Our first trip to Austria was a little whirlwind. In and out between a longer stay in Budapest and on our way to Slovakia. During our second trip, though, we had a lot more time to experience Austria, from dining in Vienna to discovering food and drink experiences in smaller cities and villages. In this Austrian food guide, we share our tips on what to eat in Austria with a focus on traditional Austrian food.
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Austrian Food Guide
How We Traveled Through Austria
This trip through Austria was a little unique for us. We explored Austrian cities and the villages on board a Danube river cruise with Avalon Waterways. Before this experience, I was probably like a lot of travelers who think that cruising means eating mediocre food on a cruise ship while spending the days on typical walking tours of each destination. This could not be further from the truth. Not only did Avalon do a fabulous job of offering traditional Austrian cuisine at each meal, but their Active and Discovery Cruise meant loads of super-unique Austrian food and drink experiences. They helped us learn what to eat in Austria.
We also didn’t feel overly scheduled during our cruise. Some of the dishes we mention in this Austrian food guide were dishes we tried onboard. In Vienna and Linz, though, we explored on our own a bit as well. Avalon’s way of cruising means you can be as scheduled or as independent as you want. That’s how we spent much of our time in Vienna researching what to eat in Vienna and then tracking down those dishes in the cities and villages we visited.Traveling to Austria? Check out our Austrian Drinks Guide
What Is Austrian Food
It’s sometimes difficult to define traditional Austrian food. There are so many influences from Germany and other nearby countries. This is particularly true because at various points in their history these countries were joined, separated, occupied, or liberated. As a result, Austrian food culture is intertwined with that of Germany, Hungary, and other nearby countries. There is also a distinct difference in some of the most typical dishes based on region. Our tour through Austria focused on the Danube. When it comes to what food to try in Austria, many of the dishes will depend on the city or town you are visiting.
Austrian Food Facts – Pro Tip
One thing to know about eating in Austria is that the portions can be huge. Sometimes they measure wiener schnitzel by how many hands it is, meaning “this schnitzel is three hands big.” Be prepared. Share dishes where possible. There are also plenty of opportunities for snacking, which gives you an opportunity to try typical Austrian food without filling up, or breaking the bank.
What To Eat In Austria
Austrian cuisine shares a lot of similarities to the cuisine of its neighbors, including Germany and Hungary. This is not surprising. I tried to include in this list the most Austrian of dishes, but recognize some of them might originate with their neighbors. These are, though, the dishes you are most likely to find on an Austrian restaurant menu. There are also some regional specialties as well, although you are likely to see most of these dishes on a menu in Vienna, which is an international city.
Wienerschnitzel – National Dish of Austria
This is probably the most famous Austrian dish. Although called Vienna Schnitzel in Vienna, it is known elsewhere in Austria and in many countries of Europe as Wienerschnitzel or wiener schnitzel as two words. The Wien portion of the name is actually a reference to Vienna, which means this is a true Austrian dish. And if you are wondering what to eat in Vienna, this is the number one dish to recommend.
At its most basic, Wienerschnitzel is a thinly pounded piece of meat, generally veal, that is breaded and deep fried. It is normally served with a cold potato salad and a wedge of lemon. Avalon Waterways organized a cooking class for us as one of our excursions. I put Eric to the task of pounding the meat thin but enjoyed learning a new recipe for potato salad. These are pretty easy dishes meaning it’s possible to make Austrian delicacies at home.
As to where to eat Wienerschnitzel is Austria? Pretty much everywhere. You will have no problem tracking down this dish. Be prepared, it’s normally a big dish. Perhaps share a portion. Although normally made with veal, which is traditional and regulated by Austrian law, restaurants do also offer chicken or pork versions as well. Look for Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein for the pork version.
Austrian Snacks and Appetizers
After covering the Austrian national food, I want to start with Austrian appetizers and snacks. These are foods that people snack on during the day. Some of them are considered Austrian street food. This is a great way to try a variety of foods without committing to a big dish at a sit-down restaurant.
Belegte Brote – Open-Faced Sandwiches
Similar to the open-faced sandwiches we’ve eaten in Prague, these are a must-eat dish in Vienna. They are small pieces of bread topped with all sorts of tastiness. The most traditional are herring, chicken liver, and egg, but there are so many varieties now. They are normally eaten for a weekday lunch or as a snack. Although this is really a Czech import, the family that founded Trześniewski is Austrian. They have about a dozen locations in Vienna.
We tried a variety of belegte brote (brote means bread in German). My favorite included something similar to cole slaw and pickled beets and one topped with paprika sauce. Eric liked one with hard-boiled egg and relish. I will note, you should definitely like egg salad if try this dish. Although not every version included egg salad, most did. To me, they were entirely tasty. An order of six open-faced sandwiches cost about €8.
Wiener Würstels – Vienna Sausages
There is no shortage of sausages in this part of the world, which is why Eric loves the food so much. Look for Wiener Würstels at a Würstelstand, meaning it’s an Austrian street food that you can find at sausage stands. These taste best with a cold Austrian beer and some spicy mustard. This is Austrian street food at its finest. Walk up to a stand, order a beer and a sausage and use one of the ledges or tables to eat street-side.
