Hallelujah Spaghetti Carbonara

I have finally perfected the glory that is a truly delicious carbonara.

All of these years I have been operating under the misconception that a carbonara is rife with milk, cream, butter, insert lactose-intolerant nightmare here…but no, it’s actually much simpler than that. In fact, a carbonara IS simple. There are very few ingredients, very few steps, and it takes very few minutes to scarf it up.

I just spent a long weekend in Rome, eating my way through the city, and something that became apparent to me on my fourth dish of spaghetti carbonara in two days was the color: a Roman carbonara is a rich yellow bordering on orange. American-style carbonara, in comparison, is a pale, lunar white. Now I know why: a Roman carbonara features egg yolks and an American carbonara piles on the cream. Both can be delicious but for the religious experience, follow this recipe (double the ingredients per additional portion) and you will find yourself on the divine road to carbonara:

The real deal recipe calls for guanciale – pork cheek – but as I couldn’t find it here in Austria, I resorted to a Tiroler Speck which crisps similarly in the pan while retaining a luxurious give. Whatever you choose to use (the American go-to would be pancetta), dice it and fry it up in its own fat for approximately five minutes. At the same time, mix two eggs yolks with a quarter cup of shredded Peco Romano (a mild sheep’s cheese that melts like a dream) at the bottom of a bowl. Get your water boiling and add some salt – the salt in the water and in the meat will be the only seasoning that you need! Once you pop your spaghetti into the boiling water, you can remove the meat from the heat so that it can cool a bit. I let my spaghetti boil for approximately six minutes. Strain it and then pour the boiling hot spaghetti into the bowl with the yolks and cheese and mix vigorously – you’ve got to coat that spaghetti! – for a good one to two minutes until you can see – and most importantly hear – the sauce come together into a creamy consistency. Pop in the meat and continue mixing.

Plate.

Devour.


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Say thank you to Rome.

 

Mauthausen Memorial

I recently visited the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp memorial in Upper Austria (closer to Linz than Vienna). The experience was both surreal and highly educational – I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the history and characteristics of national socialism in Austria during World War II. I also recommend taking a tour with one of the very knowledgeable tour guides – Martin, my extremely well-spoken tour guide, was able to explain the camp and its functions in great detail during a two-hour tour.

Warning: the tour is emotionally and physically exhausting but well worth it.

From its inception in 1938 until its close in 1945, Mauthausen-Gusen was one of the largest and most lucrative concentration camp complexes within the Nazi network. Situated upon a quarry, prisoners were required to transport 16 stones per day. The prisoners were considered to be political enemies of the Third Reich. The stones – which often weighed more than the starving prisoners who carried them up the “Stairs of Death” – were used to build the camp itself as well as infrastructure within Austria and beyond (the Nibelungen Bridge in Linz, for example).

Today, the grounds of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp are sterile and well-kempt. The paths leading from gate, to grounds, to barracks, to the spartan museum inside are quiet.

I have two distinct impressions having visited the concentration camp memorial. Martin, my tour guide, routinely emphasized that the concentration camp was not hidden or secret. Indeed, it sits upon the crest of a hill in plain sight of the villages that surround it. Similarly, the soccer field, swimming pool, and cinema constructed for the camp guards in their leisure time served as local attractions as well.  This naturally – and controversially – implies that the villagers were complicit in the national socialist campaigns that purged, tortured, starved, and killed so many by virtue of their silence/tacit acceptance/lack of protest.

Secondly, a memorial park in the former camp guard barracks is quite moving. National monuments have been erected by those governments whose people were targeted by the Nazi regime and sentenced to imprisonment at Mauthausen. Though the majority of prisoners were not Jewish (many were Communists), the Jewish tradition of placing stones on the graves of the deceased has taken hold in the memorial park where many of the monuments are in fact adorned with small stones picked from the path underfoot.

Foto (11)Pictured above is the East German memorial. It is supposed to represent both the tree of life and the menorah. I was a bit surprised to see such a plain reference to Jewish culture considering that the prisoners of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex were not exclusively Jewish. The Dutch memorial located to the left of the East German memorial is a small structure which one can enter to read the names of the Dutch prisoners who perished at the camp – space for additional names has been left should they be revealed. The Hungarian memorial is small in comparison and depicts peasants with their fists raised in the air – in triumph? in protest? The most imposing of the national monuments was contributed in memory of the many Soviets – the overwhelming majority – who perished in the camp.

