A holiday in an Austrian village is all about the outdoors life and local produce
Indians who try Austrian cuisine must learn to embrace unfamiliar and more subtle flavours
At first, a lot looked familiar. Forests of pine marched up the mountains, the upper portions of which were still snow clad. There were meadows, flowers and streams fed by fresh snowmelt—just as we had seen in Kashmir three years ago.
But the mountains had unfamiliar, Teutonic names: Warscheneck, Spitzmauer, Grosser Priel. The last was the highest at 2,515m, lower than the Kashmiri town of Gulmarg, which lies in a valley.
I was in upper Austria in Hinterstoder, a village of 900 known mainly for its ski slopes. It was summer, the sun was sharp—it was hotter than Bengaluru—and there was no shortage of adventure sport. That possibly is why I found no Indians anywhere. Europeans and Americans biked through the mountain roads or the high trails, walked on trails through lush meadows, hiked to the snow line or swam in the cool waters of glacial lakes.
My plan was to do nothing. There was no child, no wife and no work—household or office—although there was family. And where there is family, you cannot stick out. So, I hiked, swam and ate and did not regret a moment.
The daily plan was to have a big breakfast and take two ski-lifts up into a nearby mountain, then walk further on. Big breakfasts were the norm at our little, family-run hotel, run by a former ski champion and a staff of six—a cook and assistant, two waitresses, two cleaning women—who looked after more than 30 rooms, a restaurant and bar, made travel and taxi arrangements and kept us fed and happy.
The teenagers scrabbled up the mountainsides, we huffed our way up. There was a lake where you could walk on the water, or at least it looked like that (see picture). A spit of land split the lake and visitors delighted in walking across. A few simply jumped in, whooping with joy.
Lunch was packed sandwiches with salami or cheese; dessert was tomato, cucumber, melon and chips. Afternoons were spent at the most incredible swimming pool I had ever encountered: a pristine lake. Locals sunbathed on its grassy banks, kayaked or swam in its cool but not cold waters. The sky was blue, the air was pine-scented, and God was in his heaven. A swimming run to the lake’s far shore kept me as exercised as 80 laps in my Bengaluru pool.
I cannot tell you the name of the see (German for lake) because my uncle, who organized the reunion, has kept it secret for years. I mentioned the name to an Austrian gentleman who had been holidaying in Hinterstoder for years, but he had never heard of it. Should you ever reach Hinterstoder, maybe you will find it. If not, there are many like it.
With so much hiking and swimming, everyone was hungry by evening. Fortunately, dinner was at the civilized time of 6pm, and it was always worth the wait. There was venison goulash with rosemary noodles—shaped like boondi raita—fried fish and a large breaded veal cutlet called the wiener schnitzel. All were local specialities. The venison was fresh, meaning it came from a local deer and the fish was caught in either a see or a stream. This particular schnitzel is a Viennese classic that is allowed to use the prefix “weiner" only when it is made of veal.
Indians who try Austrian cuisine must learn to embrace unfamiliar and more subtle flavours. Obviously, much of the food was veal, beef, chicken and pork, the last of which is my favourite meat; it found its way on to my plate in Vienna, just before a concert featuring the works of the great local composer Wolfgang Mozart. The pork was roasted and soft, served on a bed of cabbage and accompanied by two bread dumplings specked with bacon. Meals in Austria arrived elegantly plated from sparsely staffed kitchens.
Hinterstoder’s chef and assistant were magnificent: Our family alone required about 20 plates. There was also a football team and a group of journalists at the hotel, so you can imagine how hard he—a 60-something man with a wild look, an apron askew and a shock of grey hair—worked: from 5am-10pm in season. Just a man in the mountains, conquering his daily mountain of food.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking and culinary experiences. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.