Takeaway

Viennese departure

Anita Rao Kashi | Updated on November 16, 2018 Published on November 16, 2018

Liquid pleasure: Gegenbauer stocks more than 70 kinds of vinegars   -  ANITA RAO KASHI

Food innovators are ushering in an era of the quirky and the unusual in the Austrian capital

Vienna never fails to conjure up images of Baroque architecture and streets filled with music. The palate, unfortunately, seemed to be shortchanged with clichés: Stodgy schnitzel and strudel or cloying sweets. That’s until a new generation of entrepreneurs came along, or took over the family business, and ushered in a departure from tradition or evolved one of their own. Hidden in various corners of the city are such unusual things as a vinegar brewery producing boutique fruit and beer vinegars, an escargot farm that lays out a seven-course snail tasting menu, oyster mushrooms grown on coffee grounds and a wine that evokes the magic of the full moon.

Hurrying at a snail’s pace

Standing amidst a farm and lovely gardens, and in front of an old-fashioned food truck, Andreas Gugumuck is full of energy as he leads visitors around. In a weird way, this is ironical, since the thing he is passionate about is snails. He also packs a solid dose of wry humour; impatient queries are answered with, “You cannot hurry me; it’s about snails.” A Viennese delicacy and staple for centuries, snails disappeared from tables around three decades ago.

Slow magic: Andreas Gugumuck with the snails at his farm   -  ANITA RAO KASHI

 

Gugumuck embarked on a campaign to bring it back with his sustainable and eco-friendly escargot farm about a decade ago. Snails are now on restaurant menus. He lobbied for a snail festival, and over 100 Viennese restaurants offer specialities for a week each September. But the biggest validation has been the seven-course snail menu Gugumack offers at Bistro am Gugumuck each Friday. There’s a 4-5 week waiting period but the food truck offers a selection of snails cooked in butter, spices and other condiments.

Heady with vinegar

Tucked away in a lane full of pretty houses in Waldgasse, in the southern part of the city, is Gegenbauer. It is nothing much to look at from outside, but once past the door, a cloud of several aromas assaults the nostrils. Some of them are particularly strong and not without reason: The shelves are crammed with vinegars, made from such eclectic starting ingredients as apricot, asparagus, blueberry, cucumber, plum, raspberry, tomatoes and even beer. The establishment was born almost 90 years ago, and produced generic vinegar in large factories, but Erwin Gegenbauer preferred to chuck it all up a decade and a half ago and focus instead on fine vinegars, especially from fruits. The result has been an array — more than 70 at last count — of vinegars that benefit from the unique micro-climate of the underground tunnels beneath the establishment. The vaults look like a throwback to an alchemist’s shop with giant glass containers filled with liquids in strange colours and aromas. Everything is handmade and handcrafted, even the labels on the bottles.

Mushrooms from coffee

A chance attendance at an entrepreneurship seminar got two university students thinking about growing mushrooms in the basement. It wasn’t a novel idea. But that they wanted to do it on coffee grounds certainly was. With Vienna’s strong coffee culture and the fact that the city generated over 40 tonnes of coffee grounds each day seemed like a winner. So the two friends — Florian Hofer and Manuel Bornbaum — went around convincing cafés to hand over the grounds, and collected them on their bikes. It was mixed with lime and mushroom mycelium, packed in bags and allowed to work its magic in a damp, dark basement. The result was oyster mushrooms in five weeks and the birth of Hut and Stiel, or hat and stem, the descriptive for a mushroom. Clients include top-notch restaurants, though anyone can buy a bag from their store.

Moon wine or ‘moonshine?’

The Viennese wine tradition goes back over five centuries with not just wineries but even vineyards located within the metropolis. A ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the wine growers in the region led to making the process organic from start to finish — growing grapes to bottling. But Weingut Christ, a winery with a history of over 400 years and vineyards in the city’s Bisamberg area, has a product that is both charming and a bit fanciful. Vollmondwein is a white wine that is produced from grapes harvested on a full moon night and processed that same night. A lost ancient tradition, it was dusted and put back into practice a few years ago to considerable success. Arguably it is a bit richer and more rounded in flavour than wine from grapes harvested on other days. The current head, Rainer Christ, has a twinkle in his eyes as he pours it into glasses in the tavern adjacent to the winery, and deadpans: “What can we say? It’s inexplicable. Everything else is the same when compared to similar wines except for the taste. We have had several tests done and even blind tasters agree it tastes better. Perhaps the moon’s gravity does things to the grapes!”

Anita Rao Kashi is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru

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Published on November 16, 2018
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