CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder and Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
We arrived in Austria on January 24, 1985, after a long and exhausting train journey through 12 countries. My wife and I were very happy to have a well deserved break from the day and night train in the middle of one of the worst European winters. After a long good night’s sleep, we were ready to explore a snowy Vienna. After our first visit to Austria three years ago, Vienna had become one of our favorite cities.
Between their visits to our homes in Sri Lanka and England, and our visits to Austria, this was the sixth time we had vacationed with our dear Austrian friends, Biggi and Wolfgang Fernau. They had taken a week’s vacation to accommodate us. Biggi was a beauty consultant for Estée Lauder companies and Wolfgang was an engineer running his own lucrative business, specializing in repairing historic buildings. They both managed to strike a good balance between work and play and were world travelers who inspired me to do the same.
In 1985, out of a total Austrian population of 7.5 million, 20% or 1.5 million lived in Vienna. Life in Vienna is immersed in culture and the arts. It has a strong heritage for producing outstanding classical music and drama. The city is associated with some of the most monumental figures in the world of classical music, as well as the visual arts: Mozart, Beethoven and Klimt, to name but a few.
As our unofficial tour guide, Biggi, said: “We are planning to have meals with some of our Viennese friends that you met in 1982. We will also take you to visit tourist attractions as well as other places popular with locals. Would you like to revisit one of the many attractions you visited in Austria in 1982? I said, “Yes, Schönbrunn Palace, one more time, please.”
Our tour plan was changed and we were taken the next day to Schönbrunn Palace with 1,441 rooms. It is the main summer residence of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, which was once one of the most important royal houses in Europe. For me, a trip to Vienna is not complete without a visit to Schönbrunn. Covered in snow, it was even more beautiful than before. We then had quick visits to the National Opera, National Library, City Hall and the famous Spanish Riding School. We walked past famous museums and concert halls.
“Now it’s time for a light Austrian snack in the afternoon. How about the Heiner Coffee Shop in Kärntner Strasse? Didn’t you like this place last time?” Biggi asked. Another key feature contributing to the city’s well-being is the café culture.Vienna’s cafés are popular institutions for locals and tourists alike to provide a space to discuss the day’s events in a relaxed and quaint environment. musicians, artists, intellectuals and philosophers in the 19th century, they earned a reputation as cultural centers where great minds congregate and share concepts, ideas and creations.
L Heiner cafe is famous for its open sandwiches, in addition to coffee and Austrian pie. Sitting there and waiting for our food and drinks, my wife asked, “What’s the difference between a cake and a torte?”, I explained to her that the torte popular in Austria is a type of rich chocolate cake that is denser than the usual. sponge cake. Wolf then gave an interesting mini-lecture on the history of the famous Sachertorte which was created by pastry chef Franz Sacher in 1832 when he was only 16 as an apprentice chef. “There are two Viennese cafes that claim to serve Sachertorte made with Franz Sacher’s original recipe. Over the next few days we will take you to both. Wolf announced. He then said, “you should decide which version is better!”
In search of the best chocolate cake in the world
Coming out of the cafe, we came across chef Kapila Ratnayake and his wife Gayani. Kapila was five years my junior at the hotel school in Ceylon. A few years after working at Hotel Ceysands as executive chef, Kapila held the same position. In 1985, Kapila and Gayani were living and working in Switzerland and vacationing in Vienna. “We came here mainly to taste the original Sachertorte at the famous Hotel Sacher patisserie. Earlier, I checked that box off my bucket list,” Kapila told us. I became more excited about our next two visits to the iconic cafes, but had to wait patiently for two days. The Sachertorte and his other original recipes had made Franz Sacher famous and successful all over the world. He had operated several high profile cafes and restaurants. The classic Sachertorte is made with two layers of chocolate cake, apricot jams and a glossy chocolate frosting finish and served with Schlag (a light, unsweetened whipped cream). It is widely considered the most famous chocolate cake of all time.