There are different varieties of Vienna sausages as well, including ones that are spicy (called Bosna) or stuffed with cheese – you know, to make it healthier. Some of the variations are specific to regions within Austria. You might be asked if you want it semmel or mit brot. Semmel is in a bun and mit brot is with bread. If you order it with bread, they will slice the sausage, making it easier to eat. Here are some of the most commonly found sausages at a wurst stand.
Grillwurst or Grillwurst Scharf – grilled sausage or spicy sausage, served with ketchup and mustard and sometimes shredded horseradish
Käsekrainer – grilled sausage stuffed with cheese, served with ketchup and mustard
Bratwurst – original Viennese style white sausage
Currywurst – sliced sausages served with curry sauce and bread or fries (the perfect late night snack)
Weisswurst – Bavarian White Sausage
In Upper Austria, they speak the same dialect as the Germans do in Bavaria. We traveled so far up the Danube we were a stone’s throw from Germany. So it is no surprise that there is some Austrian dishes that are Bavarian influenced.
This is true for the weisswurst, a Bavarian white sausage. It’s a veal and pork sausage made with onion and parsley. It’s super soft and even the casing feels almost delicate. They may look a little grey, but taste much better than they look. Avalon served the Bavarian white sausage along with sliced bread dumplings and sauerkraut. It doesn’t get much better than this for a typical Bavarian lunch.
Leberkäse or Käseleberkäse
Leberkäse is pressed meat and is also served at most wurst stands, but it is in a different category to all of the sausages above. It is made of pork and has the consistency of spam. It is sliced, placed on a roll, and slathered in mustard or ketchup. Käseleberkäse is also pressed meat, but there is cheese pressed inside the meat, so it oozes out when sliced.
Gulasch – Goulash
One of the most typical dishes found in Austria, Hungary, and other neighboring countries. Goulash is an Austrian beef soup or stew made with meat, potato, and vegetables and flavored with paprika, which is definitely a Hungarian influence. For something more Austrian, look for Saftgulash, which is more slow cooked. It includes beef and onions. There’s no better way to eat goulash than with a few dense potato dumplings to soak up all of the juice.
Vienna Sacher Sausage With Goulash Sauce
Let’s keep heading down the sausage rabbit hole. While exploring the Nachmarket in Vienna, we stumbled upon a traditional Austrian restaurant where Eric could not say no yet another form of sausages. This type is more similar to an American-style hot dog, long and thin. In this case they served it with a smoky, beef-flavored goulash sauce, which was perfect for dipping.
This is a seemingly simple dish, with a hard to pronounce name. That is not unusual, though, when talking about Austrian cuisine. Tafelspitz is boiled beef or veal that is cooked in a seasoned broth with vegetables. It translates to the tip of the meat, which is a reference to the cut of meat. It is often served with apples, horseradish or sour cream. One of the reasons why it is so popular is that it was rumored to be a favorite of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph.
Is it rude to call this Austrian fried chicken? That’s really what it is, breaded chicken legs and thighs, with a crispy breading. We actually ate this on our Avalon cruise during lunch one day and the breading had a little bit of spice to it. Everyone at the table seemed to grab seconds on this one.
Austrian Food Facts – Pro Tip
Here’s a little Austrian language lesson. In Austria, people speak German. There are two words that might be confusing to travelers to Austria. Wien is the German word for the city of Vienna. The word for wine in German is wein. When you see Wiener before a word, it means that it is a dish that originated in Vienna. That is not to be confused with wein, which is just wine!
Austrian Dishes With Noodles And Dumplings
My fascination with all things noodles and dumplings is not a secret. Some of these are main courses in their own right, but some might be served as side dishes or snacks as well. These might not be the most famous Austrian food dishes, but I was thrilled with all the different varieties of pasty-type dishes in Austria. Here are just some of them to eat while traveling in Austria.
Kaspressknödel – Cheese Dumplings
I love all things dumpling, regardless of which continent they come from. Add some cheese into the mix and I am in heaven. Kaspressknödel originate from Tyrol. They can be described as Austrian macaroni and cheese, so how could I say no. The menu described it as cheese gnocchi. Kaspressknödel are small dumplings and normally served pan-fried or baked. The version I ate was slathered in creamy cheese sauce and topped with fried onions. I couldn’t even come close to finishing this dish.
Where to eat Kaspressknödel in Vienna: Zur Eisernen Zeit at the Vienna Naschmarkt
Schlutzkrapferl Tris and Spinatknödel
Talk about a dish that is difficult to pronounce, this was one dish I was happy to point to on the menu while smiling instead of butchering the Austrian language. Schlutzkrapferl Tris is an Austrian filled pasta that is reminiscent of a ravioli. It can be stuffed with a variety of fillings, often changing with the seasons. Look for Austrian cheese or spinach. The sauce is simply melted butter.