Exiting the camp, one is led through an interactive museum and series of installations. The myriad video and audio clips sourced from interviews with prisoners, the children of prisoners, guards, the wives of guards, villagers, etc are incredible sources of first-hand information. The final installation as one exits the museum is wildly overwhelming – the name of each prisoner who perished there has been etched into a display. The names are back lit and glow in the otherwise dimly lit room. Essentially, you are adrift in a sea of names and swimming through them is slow-going.

I am encouraged to see that the memorial is being preserved. While many would rather see this past forgotten, I believe it is critical that it remain a part of the proverbial archive. Austria is not well known for dealing with its role in World War II. While many would like to avoid this kind of confrontation, it becomes necessary in the face of preferred ignorance. I fear that these kinds of memorials may perpetuate prejudice, hate, and discrimination precisely because they are so confrontational but it is a risk we must take because the alternative is even bleaker. The hope is that by investing in our shared past, we may cultivate a more caring, humane future.

 

A Visit to the Salt Grotto

What I think of when I think of a salt grotto:

1) a holistic cure for a common ailment in Renaissance Italy
2) a deep, cavernous setting of a heart-rending opera where the heroine’s blood blooms across the jagged daggers of salt
3) a hidden rendezvous for daring lovers secreted away between the blushing crystals
4) the preferred venue of the philosophers of Ancient Greece
5) a retreat in the 12th district of modern-day Vienna

warning: one of these things is not the like the others.

The Salzgrotte Meereskristall is completely unassuming. Just off of the main artery that feeds into the busy Wien Meidling train station, the salt grotto looks downright out of place on Tanbruckgasse. Looks, however, can be deceiving.

Entering the reception room, I was met with genuine warmth -the temperature in the waiting area was slightly humid and very relaxing as is the soothing music, artful arrangement of furniture, and calm lighting. Entering the salt grotto was a surprise. Behind a closed door in this modern place of business is a cavernous space that invites curiosity and relaxation. The floor is covered in loose salt crystals that crunch under your feet. The walls are constructed of large blocks of slightly pinkish salt that are smooth and cool to the touch. In fact, the entire room is quite cool – the blankets that are hung on the lounge chairs are thoughtful and welcome as is the ability to stretch out and fall peacefully into a wakeful dream or a sweet sleep.

Upon entering the salt grotto, the door closes behind you. The white lights are dimmed and replaced by an alternating sequence of cool, green lights followed by deep blue lights that seem to pulse. Instrumental music provides a soundtrack for the 45 minute session.

Stretching out on the lounge chair, I covered myself with a blanket and shut my eyes. I breathed deeply and concentrated on my breath. I let my thoughts run wild and then I returned to concentration. I stopped biting my cheeks. I stopped listening to the music. 45 minutes never went by so quickly. I literally felt as if I was in a different universe – returning to the streets of the 12th district was something of a shock after 45 minutes of reflection and deep blue calm.

Why does one go to a salt grotto you ask? There are many benefits, among them: increased blood circulation, calming of irritated skin and allergies, alleviation of blocked airway passages, and general relaxation and stress reduction. I went to relax because exam week is coming and I’ve nearly gnawed my cheeks raw – a terrible habit that I am well aware of and yet can’t seem to shake.

The experience was indeed calming. I felt peaceful and I enjoyed the quiet. The salt grotto is a sanctuary. Health benefits aside, it offers a moment away from the city with all of its noises and challenges and speed and bruskness. Slowing down and breathing deeply seem like obvious ways to restore inner peace and ward off toxic behavior. Unfortunately, we don’t always find the time or the place to exercise such common sense and even if we do, a salt grotto isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind.

So be daring and travel back in time – I highly recommend a visit to the Salzgrotte Meereskristall though I don’t know if I will make it a routine.

Kornat

Growing up on the Atlantic has spoiled me in many ways. I sleep best close to the ocean where I can hear the waves and smell the salt in the air. I played in tide pools, surfed, and sailed as a kid and will take the shocking cold of the Atlantic over the tepid, chlorine waters of a pool any day. The richest sunsets are followed by the starriest night skies at the end of the earth. And there is nothing like fresh seafood straight from the source.

In sweet little landlocked Austria fresh seafood is a bit harder to come by and the prices are usually quite high. I find that I have many doubts concerning the freshness of the seafood. There are a handful of positively reviewed seafood restaurants but as they pale in comparison to standard Austrian fare, I wonder how well these restaurants do and if they can afford to serve the freshest catch.

