer. However, it wouldn't be fair of me to completely skip over the fare I consumed in the north. Although it was heavy and perhaps "unsophisticated" to some palates, the food was certainly hearty and sustained me during the many hours spent exploring the museums, churches, and streets of those beautiful cities.
I consumed my fair share of "traditional" Austrian food in Vienna - bratwurst bought on the street, wienerschnitzel, a taste of goulash, and plenty of good beer (no pastries, sadly). The brat was particularly tasty, perhaps because all I'd had to eat that day was some stale bread from Italy and an apple. Mine was doused in plenty of curry powder (so it was actually currywurst), splashed with a bit of sweet ketchup-like sauce and served with a nice hunk of soft, squishy bread.
The definite culinary highlight of Vienna (and perhaps the whole trip) was the Naschmarkt - a giant, sprawling outdoor market that gave the two-story Mercato Centrale here in Florence a serious run for its money. There were stands overflowing with fresh produce - unusual greens, exotic fruits, vegetables of all sorts, fresh dates, etc., as well as barrels of sauerkraut, chocolate shops, purveyors of Italian cheeses, olives, meats, as well as many kebab and bratwurst vendors. I bought some fresh dates as a snack, but otherwise I simply ogled the dizzying array of available foods and wished I had more room in my suitcase and stomach (not to mention more money in my pocket) to try more things.
Prague is not a city known for its outstanding cuisine, but we certainly enjoyed the change in pace from Italian food. Portion size was a whole other matter – meals there are huge! Our first night we sat at a communal table and watched a quite portly group of Czechs down many slices of fried bread rubbed with raw garlic and smeared with raw ground beef.
On the second night, we enjoyed some unusual beer and filling Czech specialties (including the fried brad and garlic, sans beef) from a brewery my Czech friend had recommended. My nettle beer was quite grassy and refreshing, though it didn’t pair very well with my potato dumplings, sauerkraut, and smoked pork. It was quite a satisfying meal after all the exploring we'd done that day though.
View from the top
Pork, 'kraut, and dumplings
As we do in Italy, we ate bread and pastries for breakfast, although the offerings tended to be lightly sweetened and either filled with poppy seeds or cheese. This particular roll was somewhat like challah, though less dense.
The old Jewish cemetary
By the third night, we were in the food for something lighter, so we nibbled on some hummus, baba ghanouj, and stuffed eggplant from a small tea lounge/hookah bar near Old Town Square. On our fourth and final night, we took the tram with my friend about half an hour from our hostel to a restaurant that served some tasty Balkan specialties. I dug into a nicely charred patty of beef and lamb, served on top of heavenly home-made bread with some raw onions on the side (a “Balkan burger”, perhaps?)
I did purchase one food souvenir while there – a small bag of red sauerkraut from the produce stand near the hostel.
My host family is very curious about “the kraut”, so I’m planning to cook them dinner with it in the not-too-distant future – most likely braised sauerkraut with apples, pork chops, and mashed potatoes. There will, of course, be pictures to follow!
Upon our return, we enjoyed one of the best Italians inventions to grace the planet - pizza. I splurged and got the "Caprese", with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala, though it was a bit watery due to the cheese.
The pies from Il Pizzaiuolo, a bustling restaurant on Via de' Macci, are good but not great Neapolitan-style pizza. The dough is deliciously salty and chewy and nicely charred, but the pizzas have a very large crust that tends to get in the way of the toppings, which are judiciously applied, though almost to the point of stingyness. Next time I think I'll stick with the classics (or just try a new pizzeria!)