Services to British Expats
Touted as the first Cornish pasty/British Deli in Austria, first prize goes to the Cornwall Pasty Pirates on Zollergasse in Vienna’s 7th district. And what a concept! A selection of drink and food offering the staples of a British food cupboard, admittedly the more posh delicacies rather than Pot Noodles and pliable bread, and pie and pastry type stuff.
There is another pie shop in Vienna (Pie Factory in the 9th district) but I don’t know anywhere else which offers a tribute act to the classic pasty of Cornish fame. Indeed, in a city awash with questionable lunchtime inducements (I am talking about the rubbish sandwiches you get at Anker or Ströck or Backwerk, not the superb value “Menus”) it is a heartwarming endeavour to find yourself faced by a hot cabinet filled with the kinds of things that might alert the hotline to your cholesterol specialist. However, any homage to the diaspora of Brits in Vienna would be impossible without a couple of comments, rooted in mild irritation (being British).
1. Price – €5.50 for a pie the size of a Semmel in a city where a lunchtime special (typically a soup and a main course) can be had for seven euro, is top whack. Admittedly, handmade top whack. Then again, a pie is not an everyday event, unless you wished to emulate mayor Michael Häupl and his waist.
2. Fillings – One of Aristotle’s less celebrated sayings was about pastry: “A pie is a pie is a pie” he perceptibly observed back in 345 BC whilst hanging out with his homey Plato. And who would disagree? It is an undemanding dish ordained with an efficacy perfected over centuries of refinement and stuffing of faces. And like unfussy dishes the world over, complication does not necessarily equate with improvement or, crucially, value-for-money. This is not to say I do not applaud some innovation in food, if only to reach out to more exotic palates and broaden its appeal. Yet there are only so many tastes and textures a small enclosed piece of pastry can handle. The poor thing. So, steak pie? Yes. Chicken and chorizio? Mackerel and beetroot? It’s the kind of combinations my wife would insist on when she was pregnant. But you decide for yourself. Traditional or more esoteric, you won’t find a better example of British street food in Vienna. At least not until I open my fish and chip shop.
3. Morphological niggle – I am pretty sure the word pasty/ pastie was only ever paired with the word “Cornish” and not “Cornwall”. It would be like calling a “Wienerschitzel” a “Wienschnitzel”. Or Irish Stew “Ireland” Stew. Just saying.
Best Place to Buy Fish
Aside from a couple of freshwater dishes – carp, trout or pike – no doubt inspired by living next door to a rather impressive river (yes, the blue Danube), Viennese cuisine is not immediately renowned for its fish. There is a very good reason for this. It is more than 600 kilometers from the sea. But there is hope for the pretend vegetarian in the guise of Umar, Gruber and Fischviertel down the Naschmarkt each selling top quality seafood with prices to match. As an alternative, the really adventurous can set sail for the three hundred thousand square metre Grossgrünmarkt (wholesale market) in the 23rd district (bus 70A from Reumannplatz) and have a gander at Eishkern Estate (the main fish supplier in Vienna).
But my choice is Metro, the huge cash-and-carry warehouse located in Vösendorf to the south and easily reachable by Badner Bahn, stop Vösendorf-Siebenhirten, and a short walk. It has a superb selection of most of the things you can eat from the sea, great prices and suitably dour fishmongers to brighten your day. And you might even bump into football superstar Hans Krankl or an Austrian politician (lurking in the bread department).
Given the prevailing cynicism and mistrust aimed at many of our democratic leaders from many people whose knickers are clearly twisted about something, there is a certain tautological evocation to imply that political and villain are somehow separate ideas. In the rabbit hole of my mind, it is a sentiment I intermittently share, although gift me a city-sponsored flat in the first district and a lifetime stipendium for services to Vienna, and the melody of my malcontent might just ease.
Yet I still retain hope that some of our elected representatives are motivated by a desire to effect meaningful change resulting in greater equality, better opportunities for all and life sentences for the kinds of social dimwits who jump queues, commit acts of social defacement and espouse the kind of libertarian bollocks that comes with humdrum intellectual vanity mixed with Alzheimer’s of the soul. Politicians who are committed to the common good and not susceptible to the siren of self-aggrandisment. Like Ghandi, Mandela or Nick Clegg.
And then there is Ernst Strasser, former Minister for the Interior and latterly first-class ticket holder to the EU gravy-train as Austrian commissioner. Awkwardly, Ernst was caught red-handed by some highly regarded denizens of the British Press trying to peddle influence for cash in the EU parliament. As a professional politician (conservative, naturally) you would think that in all those years he would have perfected the art of the air-tight whopper. But nabbed on camera with his fingers in the very midst of the EU lobbying cream pie, his asinine claim that the entrapment was all part of his plan to exposure the corrupt and illegal practices of the press, was about as convincing as when I tried to frame my two year brother for stealing the last chocolate Santa from the Christmas Tree in 1978. I got sent to bed but Ernst copped three years in prison. And like all the Hollywood movies he is now in charge of the library. Summary Austrian justice. Just about.
But there is a post-script to this sorry tale. Ernst will be released from prison in the New Year after serving just a few months stamping books. He will get a Fussfessel (electronic tag) and be confined to home with the usual conditions of semi-parole; regular check-ins at the police station, plenty of time to write his memoirs and discover Jesus. (Note to believers and non-believers: such a damascene conversion can be achieved by drinking schnapps to excess – prison is not essential.)
The last Austrian to win the Eurovision song contest prior to 2014 was the late Udo Jurgens in 1966. He became so rich in spite of Eurovision that he practically renounced his Austrian citizenship and moved to Switzerland (when they still welcomed loaded foreigners as long as they were quiet, obeyed the rules and didn’t have more money than the locals). But for reasons that are simply more obvious than the hairs spouting for her chin, there can only be one winner this year: Conchita.
Cultural aberration or not, I haven’t made up my mind yet if it is a good thing that the most famous living Austrian is a transvestite with a beard who won a singing contest more divisive than Russell Brand or who has grazing rights on the West Bank. More so when you remember that Conchita (aka Tom Neuwirth) is a veteran of the “Austrian Search for a Singing Sensation Superstar Voice with X-Factor” industry (in reality Starmania and Die Grosse Chance) and didn’t win – twice. Nevertheless, he/she is clearly on the way to superstardom. Hollywood beckons next year and it is only a matter of time before the residency at Vegas is in the bag, which seems reasonable since they gave us Céline Dion.
Continued in Part 2
© RJ Barratt 2014