You might also see Spinatknödel on a menu, which is a slightly more dense dumpling made of spinach. The version we ate was served in a melted onion butter. These dumplings have a more sticky consistency.
Schnupfnudeln is an Austrian potato-based pasta that is normally served with sauerkraut and pork. It almost has the consistency of a dense gnocchi, but the version we had was pan-fried giving it a nice texture.
What To Eat In Vienna Pro Tip
If looking for a local market in Vienna, check out the Vienna Nachmarket, which is located in the city center and main tourist attractions. It’s less than a 10-minute walk from the Opera House. During the day, there are food stalls, including butchers and fishmongers. At night, there are loads of dining options. Although many of the restaurants are international, there are some more traditional Austrian restaurant options and several places to enjoy Austrian beer or wine.
Austrian Desserts And Pastries
We always say we are not huge dessert people because we always fill up on the savories. We made a few exceptions though for some of these Austrian desserts and pastries because they are so darn good. It also helped that when we were on board the Avalon Impression, their pastry chef did a heck of a good job at putting desserts right under our noses!
If you ask people what Vienna is known for they would most likely answer schnitzel and Sachertorte. It’s a rich, layered chocolate cake with an apricot jam in the center. To top it off there’s chocolate icing on the top and is served with thick whipped cream. It was invented in the 1800s and most traditionally enjoyed in a beautiful Viennese coffee house.
Where to eat Sachertorte in Austria: We went to the original at Cafe Sacher at Hotel Sacher in Vienna. We sat in an elegantly decorated, historic coffee house (with a lot of other tourists) to try their famous €7.50 Sachertorte. We are not big dessert people, and when we do eat dessert we try for something light on the chocolate. I will note that we are not alone in saying the cake portion of the tort is rather dry, so this was not my favorite food to eat in Austria. I actually enjoyed the version I had on board Avalon better as it was more moist and layered with apricot.
Apfelstrudel – Apple Strudel
This is one of the most famous desserts to eat in Austria and in surrounding countries as well. The word strudel translates roughly to swirl, so it is a pastry swirl layered with thinly-sliced apples, butter, and cinnamon. Some versions also include rum-soaked raisins for an extra kick.
Where to eat apple strudel in Austria: It’s pretty easy to find this pastry as a dessert on most traditional Austrian menus. There are also shops that specialize in strudel. I ate this dish a few times during our cruise from Budapest to Linz, but we also learned to make our own.
One of the best excursions we took during our Avalon Waterways cruise was to a Vienna cooking class. We learned to cook apple strudel from scratch! I have a lot more respect for the seemingly simple strudel now that I know how to cook it. From rolling out the dough to soaking the raisins in rum and slicing the apples super thin. I look forward to taking what we learned home with us.
Kaiserschmarrn – Austrian Pancakes
I always hesitate to use a word like pancakes to describe dishes because it is a word used to describe so many different foods. In this case, Kaiserschmarrn are cut into small pieces, are covered in powdered sugar, and have more of an egg taste than an American pancake. Instead of syrup, they are normally served with fresh fruit or preserves. This dessert is actually named after the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, the Kaiser. Apparently these little pancakes were his favorite dessert.
Palatschinken – Austrian Crepes
Palatschinken is also a pancake or crepe but is very different from Kaiserschmarrn. These are more traditional crepes, which are also found in Hungary. They are often layered with apricot jam and rolled.
I’ve seen these snacks at shops throughout Europe but didn’t realize they originate from Vienna. A little silly because the label says Wien, which is the word for Vienna. Manner Wien are a layered wafer treat, filled with chocolate in between. While visiting the Vienna Schnapps Museum during one of our excursions with Avalon I even saw a liquor flavored like Manner Wien – and the flavor seemed spot on!
Wiener Buchtein is a Viennese sweet yeast bun, filled with apricot jam or plum jam and served with warm vanilla sauce. They are baked in a large pan so that they sort of stick together and need to be pulled apart. This is a Bohemian dish, but we tried it on board our Avalon cruise. I liked it because it was not overly sweet. The perfect treat after a typical Austrian lunch.
*This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with Avalon Waterways. As always, With Husband In Tow maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. Learn more about Avalon Waterways Active and Discovery Cruises where they help you explore more while cruising.
FAQs - Austrian Food Culture
Vienna is not a budget destination. Expect to pay between €15-20 for a wiener schnitzel but other main courses, particularly goulash and noodle dishes are less, normally between €10-15. A beer at a wurstel stand is only €2.50 but at a restaurant is around €3.50-4. A sausage snack on the street will cost around €4. Prices drop a bit outside of the capital city.
I often think that Austria is overlooked when it comes to food because it is famous for so many other things. This includes being the birthplace of both Mozart and the painter Gustav Klimt. People love to see performances at Vienna’s famed Opera House but you can see classical music all through the city.
In May each year, Vienna hosts the Genussfestival, Austria’s largest food festival. It’s held at Vienna’s City Park and several hundred vendors highlight various Austrian specialties.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.