A meal at Kornat recently put my fears to rest. Kornat is a fish restaurant located just off of Schwedenplatz that imports its fare from the Dalmatian Coast. The ambiance is refined and the food is exquisite. The catch of the day is proudly displayed on beds of ice in the window from which the fish is procured and brought to the table for approval before being prepared in a glass-plated kitchen that invites peeking.

I shared an appetizer of octopus salad, tuna tartar, and swordfish carpaccio to begin the meal. The portions were gracious and the texture and flavor of the food was rich and delicious. My main course was an order of mussels prepared in a white wine broth and served with grilled bread. The sauce was delicate and perfectly complimented the slight saltiness of the mussels which were all open and of decent size. My dining partner enjoyed the grilled calamari which was phenomenal, avoiding the pitfalls of rubbery texture and tastelessness that often befall it – even the side dish of potatoes was particularly well seasoned and cooked.

The mark of a truly delectable meal, there is no evidence of it because I couldn’t wait long enough to take a picture before savoring every last bite!

Kornat is a very special restaurant that calls for very special occasions –  a far cry from the typical East Coast honest roadside fare that I grew up with – but its nonetheless a relief to know that delicious seafood is available in Vienna.

Kornat
Marc Aurel Strasse 8
1010 Vienna
http://www.kornat.at/

Restaurant Week Comes to Vienna!

Restaurant Week has become an institution in cities all over the world. I had my first Restaurant Week experience many moons ago in Burlington, Vermont and I am very happy to see that the sentiment is shared across oceans – particularly in a city like Vienna where the culinary delights abound. Restaurant Week is simply a fun way to drum up interest and business – customers are offered speciality menus at reduced prices in order to encourage culinary exploration and fine dining. This year’s Restaurant Week features a wide variety of restaurants that range from the Austrian kitchen to the Dalmatian coast and beyond – and I am going to get mine! First on the list is Die Winzerei located in Grinzing so expect a resturant review in the weeks to come! A 3- course lunch for the price of 19,90 or a 3-course dinner for 29,90? Why not both?! Check out restaurantwoche.at to learn more about participating restaurants and make your Restaurant Week reservations for February 15 – February 25! Bon appetit! Mahlzeit!

Ball Season Is Upon Us

Vienna is the waltzing capital of the world and ball season has arrived in full swing! I am amazed at the array of different balls there are to attend: provincial balls like Der Steirerball (Styria), university balls including one at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna!, professional balls like the Zuckerbaeckerball (Baker’s Ball – yum!), alternatives to the high society Opernball like the Rosenball (yes, please!), and of course the ill-famed Akademikerball (accompanied by demonstrations – and rightly so).

Vienna is dancing on air and yet, in this city of glamorous engagements, I cannot find an appropriate and affordable ball gown. The dress code is quite strict – men and women are expected to arrive in black tie although Austrian national costume (Tracht) is also acceptable on many occasions. I’ve been scouring the city for weeks for a dress but I’ve come up dry. In fact, I’m amazed at the abundance of cheap dress shops. At one store with astronomical prices I was shocked to see that the dresses were not hemmed and the fabric was already stripping! At the other end of the spectrum, I have found beautiful dresses in boutique shops like this one for the fair price of an arm and a leg:

dress

Ideally I’d like to find something somewhere in the middle – a dress that is both hemmed and beautiful but that doesn’t break the bank. For ladies on the lookout, Peek & Cloppenburg seems to be the best bet. Others claim to have had success with online shopping but I remain skeptical as sizing is not an exact science. For now I will content myself with dreaming…and drooling outside of the boutiques.

 

Snowy With A Chance of Meatballs

Winter has finally arrived in Vienna and the cold drafts in my apartment have sent me scurrying to the kitchen for warmth! This time I tried my hand at an old classic – spaghetti and meatballs. I have only tried to prepare meatballs once before and the results were not overwhelmingly delicious which is why there is no evidence of the experiment here on Vienna Eat World. The recipe-that-shall-not-be-named called for too many breadcrumbs and baking the meatballs in the oven which resulted in an overly dry, mealy consistency. This recipe, however, employs a quick fry in the pan + crushed tomatoes and a short simmer to achieve a delicate, juicy meatball and a homemade sauce to boot!

