Typically Austrian – Austrian Specialities and Myth-Busting Stereotypes
When you think of Austrian specialities, images of mountains, green meadows and forests, skiing and traditional costumes are bound to come to mind. But is it really all mountain chalets, apple strudels, and lederhosen? We will show you what this wonderful country has to offer, examine the clichés that aren’t quite as true as they might seem, and recommend the Austrian specialities you absolutely have to get to know.
Phrases You Need to Know
The Austrian derivation of the German language has its own unique charm. While many consider it to be just a dialect of German, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Austrian German is, in fact, its own language, and it is used in Austria as the standard language for bureaucracy and school, as well as in many people’s homes. The differences between standard German and standard Austrian German are sometimes so extreme that even other German native speakers are baffled… and that’s before we get to regional dialects!
To help you communicate in Austria, we’ve compiled the most important phrases:
“Servus”/ “Grias di” = “Hello”
“Schau ma mal” = “Let’s see”.
“Jause” = “snack”.
“Deka” = “10 grams
“Heuer” = “this year”
“Baba”/ “Wiederschaun” = “Goodbye/See you”
Austrian Specialities and Stereotypes: Clichés
“The Austrian landscape is just mountains!”
When Austria is mentioned, most people will straight away picture mountains dotted with Alpine cows and Julie Andrews singing about the hills. Now, we aren’t denying that Austria is a mountainous country, but in fact, the landscape is much more diverse than many people think. As well as the famous Alps, you will find the Alpine foothills with fields and meadows, the lakes of the Pannonian Plain, grasslands, and the vineyards of southern Styria.
“Austria is too rural!”
It is true that a lot of Austria is relatively rural. While there are many rustic, pastoral areas, Austria also has big, modern cities. Urban areas like Vienna and Salzburg are equally representative of the country as an alpine hut is.
“All Austrians love skiing!”
Even though Austria has an abundance of ski resorts, not all Austrians can ski!
Typically, wealthier people in the country are more likely to practice the sport. Nevertheless, many Austrians still learn to ski and are enthusiastic about winter sports, so there is some truth to this stereotype.
“Everyone always wears dirndls and lederhosen!”
The dirndl is a traditional dress with quite a low neckline, a skirt about knee-length, an apron, and lacing on the torso. The length and depth of the neckline are variable these days in comparison to the past, when the traditional costume used to be more conservative. The dirndl originates from the regions of Bavaria and Austria and is traditionally worn at folk festivals. Nowadays, traditional attire is going through a bit of a revival, enjoying growing popularity for fancy occasions like weddings or, in certain areas, even at work. However, traditional clothes aren’t always appropriate and are therefore often left in the wardrobe.
Austrian Specialities: Festivities
By and large, the customs of Austria aren’t that outlandish when compared to its neighbouring countries. However, there some festivities are pretty unique Austrian specialities that are native to the Central European country. While these festivities can also be found in the neighbouring areas of other countries, they mostly have their roots in Austrian culture, which is why we are mentioning them here:
In September or October, during the Almabtrieb, farmers drive their cattle down from the higher alpine pastures into their barns in the valleys. The animals are colourfully decorated, and their parade is accompanied by music. Whole villages and communities come out to join the farmers’ festivities. The traditional headdresses of the animals represent the gratitude of the farmer for the summer on the mountain pasture. But if there were accidents or deaths on the mountain pasture in the summer, the cattle are either not decorated or are driven down to the valley in black ornaments. The sound of cowbells travels for miles, serving the double function of whipping up a festive atmosphere in the village, and supposedly scaring off demons and evil spirits. This speciality of Austria is definitely a unique experience.
Krampus and Perchten Runs
Allegedly dating back to Pagan times, Austria is home to some pretty special winter traditions, which contrast the modern Western commercialisation of the Christmas period.
On the eve of December 6, the devilish companion of St. Nicholas, Krampus, punishes naughty children with a rod. Carrying loud bells and sporting a malicious grimace, this terrifying half-goat, half-demon figure teaches children manners by beating them. On the same night, St. Nicholas rewards nice children with gifts on the same night. During the Krampus runs, traditionally held on December 5, men dress up as Krampus to scare and attack the onlooking audience. Today, the runs are policed, and the Krampus performers must abide by certain rules. However, every now and then, violent attacks by performers still occur.
The Perchten Runs, on the other hand, take place throughout winter. The Runs are traditionally for banishing the cold season and driving out the season’s evil spirits. Participants dress up in wild masks and bang drums in a noisy concert. While the origins of this event are still unclear, the tradition is thriving. Traditionally, the Percht was only celebrated between Christmas and New Year, but now it is not uncommon to see Runs throughout the winter.
