What to order in Vienna

Working out what to order in Vienna (or any new city you visit, for that matter) is one of the most exciting elements of the entire travel experience, despite the corresponding anxiety that your well-meaning attempt at full immersion into the local culture may result in you being served something truly awful. But do not fear, for I am here to help guide you, and I appreciate food. This would be pretty evident to anyone unlucky enough to catch me with my shirt off down by the river during one of our kayaking tours. A great friend of mine, who shares my penchant for overdoing it from time to time, once told me that some Slovakian restaurant menus (note: Slovakia is a next-door neighbour of Austria) not only present a written description of the dish on offer, but they also present its cooked weight. Him being him meant the heaviest meal option was immediately ordered. Many clients of mine have also commented on the large portion sizes in Austrian restaurants, even my American friends, a country famous for its oversized meals. So celebrate or be warned (depending on the size of your appetite), because here in central Europe the dishes are, well, let’s just say, voluminous.

Food is culture

Discussions about food help you to understand people better. Try this…let’s say that for some inexplicable reason you find yourself on death row (stay with me…) and you’re about to walk the green mile. But, you’ve been granted one final meal request. You can have ANYTHING you want. Take a few moments…
I’ve asked my guests this same question many times. Some people found themselves trapped in an imaginary smorgasbord of gourmet delicacies, unable to escape beyond the exquisite canapés they were dreaming up. Others had no doubts, without hesitation announcing their final meals on god’s green earth proudly. Personally, I fall into the latter category, as for me, there is simply nothing that comes close to good old fish and chips in that moment. Being from coastal Britain and having many great memories eating this British staple, including my 13th birthday party at a fish ‘n chip restaurant, has deeply affected me, and I’m not just referring to the furring up of my arteries either. By the way, if you’re ever in the UK, DO NOT order FnC from a pub or restaurant if you truly want to sample a typical version. You must visit a specialist fish n chip shop as it tastes so much better. Also, visit one that specialises in just fish n chips. These vital considerations alone are worthy of their own post, but I’m supposed to be talking about Austria…




fish n chips
Food of the gods

The majority of people I asked my question to were also heavily influenced by their geography or ancestry. Texans would typically say BBQ, Californians would often choose Mexican food, many Brits opted for Roast Dinners, and those with fond family memories from childhood would go for a relative’s home cooked classic. Sushi was also a surprisingly popular choice, but why waste such a glorious opportunity for gluttony on sushi when eating healthy doesn’t even matter anymore? What really surprised me, though, was how few people opted for the typically extravagant filet-mignon-served-with-lobster-tails-on-a-bed-of-caviar-infused-oysters type answer. I guess most of us prefer to stick with familiar comfort food, and given the scenario I posed, who could blame us?

Anyway, as it’s vaguely related, here are some of my favourite Viennese dishes, to give you a better idea of what to order in Vienna. I’m only giving you a main and a dessert, because quite frankly, both are massive and should be enough for even the hungriest tourist after a day of wine tasting or kayaking with us. I may get deported for this, but you’ll find no mention of either Wiener Schnitzels nor Sacher Torte here, as I think both are pretty overrated (any cake that has to be served with cream due to its inherent dryness should be ashamed of itself). Anyway, my Viennese meal selection is as follows…

What to order in Vienna

Zwiebelrostbraten - fair dues

Main - Zwiebelrostbraten

This is basically a cut of roasted beef served in a rich brown gravy, buried underneath a healthy pile of freshly battered and fried crispy onions. This is typically served with thick-cut fried potato wedges. The vegetable element, as is often the case in Austria, amounts to a single splayed gherkin. When you eat out in Austria you’ll probably notice that many restaurants don't seem really big on vegetables, as such, this dish makes for particularly good winter food. In fact, pretty much all of my favourite Austrian dishes are best eaten in winter time given their propensity to go heavy on the meat and potatoes. I will, however, soon be adding another blog post highlighting popular summer dishes, along with my favourite restaurant recommendations (including some great veggie options).

Dessert - Kaiserschmarren

Kaiserschmarren translates to ‘Emperor’s mess’, as it was reportedly Kaiser Franz Josef’s favourite dessert. Essentially, this is a light and fluffy, yet thick pancake, diced up into large chunks, and flambéed in butter, sugar and rum to give a beautiful caramelised crunch. Sometimes it is served with raisins in the batter mix, sometimes not. It is dusted with icing sugar on top and normally served with a cold plum compote on the side. I know that apple sauce or other types of jam can be offered depending on where you get it from, but I’ve only ever been served Kaiserschmarren with plum compote here in Vienna. When you order your Kaiserschmarren, alarm bells should ring if they don’t warn you that it will take about 20 minutes or so to prepare it. It has to be made fresh to order otherwise the pancake goes all rubbery. You can often find Kaiserschmarren on offer at Christmas or Easter markets at various locations around the city, but I would avoid those in favour of the freshly made variety that I’m talking about.

Probably the best pancake you've never had

So, in the spirit of indulging while on your holidays, venture forth and seek out your own favourite Austrian restaurant dishes. If you’re having trouble deciphering the menu, though, and you like the sound of both Zwiebelrostbraten and Kaiserschmarren, then give them a try. Just come hungry! Tip: If you’re a light eater and out with friends or family, then it might be worth sharing a main course, otherwise a lot of good food may go to waste. Check out part 2 to this post with more suggestions of what to order in Vienna, including my recommendations for the best places to find these dishes.

Bon appetit or, as the Austrians say ‘mahlzeit‘!


  1. Lynda House

    I am salivating at the thought of the dessert!
    A very informative and well written description!

  2. Turkentine

    Most restaurants will give you a doggy bag (if too much food)without batting an eyelid so no food that you have paid for gets wasted. It’s the norm to ask.

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