Letter from Vienna (2004): To Share Bread and Water in a Relationship


Thanks to my parents’ vision and their belief in the value of mastering a second language, they started sending me over, at the very young age of twelve, to England for learning holidays. Like most pupils from Austria, I spoke with quite a heavy accent.


My pronounciation didn’t improve that much, but what I did acquire, fortunately, was a sentimental affection for British food. A cute pronounciation and an infantile imprinting for such traditional allurements as, squashy egg-and-watercress-sandwiches; cornish-pasties-from-last-weeks’-leftovers or even vinegar-soaked-sea snails from Brighton Pier help a lot when in a relationship with an Englishman.

But one thing I have never become used to is English beer. Favoring delicious Austrian Bock and Lager, Märzen and Pils, I struggle hard in not exclaiming depreciations when my Englishman offers me a pint or half-pint of a weak, lukewarm liquid. But a line found in his British tourist guide challenged my polite reservation to the utmost. Much to my consternation, it had to warn its readers not to complain at all when being served beer with a well-developed fluffy and even head of mouth-watering white froth. “It’s not a blemish but the innkeeper’s pride.”


Since I’m more than convinced that beer was invented in Austria – where else? - I was very surprised to learn that beerdrinkers from both countries imbibe a similar amount – approximately 110 liters per person per year. Should you ever get the chance to try the real thing, be aware that, in Austria, it comes in Krügel (0,5 liters), Seidel (0,3 liters) or Pfiff (0,2 liters).

Having argued you into the true origin of beer (Austria), I can joyously give in and accept that another great drink - tea - was invented in England. No sensible person would question its true origin after having studied carefully the British Standard 6008:1980, which was prepared under the Food and Agriculture Standards Committee. Accordingly, tea should come in a large pot of 285 ml or a small pot of 140 ml. Two grams of tea per 100 ml of liquid should be allowed to brew for six minutes in freshly boiled water, till poured (without the infused leaves) into a bowl or cup. Avoid scalding the milk, and it should be poured into the bowl or cup before the tea.

Tea is definitely not one of Austria’s strengths. Here it comes in tea bags and then either barely tinting the liquid or oversaturating it into some stained essence. Considering that not each of the 165 million cups drained per day in Britain might come from ambrosia but from the lowest-grade tea, even so, I have to admit that tea in Austria is even worse. But not only the poor quality might shock you; chances are high that you are served a herbal or fruit infusion - called tea - and quite popular. In fact, three quarters of the so-called tea consumed is anything but black, green or white tea. If you insist on black tea you’d better ask for, 'Russischer Tee', which in fact comes from China or India.

But one liquid is definitely great in Vienna – even if it wasn’t invented here. No, I don’t speak about wine nor coffee. I’m talking about water. A postwar baker’s ad became very popular, saying, “What do Viennese look forward to when returning from their holidays? Vienna’s mountain water and our bread!” In fact Vienna’s water supply is brought over a distance of 170 km from mountainous areas southwest of the capital. Its cool temperature, combined with a high content of oxygen, adds to its special taste. Ex-pats living in Vienna are said to be storing ordinary tap water in their fridges instead of spending money for mineral water. But thanks to industry’s advertising campaigns, nowadays even spoiled Viennese carry heavy bottles of mineral water to their homes.


Having mentioned bread I should further comment on this topic. Fortunately, I do like British bread--and even eat crumpets-– although, I have to admit, only toasted. I’m asked by my Englishman, and by all my friends, to transport as much Austrian bread as possible in my luggage whenever I fly over. Virtually everybody I meet praises the great, tiny-bubbled dark bread they’ve so enjoyed when on holidays in my area. And since I’ve learned about the alarming decrease of bread consumption in GB, I still wonder why nobody in England ever thought of turning towards the true bread – most probably invented in Austria – and importing living bakers from Austria or Germany.

P.S. Since I was nasty enough to put down British food, I have to concede that there are some Austrian delicacies that require true love (either for the Austrian cook or for Austrian food). My Englishman was very brave in enjoying smoked pig’s nose with grated horseradish – traditionally eaten on New Year’s morning.