Demel, Vienna’s most famous pastry and chocolate factory founded in 1786 and the Hotel Sacher, founded in 1876 by a branch of the same Sacher family, challenged in court over who had the right to call their product the “real” Sachertorte. The slight differences between the two establishments’ versions were in the placement of the apricot jam and a seal on top. After seven years of legal battles, the dispute was finally resolved in 1963. The courts ruled in favor of the Hotel Sacher. Both parties have agreed that Hotel Sacher uses the term “The Original Sachertorte” and that Demel uses a triangular seal to differentiate itself.
We visited Demel (colloquially der Demel) for a light mid-afternoon meal the following day. We noticed that Demel called their version of the pie the “Ur-Sachertorte” (the very first version!). Finishing our meal, Biggi told us that Demel has always been a favorite haunt of aristocracy and bourgeoisie, since the glorious days of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. “When the seasons changed and the air turned chilly, any trendy woman was expected to stop by Demel and order a hot chocolate,” Biggi explained. She then ordered two hot chocolates for her and my wife on a cold winter’s day which was perfectly fine.
For me, as a hotelier, the visit to the famous five-star Hotel Sacher was memorable. The hotel was founded at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the son of Franz Sacher and the famous restaurateur Eduard Sacher. As a former chef, tasting the original version of Sachertorte at the hotel’s Café Sacher was even more memorable. The reputation, the traditions, the atmosphere, the stories and simply the quality of the products and the service enriched our pleasant afternoon. Café Sacher is a must experience for a tourist in Vienna.
Gastronomic adventures in Vienna
After three days of afternoons indulging in the finest light meals in Viennese finest cafes, Wolf and Biggi presented us with a series of gourmet lunches and dinners with their friends. At the famous 22-room Gasthaus zum Roten Hahn in the Vienna Woods by the Danube, we had a traditional Austrian feast. This included Germknödel (popular Viennese yeast dumplings filled with plum butter).
One Sunday afternoon, Biggi announced, “Let’s go enjoy Heuriger!” When we inquired about the details, she explained that “Heuriger is the Viennese word for a wine tavern serving the young wines of the current year.” We drove for 30 minutes to reach Perchtoldsdorf where there were many charming little rustic winegrowers’ wooden cabins. Trying the freshest wines straight from the makers was a refreshing experience. We loved their apple strudel, one of the most popular treats in any traditional Viennese cafe. This iconic dessert is considered by many to be Austria’s national dish, the recipe for which dates back to 1697 and survives today in a handwritten cookbook in Vienna’s town hall library. As recommended by Wolf, we had mulled red wine with Apple Strudel.
One evening we were invited to a fondue party at a friend’s house. After the party, Wolf said, “Tomorrow let’s try some non-Austrian home-cooked food for dinner.” I offered to do a Sri Lankan dinner. “No, Chandi. Let’s prepare something other than Sri Lankan food! Biggi insisted. Knowing how much they love Sri Lankan food, I was surprised. We then settled for an international menu including three Chinese dishes prepared by me, a Hungarian goulash prepared by Wolf and a green salad and a Czechoslovakian potato salad prepared by Biggi. To source the ingredients for my Chinese dishes, I was taken to Naschmarkt, Vienna’s most well-known market, which had more than 100 stalls and restaurants offering colorful culinary offerings from around the world. We served Austrian wine and Ceylon tea with dinner. We had a great time cooking, chatting, drinking and eating, while listening to Austrian classical music.
The next day, my mother-in-law left London to join us in Vienna. After he arrived, Biggi said, “Get ready. We’ll go to the restaurant for a surprise dinner! It was indeed a surprise. They took us to a very good Sri Lankan restaurant in Vienna. “Time for Egg Hoppers and Lunu Miris!” Wolf joked. Colombo Hoppers was a well established restaurant in Vienna.
Continued in next week’s article: