Sunday, December 21, 2014
INTREPIDLY, FROM BERLIN TO VENICE (Part 3): Cafe Culture in Vienna and the elusive Sacher Torte
During the latter part of our trip, we had an informal survey amongst our group (we were 16 persons, in total), regarding which cities we liked the best and the ones we liked the least. Surprisingly, Krakow was the runaway winner - being the number one choice of half the group (apparently, the early favorite, Prague, was well-liked, but did not live up fully to its lofty billing).
Facade of the Upper Belvedere
Also surprisingly, the place that was liked the least was. . . Vienna. Given the amount of time we were here (1 1/2 days), it was deemed "too big" and full of imperial structures that seemed to take forever to see.
I thought this insight was quite valid, as Vienna can be overwhelming even for dedicated culture vultures. Take your pick from the palaces - Schonbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Belvedere Palace (with the biggest collection of works by Gustav Klimt) - and more than 100 (!) museums, such as the ones in the MuseumsQuartier complex (Leopold, Museum of Modern Art, Architecture Centre, etc.), Albertina, etc. And we haven't even started yet on classical music and the various opera houses.
In fact, i was too 'cultured-out' during our second day that i didn't bother showing up to the Schonbrunn Palace. So my pre-booked online ticket Classic Pass worth EURO18.50 was wasted. Drat!
Vienna is known for its traditional coffee houses, where you can have your hot or cold coffees in a multitude of ways; and choose from a staggering variety of cakes and pastries as well. These people really take their sweets seriously.
In fact, the traditional coffee house is deeply ingrained into the fabric of locals' lives. Since October 2011, the "Viennese Coffee House Culture" was listed as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage" by the UNESCO. It described the Viennese coffee house "as a place where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill." (Here's more about it from our source, Wikipedia)
In practice, it is accepted for a coffee house patron to sit for hours, reading newspapers (and given modern times, avail of the free Wi-Fi), etc. The waiter will typically serve a glass of cold tap water, along with the order of coffee and/or cake; and during a long stay, he will often "bring additional water unrequested, with the idea to serve the guest with an exemplary sense of attention." [Ibid]
The most famous of these is Cafe Sacher, which bills itself as "a must for every visitor" to Vienna, being the inventor of the original Sacher Torte. This was invented by Franz Sacher back in 1832, and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret.
The Sacher Torte is essentially a chocolate cake, with chocolate icing on top and a thin layer of apricot jam beneath the icing. Nowadays, all coffee houses serve their respective version/recipe of this.
Unfortunately, as the following photos attest, hordes of tourists were waiting in line in front of Cafe Sacher.
Its foremost rival is Demel, started way back in 1786 and (rather haughtily) officially known as "K.u.K. (‘Imperial and Royal’) Court Confectionery Bakery Demel". Why so? Apparently, there was a long-running legal battle between Sacher and Demel regarding who had the rights to use the phrase "Original Sacher Torte".
According to the Vienna Unwrapped website:
[Franz Sacher's son] Eduard later perfected the recipe at his work place at Cafe Patisserie Demel, which supplied its cakes and desserts to the Imperial Court and also sold them to the broader public. In 1876, Eduard Sacher founded the Hotel Sacher and started selling the Sacher Torte there. Its success spread quickly, in Austria and overseas. In 1934, the Hotel Sacher went bankrupt and Eduard Sacher’s son Eduard (junior) started working for Demel like his father. He transferred the single ownership of an Eduard Sacher Torte to Demel. In 1938, when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to the Third Reich, the battle for the original Sacher cake started between Patisserie Demel and Hotel Sacher. It was sparked by the Hotel Sacher’s registration of the brand Original Sacher Torte and the street sale of the cake.
At the centre of almost 20 years of dispute was the rightful use of the brand, the question whether the original cake had a layer of apricot jam in the middle, and whether it was made with butter or margarine (I am not joking).
According to the jurisdiction of the High Court, only the Hotel Sacher is allowed to use the name Original Sacher Torte and the characteristic chocolate seal. Its cake has two layers of apricot jam. Patisserie Demel can use the name ‘Eduard Sacher Torte’. (It now sells it as Demel’s Sacher Torte). The Demel Sacher cake has one layer of apricot jam underneath the icing, and a triangular shaped seal.
Pretty intense, huh? Denied by the long line at Sacher, i walked over to nearby Demel - only to be met by another long queue of would-be patrons.
Undeterred, i walked a rather long distance to Cafe Central, which opened in 1876. You guessed it, there was yet another long queue!!!!!!! Argh!!!
Finally, after yet more walking, i ended up at the Cafe Griensteidl (founded 1847). It was, strangely, not very busy; and offered a fantastic location, right across one of the gates of the Hofburg Palace. If you sit at the outdoor veranda, it is the perfect place to take in the cool weather and people-watch.
And here was my long-awaited Sacher Torte!
My first impression was that it looked kinda dry. After taking a bite or two, it was indeed dry. Taste was okay, so-so. I was very disappointed, and couldn't understand what the fuss about this cake was all about. Boo.
On the other hand, maybe the versions of other coffee houses were better! And there is only one sure way to find out!!! ;-d
After spending an hour or so walking around the museum district, i dropped by Cafe Mozart, located right behind the Opera house, for a late afternoon snack. Look at the lovely building:
Here's their warm cream cheese strudel, with vanilla sauce. Looked lovely, and it tasted even lovelier!!
And i ordered the 'Mozart coffee' (double mocha topped with whipped cream), and it came with its own chocolate cream liquor (spelled as "liqueur") bottle, with Mozart's profile. Such a cute bottle!
Here's a close-up of the liquor bottle: (I brought it home, hahaha!!)
I think there's so many Viennese cafes that one has to live here for a month to be able to check them all out. Here's another one, which i heartily DO NOT recommend:
At the end of the day, all we need is love, actually. Here's the most famous kiss in the world for all readers of this blog! ;-D
Here's a list of the websites of some of the well-known coffee houses:
Cafe Sacher www.sacher.com
Cafe Central www.cafecentral-wien.at
Cafe Hawelka www.hawelka.at
Cafe Mozart www.cafe-mozart.at