Friday, May 20, 2005

Hiking Food -- Austrian Style!

We jumped off of the train and headed straight to the waiting boat that would ferry us to Hallstatt – a village that is truly one of Austria’s scenic gems. It was difficult to keep moving, but we overcame the impulse to just stop and gawk at the beauty that surrounded us. With typical Austrian efficiency, the ferry delivered us posthaste to our waiting port. The town’s semi-official “greeter,” a friendly (and huge) shaggy dog, got up lazily from his resting space near his owner’s dark blue convertible and accepted a head pat from each of us as we made our way into the cobble-stoned central square.

After the morning’s train trip from Salzburg, we were easily enticed by the delicious aromas that restaurants seemed to pipe into the streets. Maybe it was just the beautifully-clean air, there in the midst of the mountains, that served as the perfect olfactory delivery mechanism. Red-checked tablecloths, red-and-white patio umbrellas, lakefront dining in the sunshine – we were drawn in faster than a hummingbird to bright red nectar.

Soon, we were seated at tables and gazing at mountains, the shimmering lake, sparkling-white boats, even-whiter majestic swans, half-timbered buildings clinging to hillsides, and flowers, flowers, everywhere! It was almost too difficult to tear our eyes away from the gorgeous scenery to focus on the menu card. We took a shortcut: a quick glance at the choices of nearby diners convinced us that the cheese-and-sausages plate, bright-and-refreshing Austrian Gruner Veltliner wine and apple cake would fill the bill wonderfully. We were, after all, in hiking country; there would never be a better time to eat hikers’ food!

Austrians, of course, have a heritage of hiking and mountain climbing. Ordinary trail mix and protein-packed “power bars” as we in the U.S. know them, are not the traditional Austrian idea of replenishing nourishment during and after such strenuous activity. Sausage – the long and the short of it – better fits the bill!

It’s easy to understand that Austrians never seem to grow tired of sausages; the selection from which to choose is astonishing. Whether one is looking for slicing sausages (the cylindrical, long rolls that are typically served sliced crosswise) or link sausages in casings (wieners or bratwurst, for example, that are done up in short, link shapes), the Austrian meat market serves up sausage options for every occasion.

So, what are we American types to do, when the craving for a good old Austrian- or German-style sausage strikes once we are back home? Fortunately, many of us have access to some good, natural-casing link-style sausages, as well as slicing varieties, right at our local supermarkets. These are always a convenient alternative, when the hiking or moutaineering agenda calls for a good sausage accompaniment. If we don’t indulge in either of those energetic pastimes, we often can instigate (with very little effort) some other sausage-specific activity – beer or wine drinking, for example!

Those of us who are even MORE fortunate have access to German-style markets, delis and groceries. There, lighted and refrigerated display cases exhibit a sausage and cheese selection sure to trigger those Austrian memories of Alpine horns and cow bells -- or tap into German memories of frothy beer steins and music-filled wine gardens.

In California, we are blessed with numerous German delis and markets. These markets typically go far beyond the sausage and meat products that their names suggest. Mattern Sausage and Meats, in the city of Orange, for example, offers not only numerous sausages, meats and cheeses, but a selection of German staple ingredients, wines, beers and German-style breads. And, of course, there are plenty of those tasty German chocolate bars too!

As is typical of meat markets and sausage shops (called Metzgerei) in Austria and Germany, these local markets also usually provide small seating areas, with basic tables and chairs, at which customers may enjoy made-to-order sandwiches containing the tantalizing sausages, meats, cheeses and breads which are featured in that store. The website provides an extensive list of German-style delis and bakeries (including addresses, phone numbers and websites) throughout California, by city. In other areas, a web or phone directory search is likely to provide similar information to get the sausage search off to a good start.

One of the things that I most enjoy about visiting German markets is the nostalgic ambiance in which I am immersed, on-the-spot. Fluent English quickly gives way to rapid-fire German when longstanding German-speaking customers come through the front door. Suddenly, there I am, once again, blissfully embedded in European atmosphere – and I didn’t even have to buy a plane ticket!

Before I know it, time at the German market has flown and this ingredient sleuth is once again headed toward home, stomach filled with a good sausage sandwich, heavy shopping bags pulling both arms straight at the elbows. Soon, the German sausages (and other tasty beverages and ingredients!) that I have selected will be cooking on the stove, roasting on the grill or just plain ready-to-eat from the butcher’s paper.

And visions of majestic mountains, clear-blue lakes, fluorescent-red geraniums and half-timbered houses will be prancing -- in hiking boots -- through my mind!


Dennis said...

Here in Milwaukee we have Usinger's sausage market right downtown. It's like the mother of all US sausage shops and they ship some of their sausages to supermarkets throughout the country. We always think the ones we buy downtown taste the best. Good article!

Rochelle said...

This story about Austria sounds SO good! We had a wonderful time there too, in the Linz area. Next time, I think we will have to see Hallstatt!

linda said...

These specialty shops are my favorite way to reconnect with my previous travel adventures. Somehow, the food brings back so many memories that would be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Halstatt and it is just as pretty as you said. It's a perfect little day-trip from Salzburg, by car or by train. I think we ate at the same restaurant and it was very good; the only place we'd ever eaten where the waiters had to carry the food across the street from the kitchen! (It was a little street, tho!) It's also the perfect place to climb up to hilltop views but still have some kind of pavement to walk on.

ERic said...

suddenly I am VERY hungry for a liverwurst sandwich ... time to go to my local Jewish deli .... not sure if I like the sausage or the pickles better! I think that NYC has the best liverwurst in the world!

karen said...

We love the German markets in southern Calif. too! Old World Village in Huntington Beach is very convenient for us and sometimes we go to Alpine Village in the Torrance area. Those are both nice little German-style shopping areas (mini villages style) for tourists too. Both also have good restaurants.