Another Austrian speciality is the Solstice celebration. On June 21, the longest day of the year, solstice fires up to 10 meters high are lit. Much like the Perchten Runs, these fires are also designed to expel evil spirits. The mountain fires in Tirol are especially worth seeing and are even listed on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. The fires often depict various motifs, often Christian symbols, but also covering a wide variety of other themes. Fireworks are also not uncommon at the Solstice celebrations, especially in the Wachau and on the Danube.
In preparation for the Daffodil Festival in the Austrian region of Ausseerland-Salzkammergut, thousands of people pick local daffodils and decorate giant wire figures with the blossoms. Over 200,000 daffodils can adorn a single figure.
The wire figures are made in advance before being decorated, then presented and judged in meadows and by the lake. The largest flower festival in Austria rightly attracts visitors from all over the world. The decorated figures in the dreamlike scenery are a real feast for the eyes and definitely worth a visit, particularly for the final regatta where the figures are floated along the river. Each year, a Daffodil queen and two princesses are coronated with daffodil crowns. They will represent the festival and the region all year. In addition to the main attraction, visitors are offered a programme of music, culinary delights, and performing artists which show off local customs. The Daffodil Festival is celebrated annually at the end of May.
Austrian Specialities: Culinary Delights
Austria is world famous for its cuisine. The Viennese Schnitzel and a whole array of desserts may come to your mind when you think of culinary side of this country. As is common in countries around the world, the dishes vary from region to region. In Vienna you will find more multicultural restaurants, while in the more rural regions the focus is on traditional dishes.
The famous Viennese Schnitzel
This famous dish from Austria is made by breading thin veal and then deep-frying it. Schnitzel is traditionally served with potato salad, cucumber salad, parsley potatoes, or lettuce. Today, fried potatoes, French fries or rice are popular accompaniments. The Viennese Schnitzel is not only popular in Austria, but is also enjoyed in a variety of different countries. Keep in mind when ordering: A Viennese Schnitzel is only a proper Viennese Schnitzel if it is veal. If it is made of pork, it is a Schnitzel of Viennese style or a pork Viennese Schnitzel!
Sacher cake and Linzer tart
Sacher cake is an indulgent Viennese speciality. This moreish chocolate cake is made of the so-called Sacher mass, which consists of equal amounts of flour, butter and chocolate or cocoa, and twice as much egg, apricot jam, and chocolate icing. Traditionally, the cake is decorated with an ‘S’ or the Sacher seal on each piece. Apricots as well as apricot liquor are an essential part of Austrian specialties.
The luscious Linzer Tart is also important in Austrian tradition. With its distinctive lattice pattern, this delicacy can be made of a variety of shortbread doughs, but it’s always prepared with redcurrant jam. Perfect with a dollop of cream!
Kaiserschmarrn and Palatschinke
These two delectable desserts have a vase of milk, flour, egg, salt, and sugar. While Kaiserschmarrn is cut in the pan and served in pieces, Palatschinke is served whole and resembles a crêpe or a pancake. Traditionally, both are sprinkled with powdered sugar and eaten warm. According to legend, the Austrian Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sissi, was first served Kaiserschmarrn. The story goes that they actually wanted to make pancakes but failed when the dough tore in the pan. As a result, the whole dough was cut and served, thus creating the national dish we all know and love today. Apparently, the emperor Franz Joseph was so fond of the dish that he had it named after himself!
The Germ Dumpling is another popular Austrian dessert. The yeast dumpling filled with plum jam is always eaten warm and covered with melted butter before serving. Sprinkles of powdered sugar and ground poppy seeds, and sometimes vanilla sauce, top off the dish.
Coffee house culture
A true Austrian institution, the world-famous coffee-house culture is one of the country’s cultural mainstays. Before the modern trend of Starbucks as an extension of your living room, artists and intellectuals used the Kaffeehäuser as their workplaces for writing, socialising, and inspiration. Beethoven even performed in a Kaffeehaus! Culture vultures will relish in the ambience, feeling the presence of Klimt and Freud amidst the tuxedo-clad waiters and range of Viennese specialities. A slice of Sacher cake or a Mozart ball will accompany your Einspänner or Kapuziner perfectly!
Austrian Specialities: Music
Austria’s music history offers something for every music lover. Whether it’s Mozart, Falco, folk music, or modern Austropop, you’ll surely find something to groove along to! Classical music, operas, and waltzes are only a small part of what makes up the music culture in Austria. As in any other country, it has its traditional folk songs and a few famous artists, but the music taste of the country and the population is generally very globalised.
Conclusion: Austrian Specialities
Austria is an undeniably wonderful country with heaps of fascinating specialities! Whether you want to explore its diverse natural landscape, or immerse yourself in its food, traditions, and metropolitan culture, Austria is guaranteed to amaze you.
Want to learn more about Austria? Then check out the best destinations and our climate guide!