Austria's varied cuisine still shows vestiges of the former monarchy. Vienna was the prime culinary melting pot with its multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population of Hungarians, Bohemians, Slovaks, Poles, Croatians, immigrants from Triest, Dalmatia, Subcarpathia, Bukovina and Carniola, or simply newcomers from Austria's modern day provinces. All of them came to Vienna, their tried and approved recipes in tow. The best went on to become fully integrated into Austrian cooking.
Serviettenknödel, Gulash and Palatschinken
No matter whether it was food scarcity that led to the invention of "Serviettenknödel" - bread dumpling mass wrapped in a large cotton napkin then boiled and cut into slices for serving - today they are as popular as their sweet Bohemian counterparts, the "Germknödel" - yeast dumplings. This dessert, often served as a main course, is usually filled with "Powidl" - thickened plum jam and served dusted with poppy seeds, melted butter and sugar. The only difference today between the Czech yeast dumpling and the Austrian is that the latter is larger.
While some of the dishes - perhaps due to their straightforward and simple preparation - have changed very little, others have undergone significant transformations. Take gulash (sometimes still spelled gulyas), for instance: The original "gulyas" was a Hungarian stew with beef, which has nothing in common with what is internationally known as "gulash." That world-renowned dish is known to the Hungarians as pörkölt. What caused the linguistic mismatch is a mystery. All we know is that Viennese Gulasch, as we know it today, did not develop until the early 19th century as brought in by the 39th Hungarian Infantry regiment stationed in Vienna.
The journey of the Austrian version of the Crêpe - the Palatschinken, which is somewhat thicker than its well-known French counterpart and usually served filled with jam or quark - was far longer. From France, the birthplace of the Crêpe, it was brought to Romania where it was called "placinta," and from there on to Hungary under the new name of "palacsinta" finally landing in Austrian kitchens as Palatschinken.
Further influences on Austrian cuisine and other Austrian cultural aspects came from Judaism. East Galicians brought "gefilte Fish," a forerunner to the "gesulzter Karpfen" - jellied carp popular in Austrian gourmet establishments. People who know both dishes will easily recognize the transformation the original dish has undergone, though the principle of preparation and main ingredient have remained the same. "Beuschel" - the lung and upper intestines of the calf - is most likely also of Jewish origin, as according to Austria's three-toque gourmet chef Ewald Plachutta and gourmet columnist Christoph Wagner, who have both long studied Austria's culinary history.
Even Vienna's staple dessert, the Apfelstrudel, is an imported dish. It came to Vienna from Turkey by way of Hungary. Other Turkish imports include coffee, the "Kipferl" - a crescent-shaped pastry made from sweet dough - and countless spices. Corn, the South American staple was known as "Türkenweizen" - "Turkish wheat" - well into the 19th century and was made into "Türkensterz" - also called polenta in modern-day Austria. Ewald Plachutta would tell you that the right to the origin for polenta is unfairly attributed to the Italians, since it was being prepared in Styria at the same time.
The Italians did, however, inspire Viennese Tafelspitz with their stewed meat, whereas Serbia brought "Reisfleisch" - a risotto on a beef basis - and many grilled specialties. The true origin of the Wiener Schnitzelis yet unknown. A plausible explanation is that it derived from the Viennese "Backhendl" - deep fried chicken breaded with flour, egg and bread crumbs which has been prepared in this manner since the 16th century.
A Final Curiosity
Who would deny that snails are a French delicacy? Well, guess again. In the 18th century snails were almost an Austrian staple. They were made into snail dumplings, pâtés, salads, omelets and sausage and deep fried. FeeIing a little queezy? Then remember that there is a Styrian saying that promises higher male potency to men who take on the challenge of eating snails.