Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My First Solo Meal in Vienna

It was my first solo meal in Vienna, a city I would call home for several months. A little self-conscious about dining alone, I chose a non-hip-looking cafĂ©, with plush red velvet seats and a clientele that included a few tourists. I was relieved to see a vegetarian menu, but unlike the main menu, which had pages in German, English, Japanese, and Russian, the vegie menu was only in German. The waiter didn't speak much English – a startling pleasure in a world where the edges of cultural difference are being relentlessly eradicated by the Resistance-is-Futile-You-Will-Be-Assimilated globalizing Borg machine. After searching for and failing to find the right words to describe the offerings, he gave up and went to get a waitress who spoke a little English. She described a couple of items, but it was still all a bit confusing. Finally, I recognized the word "spinach.”

“Yes!” I smiled. “I’ll have that.”

I sipped my beer and tried not to look conspicuous as I studied the artsy black and white S&M photos on the walls, which seemed at odds with the stuffy baroque decor. Finally the waiter arrived and placed my dinner down with a flourish: a plate of bright green, algae-colored puree, with a basted egg floating on top.

(I soon learned that Austrians will put eggs on top of just about anything. You can even get a coffee with an egg, not on the side, but right there in the cup. But, they are an enlightened people in many ways; a standard breakfast comes with eggs, rolls, potatoes....and a beer. I can't, however, guarantee that the egg won’t be in the beer.)

The creamed spinach was soupy – a bit hard to eat with the fork that was provided
and was the spitting image of baby food spooned from a tiny jar. This effect was magnified by the fact that the puree and the shredded potatoes that accompanied it arrived on a divided dish, either a deep plate or shallow bowl, which looked just like the dish you'd use to feed a toddler, sans the picture of Winnie the Pooh. I resolved right then to learn to speak German.

In the end, I never did learn much German, despite buying a pile of dictionaries and German CDs. And, even though I became more adventurous in my dining choices as I came to know the city, I found myself returning several times to that cafe, where I ordered that same SpinachGloppenEggen, an oddly satisfying comfort food for a lone traveler far from home.


  1. When my kids Dad returned from Vietnam he was stationed in Germany, we lived there for a year and a half before being moved to Madrid. I had studied German in college and spoke it relatively well, but in and around where the air base was located I would try to speak German in stores etc. and they would answer me in English so I got discouraged and almost stopped trying until we went to Austria for a brief vacation and everyone there was so delighted that I was making an effort to speak the language that everyone, everywhere we went bent over backwards to take care of whatever it was I wanted/needed. It was the same way when I lived in Spain and in Mexico -- I was really rewarded for my efforts to speak their language and it was such fun!!

  2. Sylvia, how fun for you to live so many places! I totally agree: even a mangled auf Wiedersehen or Guten tag goes a long way. Even though I don't have a gift for languages (and find German especially hard) I always try. It makes me sad in some ways that English is so prevalent now. Even worse are the McDonalds, Starbucks, and Pizza Huts popping up like mushrooms around the globe.

  3. Oh oh...just discovered your blog...and now have to add Vienna on my list of places to see. Or just start putting eggs on everything. Or both.

  4. Welcome to my humble blog, B&B. I really enjoy yours! Vienna is great...I highly recommend it, eggs or no.

  5. LOL at the vision of you slurping down baby food spinach!

    That's so true about traveling to other places - we tend to go back to the same restaurant that we found first. Never mind the food. Now that I've read you do the same, perhaps it's us strangers trying to find a little familiarity.

    We were in Vienna last summer, right during the Euro championships. The kids loved it and so did we. Such a lovely city, so cozy.

  6. Sujatha--it is a lovely, cozy city, and I'm not doing the wonderful restaurants justice with this post....