Vienna is divided into 23 Bezirke, or districts. And originally each Bezirk had a market, or more than one. The markets were the identity of the district — they sold different kinds of goods, and were gathering places for the (often culturally and ethnically defined) communities that surrounded them. They were important in the city’s transition from agrarian to modern, and they still bear the stamp of the districts they serve as well as of Austria’s food production more broadly. And, of course, they are vanishing. Today, most districts have a market, but these markets are diminished in size and offerings, pushed out of existence by the ubiquitous Billa supermarkets. Increasingly, they offer boutique goods — jars of jams, say — or pastries — in addition to, or in gradual replacement of, the more traditional produce.
So, we are on a mission to visit all of the markets, one by one, before they’re either gone or so radically gentrified as to be unrecognizable. In other posts, I’ll introduce you to some of our favorites — for instance, the Kutschkermarkt in the 18th district (by the way, one goal of this blog, as we’re getting to know each other, is also to get to know the districts — every single one of them, bit by bit. A bit like Colbert’s Better Know a District, but with more German and fewer politicians). But this weekend, we went to the Viktor-Adler Markt, in the seldom-visited 10th district. It was a pretty great market from the point of view of produce — unlike the more boutiquey markets, people here were seriously getting their Saturday shop on (N.B. Austrian grocery stores are all closed on Sunday; if you want to eat before Monday mid-day, you better shop on Saturday). Here’s the scene:
As you can see, it was grey. And raining. And in an inadvertent reflection of the day’s conditions, I managed to take a photo of a bunch of empty crates rather than the produce bounty beyond. Here, let me try again to capture the mood, if not the beauty of the veg:
As usual, I had no umbrella, and, let’s be honest, I wanted to go home. And then I saw it. The Promised Land. The Promised Land of Cheese and Speck. I speak, of course, of the cheesemonger. Cheese from the mountains, cheese from the goats (sometimes even the goats who live on the mountains):
There’s a cheese literally coated in shards of hay, called Haycheese (Heukäse. German is a very literal language):
There was cheese in a shade of green so terrifyingly bright that it demanded explanation (it’s made with basil). (It does stand out a bit, doesn’t it?):
When people think cheese, they usually think France. But Austria has incredible cheeses. They are semi-hard cheeses, not unlike what Americans think of as Swiss cheese, or maybe between Swiss and Cheddar, but with a much rounder flavor. They melt well, go well in sandwiches, and, for all their apparent physical similarities, have an incredible variety of flavors. And that’s before people start mixing them with additional ingredients! Like Bärlauch (that’s wild garlic):
This is just an introductory post, of course, while I figure out the platform and how to insert images, etc. So all of this is just a prelude to the eventual sequel, in which I dive into the many, many, MANY kinds of speck, a selection of which were being sold at the neighboring window:
Spicy Speck!! You know we bought some of that.
This post is also a yet more distant prelude to the even further sequel in which I explain at great length Austria’s totally contradictory relationship with horses, and why we never, EVER buy meat from this guy: