June 2008


For a variety of reasons, mostly of the book-keeping variety, I decided to move my cookbook related pages to a separate blog. Link provided in the roster. Should make for easier recipe-hunting, for readers who may be interested.

I stepped into the hallways of the University of Vienna today and promptly made a gawking idiot of myself. I thought that the main campus building of AUC — the 19th century palace that the University bought and took over in 1919 was cool with its traditional Islamic architecture and fixtures, and of course being at Yale, I thought I was spoiled for the impressive in libraries, but I’ve never, never been in as imposing a hallway as the main campus here. It seems to have rolled the immensity and grandeur of the pharaonic palaces and gothic churches into one structure and still not seem hokey overdone. The arrangement of the staircases also put me in mind of the sets of the Harry Potter movies — except that they don’t move around … or might they???

The library reading room, where I’m sitting right now, has a comforting familiarity with rows of tables with lamps and students, folks with books and notebooks (both of the traditional and digital varieties), and the book-lined walls. I feel right at home — gosh I really am a nerd aren’t I? Oh well, there’s virtue in knowing oneself and being comfortable with it I guess. Bis spater…

Hot dogs are not my favorite edible item. My various friends would attest to that. Seetha especially, might have a few memories in this particular regard, and Charu, who finds my avoidance of Mickey D’s irritating, would have even more choice remarks. But given adequate evidence to the contrary, I’ve always given in gracefully, and never has there been a time for a retraction than after my first wurst experience in Vienna. Well, not a full blown retraction, since I’m still not a fan of the all-American hot dog, but I can no longer turn up my nose at these creations. Worse — I’ll just be the wurst snob and only turn up my nose at some of them 😉 (The inspiration for this visit came from a guidebook believe it or not – one called “Only in Vienna” by a guy Duncan Smith, which I got at a museum bookshop).

Wurst is the ultimate Viennese street food, available in little kiosks or hot-dog stands scattered thoughtfully all over town. No pale, boiled pieces of generic meat here to act as vehicles for ketchup, relish and mustard. Well actually they might be in existence too (called frankfurters here and wiener’s in Frankfurt – go figure), but the sheer variety of würstel (plural for wurst) in any given stand, makes this a gourmet-on-the-go experience. Hot-dogs come grilled or boiled, and the thing that sets them apart from their ball park counterparts is that you can actually see the meat. My choice was the “spicy” wurst (obviously), which if I’m not mistaken is a Hungarian hot-dog also called a debreziner. It’s served, as all hot dogs are, in bread with condiments, but there’s an interesting difference. The bread is not sliced, but rather comes prepped with a hollowed out core into which the guy (or woman) at the stand, squirts in your requested condiments (spicy mustard in my case) and then slides in the wurst. I’ll post updates on the different varieties as and when I try them out…

Two weeks and two days since I arrived here in Vienna to spend my summer here, and this is my first blog entry on this beautiful city that I’ve wanted to visit for many a year now. I haven’t been waltzing yet in this city that invented or at least made famous this beautiful dance (which, according my favorite Georgette Heyer novels, caused high scandal in Regency England – Imagine! Ladies exposing their ankles!! How shocking!), but somehow after a small sampling of what the city has to offer I feel like I have been on a waltz around this grand ballroom of a city. I’ve roamed some Austrian palaces – Belvedere, the Palais Coburg (courtesy of Ravi Khanna), and the Albertine – and their grounds, heard Mozart’s Requiem performed at Karlskirche , flitted with the butterflies at the Burggarten, nibbled bites of open sandwiches at the famed Black Camel’s buffet, and scarfed down hot-dogs from wurst-stands, and even watched a couple of Fußball matches (ok this does not sound classical but in the summer of 2008 the Eurocup is the reason most people have come to Vienna). So anyway, this whirlwind of activity makes the dance metaphor just right (and its alliterative to boot).

Somehow the city has eluded me until now, but now finally I’ve made it!! And in such style! Thanks to the incredible kindness and hospitality of Marie-Therese Leger, the mother of Sebastien (and mother-in-law of Vittoria), not only am I here at last but here in a lovely apartment, right in the heart of the city. Truly they’ve given me the schussel to Vienna. Seconds away from the celebrated Karlsplatz and scant minutes away from the Belvedere Palace, could I ask for anything more? Well romance maybe, but right now I feel as though the city itself is the romance. A toast then, to the good life – Prosit!


Had folks from the university over for dinner the week before exams and moving where we consumed the wines from Emilio’s vineyard, which brought on a wave of nostalgia and reminder that I really must update my chronicles with the foodie and travel accounts. Both from my spring break in Italy and my Thanksgiving sojourn in Upper Egypt. Else it will be the next year’s rounds of those holidays before I know it, and I’ll have more chronicles on backlog – insh’allah. Right now I’m working on two of these accounts on parallel streams …make that three with summer in Vienna well underway as well.

Anyway, Emilio is the owner of a small boutique vineyard, Il Pratello, just outside a small village called Modigliana.

(Click on picture to link to the vineyard’s website)

Modigliana, by the way, is not as I thought, the birth place of the artist Modigliani (whose impressionism runs to strange and to me, disturbing iris-less blue eyes) but may well have been the place from which he took his name as he &r his Jewish family wandered through the Italian countryside. According to our second hosts that day (of the Ravvigiolo cheese, ham, jams and chocolate liqueur) this practice was common among Jews to escape anti-Semitism.
But first, about Emilio and our Il Pratello experience. He is definitely one of those people who would fit into the category of the Maylesque characters I mentioned in my previous post. Barely spoke a word of English (don’t be fooled by the slick website) but managed to entertain and inform us about his wines anyway.

Despite our minimal common linguistic abilities however, we had a great time and managed to communicate the important details to one another. Food, wine and an appreciation thereof form a universal language, I think.

Here’s a picture of the man himself at the entrance of his cellars.

And here he is, having driven us out to survey the land that he’s lord of…

Of all our spectacular meals in Italy – and there were many of those – the lunch at Emilio’s farm consistently ranked up top on both our (especially Shraddha’s) lists. Beginning with the charming table set for two (farmhands and owners came in and out of the same dining room to eat at a separate table), and ending with the most spectacular dessert of my entire trip, virtually everything we were served, including the many different wines, came from Il Pratello’s own land. We did it complete justice — we ate every morsel and drank every drop!

Table for two…

Il Menu e dei Vini

Antipasti

(served in two courses)

Herbed egg and cheese pinwheels
Wild greens frittata with a small skewer (toothpick) of grilled veges – zucchini and melanzana.

The wine: A refreshing glass of his Morana

Primo Piatto

Homemade stuffed pasta with fresh herbs and butter

The wine: We graduated to a red now, a very nice blend of grapes, Il Casetto.

Secondi

Rabbit (Coniglio) and braised fennel (finocchio). If I”m not mistaken a second pasta — a mixture of green and yellow linguini also accompanied this dish.

The wine: Mantignano, a fabulous celebration of the Sangiovese grape. This one was a keeper — both Shraddha and I bought a bottle each.

Il dolce

Fresh strawberries marinated in dessert wine and more of said wine.

The wine: Becugiano; Wow ! That one word describes it all. Consumed a lot of this one, both in the bowl and in the glass, and bought a bottle which was demolished in one evening on Cairo.

Sated and tipsy after all this, we went with Emilio, his daughter and their dog, out to the vineyards where the sheer joy of existence (and not the wine) sent transported Shraddha to prostrate herself on the hillside (she has the picture I don’t).

A quick tour of the cellar, presses and other chambers dedicated to the winemaker’s craft. Further celebrations of the craft followed at the time of leavetaking for not only did we leave with our new purchases of wine (Me two and her three) but also all the half empty bottles from our meal, which we shared with the Mini family later that night. Silvio, I might add, enjoyed the Becugiano as much as I had earlier in the day.