We decided to take a short break away while we are staying in Austria. A number of factors came together resulting in our stay at Gasthof Botenwirt in Faistenau. As some of you will know I have my mother’s 1956 diary of her European travels and I am interested in revisiting places where she and my father stayed and noticing how things have changed. The closest to us that they got was one night in a guesthouse just out of Salzburg. But it is high summer and the Salzburg Festival so no room for us there. I recently read and enjoyed The Tobacconist by Robert Seethalter. The book is set in Vienna but the protagonist hails from Attersee in the Salzkammergut and that appealed too. Putting together Salzburg, Salzkammergut and somewhere accessible by train that we could do in a weekend, we ended up in Faistenau and it was the perfect destination.
Botenwirt is a small family run hotel with seven rooms and limited dining timeframes. Dinner is done by 8.30. I am known in my family for a dining timing error I nearly made in the Black Forest a few years ago, when I misunderstood our host. We were going out for a walk and I thought she was telling me dinner was at 7.00 p.m. “We will be back by 7.00”, I said cheerfully. Luckily my daughter’s German is better than mine. She was very firm with me. “Mum! Dinner finishes at 7.00!” This time I was careful to listen and be in the dining room in good time. The meals were primarily Austrian and I was looking forward to trying some new things. On our first evening I had Tiroler Gröstl and Peter went for the Eierschwammerl with Spätzle. Gröstl is boiled potatoes fried up with speck and onions, and flavoured with paprika and caraway. It is often served with a fried egg on top which I did when I made it back in Linz. Botenwirt served mine with a delicious vinegary slaw. If you are making this from scratch boil the quantity of potatoes you need and cool, then peel before proceeding. In Linz, when I am boiling potatoes for a meal I do all I have and save what I don’t need in an airtight container for salad. They peel and slice much easier the next day. Sauté about 100g speck or bacon lardons with a roughly chopped onion until the speck is golden and the onions soft. Set aside on a plate and add the potatoes chopped into smallish chunks. Fry them for about 10 minutes until golden then add 1 tsp caraway seeds and 1 tsp hot sweet paprika. Return the bacon and onion to the pan to heat through. Serve with parsley and, if you like, a fried egg on top. It was delicious in Faistenau on a warm evening with a cold glass of Grüner Veltliner and an Austrian style coleslaw. I imagine it would be very comforting on a winter’s evening in the alps with a glass of something warming.
One of the evenings at Faistenau was not steaming hot and Peter and I shared a bowl of soup. I had been keen to try the consommé with pancake stripes. Everywhere we eat there is a broth with pancake stripes on the menu. Yes – that is strips of pancake in the soup, not noodles. When I make this at home, I will think of it as pancake stripes. I also had goulash with semmelknödel. Austrian goulash is similar to Hungarian goulash but not the same. I assume that it has its heritage in the imperial Austria-Hungary. I love how food we associate with one country has connections with so many others. I always think of spätzle. I first had this in Würzburg where I was told it was a speciality of the town. Then everywhere we travelled after that right across to Strasbourg in France it appeared on every menu and was the speciality of that town. And it is served here as an Austrian dish. It would be interesting to group European regions by food specialisation rather than political boundaries. We might find more similarities than differences. In Austria goulash is served with semmelknödel which is a giant ball of bread. It is core to the culinary traditions of Austria, Bavaria, and the Czech Republic. It is stale bread mixed with flour, onion and herbs which is rolled into a large ball and boiled. It is also surprisingly delicious, if somewhat filling. It does a great job of soaking up the gravy from the goulash. I won’t be trying this one until I am at home in Wellington. Peter had the Tiroler Spinat Knödel which is basically the same thing finessed with spinach and Parmesan. Also delicious.
The best thing about Botenwirt among many great things was breakfast. Frühstück was served between the civilised hours of 8.00 a.m. and 9.30 so no rushing required. We ate in the dining room rather than outside and our table was set with a card with our name. We felt expected. Our host greeted us, offered coffee and asked if we wanted eggs. The soft boiled eggs were cooked to perfection and it was worth coming just for those. A sideboard was set up with all the options including a refrigerated bain-marie for the yoghurt and meat and cheese. Everything was local and organic and where practical home made. There was home-made elderflower cordial, basic muesli with fruit and delicious home-made yoghurt. There was meat and cheese and vegetables, and a delicious fresh cheese/ chives spread. There were all the bread rolls plus home-made jam and local honey. It was all fresh and delicious.
The Salzkammergut is very picturesque. There are mountains and lakes and green fields with herds of cattle, if a group of six cows constitutes a herd. It could be described as picture postcard, but it is much more than Instagram ready scenery. It is evident when you walk around the towns and villages and lakes that this is where Austrian people live their lives and, in summer, holiday with their families. It just felt like summer and I would love to return in the cold months and compare the winter landscape. I felt that families were making the most of the outdoors because in winter everything will happen indoors expect maybe for skiing. I’d love to eat my gröstl by a fire looking out at the snow covered hills. Perhaps we’ll do that.