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I mixed together approximately 1/4 cup of grated parmesan, 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, 1 clove of minced garlic, and one large egg. I then added 3/4 of a pound of ground beef and a 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs to the wet mixture. You could add a dash of salt and pepper to the works but I did not because I salt the water I cook with (now is a good time to ready the pot) and didn’t want to go overboard like I usually do. Once the meatballs have been formed (I made 10 small-ish meatballs), add them to a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. I let them brown on each side which took about 7 minutes, flipping them 2 to 3 times to avoid burning them. Once you have achieved a good color, add a can of crushed tomatoes to the pan and let simmer for 10 – 15 minutes. I did add a bit of salt and pepper to the sauce because otherwise it can be bland but the flavors in the meatballs really open up while cooking which contributes to a full-bodied, rich flavor. Now plate the perfectly-timed spaghetti and serve!

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This recipe couldn’t be simpler and it is also very budget-friendly. As I generally have eggs, olive oil, salt, pepper, parmesan, and bread crumbs on hand I only had to buy the meat, crushed tomatoes, and parsley which amounted to roughly 6 dollars and made enough to feed four (I froze the leftovers). The meal was very filling. It is hearty, savory, and delicious – the very definition of comfort food – and it is so easy to make that it would be a shame not to. Enjoy!

Kaffeefabrik

Lately I’ve been drinking coffee. It seems appropriate in Vienna where coffee is revered, however, I haven’t been drinking coffee like a true Viennese. Instead, I’ve been grabbing it on the go to stay awake during long days and I think I may be insulting the city with my paper cups and sprinkle of brown sugar.

Coffee Cup Isolated

Vienna is a city of refined pleasures and high culture. The hotbed of intellectual and cultural activity has historically been the cafe also known as the coffee house and it is the continued symbol of Austrian imperial greatness and fashion.

Legend has it that coffee entered the Viennese social scene in 1683 on the heels of the second Turkish seige on the city. Successfully driven out  by the Polish-Habsburg army, the Turkish invaders left their bags of coffee beans behind in their haste. Consequently, the first coffee house opened its doors in 1685 and a new tradition was born in the Imperial City.

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How many coffee houses and cafes does Vienna have? Too many to count – though it sounds like a fun challenge. Among the most notable are Cafe Hawelka opened in 1939 in the first district; Cafe Central in operation since 1876 also in the first district; Cafe Schwarzenberg on the Ringstrasse since 1861; and Cafe Sperl, an institution since 1880, in the sixth district.

For the price of a single cup of coffee, Viennese cafes and coffee houses offer respite for intellectuals, politicians, aristocrats, and civilians alike. In the 19th century the coffee houses of Vienna attracted  the likes of Karl Kraus, Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Gustav Klimt, Adolf Hitler, and Sigmund Freud to name a few. Today, the coffee houses of Vienna serve celebrities, regulars, and tourists alike making it a perfect venue for people-watching at its finest.

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A single cup of coffee sounds much simpler than it is in Vienna – care for a Wiener Melange? How about a Verlaengerter? Or perhaps you are in the mood for an Einspaenner? Vienna takes pride in a coffee tradition that rivals the institutions that house it. While trendy espresso bars erupt all over the city in the fashion of George Clooney’s Nespresso ads, the Viennese coffee houses remain the living arbiters of age-old tradition.

In a world of to-go cups, Vienna has relented and made way for some concessions. One of these is the Kaffeefabrik , a small coffee house in the 4th district that is less conducive to sitting and more conducive to stopping by. The name is deceiving – the Kaffeefabrik is not a nameless, faceless factory churning out product for the caffeine-crazed among us. The baristas at Kaffeefabrik take pride in their product; each drink is prepared with care and quality. Drinking coffee at the Kaffeefabrik, however, is not an event; for some it will be a necessity and for others, a pleasure, but it is a distinctly different experience than traditional Viennese cafe culture.

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I’ve had the pleasure of sidling into one of these cafes, parting the heavy velvet curtain as I step into a living portrait of Viennese daily life. The waiters are still primarily men and are visibly proud of the tradition they have inherited, balancing trays with elegance and ease as they sidestep errant strollers and backpacks that now pepper the narrow spaces between table and chair. These days the patronage is quite colorful, young families and students nestle between dogged gentleman and elegantly appointed women. Amidst the low din, a white noise conducive to introspective newspaper reading and contemplation, I can’t help but wonder…did Einstein ever take his coffee to go?

Images from http://www.palaisevents.at/en/cafecentral.html and Google Images