Wurst vacation ever Sep 13 2006
For some, a trip to Austria steers their gastronomic attention to wiener schnitzel, but for me, it's all about the wurst.1 Following the good advice of a reader to ignore the sausages on offer in cafes and restaurants, we hit up every lunchtime sausage stand we could find during our visit for the real deal.
In Salzburg, the typical stand offers 8-10 different kinds of wurst, from the familiar frankfurter to the spicy pusztakrainer. You can get your wurst on a plate with mustard and a piece of bread or as a "hot dog" (in a bun with mustard and ketchup). For my first wurst, I had a kasekrainer, hot dog-style with ketchup, and it turned out to be my favorite of the trip. Melted cheese (kase) filled the sausage and the bun was perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Meg sampled a burenwurst. The next day, we hit up another stand; I tried the frankfurter while Meg had a delicately flavored weisswurst (her favorite of the trip). She speculated they didn't grill the weisswurst because it would interfere with mild flavor; the spicer wursts seemed to be grilled.
From thence to Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps. At 10,000 feet above sea level, we had an unspecifed wurst (the restaurant called it, basically, "the sausage of the day") that ranks among the best food I've ever tasted, but that assessment may have been colored by the fact that we'd hiked up a glacier to get it. On our last day in Innsbruck, we surrendered to the comfort of cafe chairs and had bratwurst (mit sauerkraut und mustard) at a small place in the old town. After a hard day of walking, it beats eating standing up, which is how it works at the wurst stand.
Our final link in the sausage trail was Zurich, which is not in Austria but in the section of Switzerland near Austria and Germany. From a stand by the lake, we shared a pork-based sausage I forget the name of and another beloved weisswurst. Based on the relative unavailability of the wurst there, I get the feeling that the Swiss don't take their sausages as seriously as the Austrians, at least in cosmopolitan Zurich. Not that the Swiss wurst wasn't good; they just have other things to worry about...like fondue.2
But to focus entirely on the wurst is to ignore the equally fantastic brot (bread) that accompanies it and many other Austrian dishes. My favorite bread growing up in Wisconsin was called "Vienna bread" and I had always assumed that the cheap loaves we got at the local chain supermarket approximated something found in the Austrian capital. We didn't get to Vienna, but the Austrian bread we had was indeed like the bread of my childhood...except about 1000 times better. The small, crisp roll we got with our wurst, called a semmel, was not unlike what's called a roll or kaiser roll at an NYC deli. These rolls, accompanied by some richly flavorful butter, were also available at the complementary breakfast served at our hotel and I was tempted to violate the no-taking-food-from-the-breakfast-area rule and cram my bag full of them. If the bread at our hotel was that good, I can't imagine what the best bakeries of the region have to offer. The French, whom I've always considered the champions of all things bread, might have something to worry about from Austria. Clearly, more delicious research is called for.
 Not that the rest of Austrian cuisine wasn't uniformly excellent. I had a pork dish with spatzle in a creamy mushroom sauce at a Salzburg restaurant that I will crave for months to come. And that garlic soup at Ottoburg in Innsbruck! ↩
 I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for the title of this post (the other option was "It was the wurst of times"). But count your blessings that you're not reading an article on the yummy fondue we had in Zurich entitled "You're damned if you fondue, and you're damned if you fondon't". (I know what you're thinking: "oh no, he fondidn't...") ↩