Now, I know on Saturdays I usually post baked things as an homage to the saying I learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder: “Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday.” And I also know that I didn’t post a recipe this past Wednesday either, as I usually do. If you haven’t figured it out yet…I won’t be sharing a recipe with you today.
Fear not! You still get your full Saturday edition of The Wordy Baker. I’ll just be leaning more towards “wordy” than “baker” today as I talk some more about life in Austria and Austrian cuisine.
Yesterday, some fellow TAs and I got a hold of some bikes and hit the trails to see some of the Austrian countryside. While the city I’m in has only about 200,000 inhabitants, it is, nonetheless, Austria’s third largest city. It’s a lot less green than my hometown or even northwest Washington, DC, where I went to school. Sure, it has its parks, but you don’t really notice the fall colors until you get to the big park along the Danube, or the Donau as it is called here.
We started out in Amstetten and took the Ybbstalradweg to Ybbs an der Donau, a village just under 25 km away. We got a little lost after the first hour, but in that first hour we had a nice ride through the countryside. We definitely had a Sound of Music moment (you know, when they are all riding bikes during their captains-away-children-will-play gallivanting). We stopped for lunch in Ybbs and then picked up the Donauradweg, which went right along the Donau and was infinitely more scenic even than the Austrian cornfields. This region is called the Wachau and it is a mostly flat valley (formed by the Donau), which was perfect for us amateur bikers. We ended our journey some 50-55 km later in Melk, home of the famous baroque Melk Abbey. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to visit anything, but Melk certainly looked like a cute village and a fun place to explore when time allows.
Now: a note to anyone thinking about biking in Austria. Everyone says its really easy and the biking part actually is easy. But following the signs? Not so much. Once you’re on the path, I guess, it’s easy to follow, but finding the path was something we found to be quite difficult. Luckily there we ran into a few helpful Austrians who pointed us (mostly) in the right direction! The moral? Do your research and check out some maps before you leave!
In Ybbs we ate a late lunch at the Babenberger Hotel/Restaurant. I’m not usually a red meat person, but you can’t go to Austria and avoid red meat completely and still eat the true local fare. At the restaurant, I ordered Gulasch. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo, but luckily the Austrian Tourism Board has a photo and recipe online, and they’re version is pretty much the spitting image of what I ate for lunch yesterday. Except mine had no thin noodles or whatever those are.
You might be thinking “Goulash? Isn’t that Hungarian, not Austrian?” Well, yes, it is. But Austria and Hungary are neighbors and were historically part of the same empire. There is a lot of Eastern European influence on Austrian food, in both the savory and sweet realms. Today we are sticking with good ol’ beef, though.
Austrian goulash is more like beef with a paprika sauce and less like a soup or stew. Now, I know that everyone has their own interpretation of goulash and I’m sure there are places in Austria where that isn’t the case, but this is what the Austrian Tourism Board says, too. Beef, paprika, garlic, onion, tomato paste, bell peppers…no soup vegetables like you might find in the Hungarian version.
Hungarian goulash (gulyás) is traditionally made from gray cattle and is much more likely to include potatoes, vegetables, or dumpling in addition to the paprika/garlic/onion flavors and the tomato base. The last time I had Hungarian goulash was last year on a trip to Budapest, and it definitely was different from the Austrian version. Paprika, the main flavor in the dish, is a Hungarian specialty. It can be mild, sweet, hot, or smoked, the latter of which (I believe) is the kind usually used in goulash. Now, I was really hoping the Hungarian Tourism Board would also have a goulash recipe online, but they only have a description of the dish. It was originally something prepared by shepherds, and gulyás actually meant “herdsmen.” Today, the word means both “herdsman” and what we call “goulash.”
To sum up: Austrian Gulasch = hunks of beef cooked in a thin paprika sauce and Hungarian gulyás = beef stew made with paprika. And biking along the Donau = gorgeous scenery and mild soreness.