From Vienna: A bakery case trip through Austrian history

Alicia Bones

I brainstormed a list of my favorite things in Vienna before writing this article. Of course, being the highly cultured Lawrentian that I am, my list included the highest-sphere Viennese establishments: its world class-art museums, its famous homes, its decadent concert halls.
Readers could drown in the cesspool of culture I could include in this article about the grandfather of all cultural cities.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the food.
Vienna straddles a precarious line in protecting its rich traditions while still allowing, if not embracing, new innovations. This balance can be illustrated in Vienna’s food.
First, pastries. Our big, blonde Austrian landlady — after handing us a Bundt cake and showing us our glorious golden toilet — proceeded to tell us one, and only one, thing to do in her city: eat cake. I prefer to think that she really wanted to give us a history lesson — expecting that we would learn the colorful tales behind each butter-and-flour creation.
Seriously though, you can learn a lot about the history of this place through its pastries.
One such example is Kaiserschmarrn, which translates to “emperor’s mishmash.” The legend goes that this dessert was created by accident when a cook made a bad pancake for the Holy Roman Emperor Franz Joseph I (1678-1711). It seems the cook could have made a new dessert for a man who was both holy and royal, but, if this story is true, he didn’t and this holy, royal dessert was born. To fix his mistake, the cook threw together a mixture of his ruined pancakes, powdered sugar, and raisins.
Another example is the kipferl, which I would describe as the Austrian version of a croissant, but I won’t do so because I fear the wrath of the Viennese. The Austrians claim to have invented this concoction first. The story goes that the same Pole who opened the first Viennese coffeehouse invented the kipferl after the Turks were defeated in the Second Siege of Vienna in 1683. He created the pastry in the shape of the Turkish half moon so that anyone eating a kipferl could imagine him or herself devouring a Turk.
Of course, Vienna did have what my Austrian Lit. professor describes as “The Third Turkish Siege of Vienna.” A culinary siege, that is. In the 1960s and ’70s, Austria began to employ “tourists” or “guest workers” mostly from Turkey or Yugloslavia in their businesses. In 1974, there was a recession in Austria and these foreign workers and their families began to claim Vienna as a permanent home.
Along with this permanence came Düm Kebabs. The traditional Turkish recipe has been Westernized and is now made with a cylindrical hunk of lamb, pork or chicken shaved off into a pita and topped with tzatziki (yogurt) sauce, tomato, onions and spices. Kebab stands are on every corner and near every subway station. On my block alone, three kebab stands duel to slay the Viennese with their deliciousness.
Even though its citizens can celebrate historical events by grabbing a glorified donut from the corner bakery, the Austrian obesity rate is 9.1 percent, compared to the U.S. rate of 30.6 percent.
Why is it really easier for the Viennese to consume a moderate amount of deep-fried Wiener Schnitzel when we can order a fifty-piece chicken McNugget box?
Not only are the Viennese thin, but they all also seem to be tall and still tan in October with smoky eyes that put Tyra’s fierce stare to shame.
Everyone here looks like a model and I’m writing home about pastry?