One thing to understand about Austrian food culture is that in Austria, food is relished and meals are celebrated. Austrians can spend more than an hour discussing various topics over a meal and afterwards spend an equal amount of time to finish their conversations over a cup of coffee and dessert. This behavior is often referred to as typical Austrian Gemuetlichkeit and is distinctive to Austrian culture. Gemuetlichkeit, a word which has been adopted in the English language, describes an environment or state of mind that produces a happy mood and a sense of well-being. It describes a notion of belonging and social acceptance, of being cozy and welcomed. That is exactly what you would expect to find in most of Austria’s local taverns, restaurants and cafés. In this section we show you where Austrians love to spend their time during the year.
Visiting one of the many Christkindlmärkte (Christmas markets) in Austria is a popular tradition during the four weeks of Advent. Christkindlmärkte can be described as street markets that sell Christmas ornaments, cookies and other things related to Christmas. Apart from shopping people like to enjoy a Gluehwine, Punsch and many other festive delicacies.
In spring, around Easter, visiting the Ostermarkt (Easter Market) is a popular tradition in Austria, especially in Vienna where several markets are opened for visitors to buy traditional Easter decorations like artistically decorated eggs. In addition, this folk festival also offers other arts and crafts from all over Austria, typical Austrian food and Easter specialties like the chocolate Easter Bunnies, Easter loafs, or baked Easter lambs, as well as entertainment.
It was Austrian Emperor Joseph II in the 18th century who issued a decree that permitted all residents to open establishments to sell and serve self-produced wine, juices and other food and snacks. Until the 20th century, it was quite customary for guests to bring along their own food to go with the wine they drank at the tavern now known as Heuriger. Heurig means most recent in German and at a Heuriger the most recent wine is served. Heuriger is one of the most popular and most frequented places, Austrians like to go to during the Spring, Summer and Autumn months to experience Gemuetlichkeit. Typical foods and drinks that are served at a Heuriger include Brettljause (a variation of cheese, sausages and spreads) and Liptauer (a spread flavored with pepper, wine and must (a kind of apple cider). Read more on Heurigen here.
The Wiener Wuerstelstand is a long-standing tradition. During a night out these street-side booths serve fast and inexpensive snacks, including a great variety of sausages. Some of the most popular snacks include Bosna (a hot dog with Bratwurst sausage, onions, and a blend of mustard and/or tomato ketchup and curry powder), Sacherwuerstl (sausage served with mustard, horseradish and a kaiser roll) and Kaesekrainer (sausage filled with cheese).
Funkensonntag (bonfire Sunday)
Funkenfeuer (short: Funken; bonfire) is a tradition in the Swabian-Alemannic area. In Austria, it is only celebrated in the west, i.e. Vorarlberg and the Tyrolean uplands. This annual bonfire takes place in early spring on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday (Funkensonntag; bonfire Sunday). Depending on the region the Funken is either a heap of straw or a piled up wooden tower that can reach a height of up to 30 meters (98.4 feet). In Austria, the Funken usually is a wooden tower with a witch figure, made of old clothes that are filled with gunpowder, sitting on top.
Several customs are part of this celebration and vary depending on the region. The Funkenwache means that the night before the bonfire the Funken is watched by guards to prevent it from being burned down. Sometimes in the afternoon of the Funkensonntag there is a Kinderfunken, which is a Funken for children. On the evening of Funkensonntag before the Funken is set on fire there is a Fackelzug (torchlight procession) accompanied by a local marching band. The people then watch the Funken burning until the fire reaches the top and the witch on top is set on fire and eventually explodes. The celebration mostly ends with fireworks.
The aim of this tradition mainly is to drive out the winter. While the explosion of the witch means luck, it is a bad omen when the Funken falls over before the witch explodes. This then means that the witch has to be buried the next day.
In the Easter part of Austria, there is a similar tradition called Sonnwendfeier (Midsummer solstice), which is traditionally celebrated on June 21. This date marks the shortest night and the longest day of the year. Each year a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River through the wine-growing Wachau Valley just north of Vienna. Up to 30 ships sail down the river in line as fireworks erupt from the banks and hill tops while bonfires blaze and the vineyards are lit up. Lighted castle ruins also erupt with fireworks during the 90-minute cruise downstream.