Travel: Enjoy noshing in Vienna

While film buffs will always remember Vienna for Harry Lime and the exciting Third Man story, specialist writer Sandra Shevey visited Austria’s beautiful and ornate capital city for a very different reason.

Tuesday, 24th September 2013, 7:00 am
Vienna is one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
Vienna is one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

Of Vienna’s 26 permanent markets, Naschmarkt is the oldest with a charter dating back to the 17th Century although it was going long before that as an unincorporated market.

Meaning ‘wares’ or ‘spices’ Naschmarkt was repatriated to Wienzeile over the Wien River in 1917 when the Vienna River was covered over and city planners had decided to demolish the old city walls and redevelop Vienna’s ‘Ring’. The original market site now hosts Vienna’s fine Opera House while Naschmarkt spans some 1.5 kilometres.

The old quarter still has a link with the ancient markets as old street names prevail such as meat market, fish market, honey market, bread market, milk market, cheese market and others.

It is on Meat Market that ‘Some Like It Hot’ director Billy Wilder lived as a boy when attending grade school in Vienna.

The Naschmarkt was rebuilt within city walks just before the market was moved to Karlsplatz (its present site) in 1917... moved along with the old market building which still serves as its primary administrative centre.

Architecturally it is impressive- a rotunda market building with a majolica frontispiece symbolising fecundity- cherubs, grapes and vines.

Built along a perpendicular the Naschmarket is a series of avenues or boulevards bisected by cross streets. Rambling outbuildings boast original wooden infrastructure of display units, storage and frontage, which threaten soon to disappear as market authoriies mandate a re-fit to comply with health and safety standards.

Whereas in the past most of the produce was grown and sold by local farmers, in recent years there`s been an influx of ethnicity and a wide range of goods.

Turkish and Asian traders import quality produce from Indonesia, Greece, Turkey, Iran and elsewhere. Ethnics also enrich the stalls at the Saturday flea market (also part of the Naschmarkt) with their colourful, native artefacts.

The increasing numbers of Asians and Turks have re-invented the market as something of a foodie centre. They have also upped its diminished status. Their presence is not so much a consequence of direct immigration as indirect. Many traders arrive in Austria via other EU countries.

All produce adheres to Austrian standards and is well-marked. If it is local and home-grown, it is marked ‘INL’ (inland and home-grown). Local produce includes: radishes, parsley, lettuce, green salad, gourds (Styrian), grapes, etc.

The variety of produce is exceptional. Mushrooms hail not only from the immediate locality but nearby Styria and as far as China. There are also wild mushrooms.

Serving 1.6 million Viennese the Naschmarkt boasts 200 to 300 stalls and is open Monday-Saturday 6.30am to 7pm.

Smells of spices follow you everywhere- paprika, basil and coriander. Oooooooh!!

Vienna`s most renowned gourmet chef ‘Kim’ has a shop at the market and so too does Gegenbauer: one of the few if not the last Vienna shop dispensing hand-selected, peeled and carefully pressed vinegars. This shop is quite a revelation and I urge you to stop by when you`re visiting Vienna.

There are over 70 vinegars to choose from – to drink and/or to sprinkle on cheese or salads. Some vinegars are in wooden casks. Others are in lovely glass bottles. Some are digestives. Others are exotic- fresh-harvested asparagus from Sulzmann Marcheld; raspberry vinegar; golden delicious vinegar (with pumpkin seed oil); and Bouvier wine vinegar, to name but a few.

So much noshing makes you hungry and I made for the market`s oldest pub (c1916). It’s become a bit, noisy, crowded and showy but it`s still fun as you sit cheek by jowl with people you don`t know but get to know pretty well by closing time.

I got stuck at a table with newspapers strewn about and a man who couldn’t possibly read them in the dimly-lit pub. But, hey, he wouldn’t move. Four seats to himself, and he barely vacated one. I practically had to eat the meal on my lap. What to think? A crazy sense of humour, eh!

I plumped for the goulash (when in Rome) which tasted more like curry (but not to worry). I was discouraged from ruining the purity of taste by ordering noodles or potatoes and so I tucked into bread instead. A Styrian beer (Muraurer) completed the meal.

And then it was off to the Cafe Sperl c1880.on Gumpendorfer StraBe where I met up with friends and consumed some of the best apple strudel in the world.

Now, I have been eating apple strudel since the Sixties when I used to go to the Old Heidelberg, an Austrian tearoom in New York City near Columbia University.

I currently make for the Bagel Shop in London on Brick Lane which does a passingly good apple strudel. But this Viennese strudel was exceptional.

Sitting in the cafe raised thoughts of Billy Wilder whom I once met whilst interviewing Walter Matthau. Film director Billy raged against life in pre-war Vienna when he was impoverished. He said: “We were so poor we used to sneak into cafes and eat the scraps of bread, potatoes and eggs left by the customers”.

Was it the Cafe Sperl to which he referred? Somehow I could see him there. It gave me a weird kind of deja vu. Was it a ghost? I left a piece over just in case.

Fact file

Hospitality was courtesy of www.austriatourism.com/uk

Sandra Shevey runs tours of street markets around the world – http://sandrashevey.tripod.com/market.walks

She has produced a documentary about four ancient London markets – http://sandrashevey.tripod.com

Also see Markets and Market Towns at http://markettowns.wordpress.com and the walks DVD at [email protected]