“Kaffehaus” was the name of a book I picked up many years ago as my armchair culinary journey into the desserts from the classic cafes of Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Filled with history, pictures and delectable pastries, it became my go to resource for kitchen experiments long before I stepped foot in the city of Vienna.
And when I finally got to the city, the desserts and cafe names were imprinted in my memory, a sort of must do list that I had lusted after for many years. For the last several years, I have been fortunate enough to head to this city every spring and on each trip at least one afternoon is dedicated to sampling the desserts and coffees this city has become synonymous with.
On my last trip there, an Italian and Indian American (aka a friend and I) teamed up to cover a few cafes pre-dinner and one right after. The first stop was Cafe Central, an architectural beauty that once housed the stock exchange and now serving as the backdrop for some amazing food and conversation. As we were waiting to be seated, we took in the sights and smells and quickly recollected that this very location had been a gathering spot for Viennese intellectuals and some renowned world names including Sigmund Freud, Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler. Additionally, the cafe was supposedly the inspiration for The Chestnut Tree in George Orwell’s novel 1984. I hate cafes for the mental agony they put you through. There you are salivating over the most delectable treats and a cafe hopping experience implies that you simply cannot indulge too much at one place. I selected a beautiful work of art commonly known as the Dobos Torte with a cup of coffee. As I slowly savored the torte, trying to identify each flavor in its complex layers, we watched the young and old, the smiling and the intense, the regulars and tourists all unified by their joy at partaking something so delectable. We talked and laughed about families, spousal tiffs and of course had to make a very serious decision…..which cafe would we we go to next.
Our next stop was Cafe Demel. We ordered Fragilite and a liqueur laced coffee that sent the taste buds on a different journey. An extremely fragile dessert (thin layers of nut dough with a light chocolate cream) with a heavier coffee was a perfect combination. This time our conversation centered around work, colleagues and politics. People watching was of course inherent to the cafe experience and while I was focused on the kaleidoscope of people, my colleague’s focus was on the attractive Viennese women who patronized the cafe:)
Our last stop of the evening occurred close to midnight at the infamous Sacher Cafe, a place I had frequented each year for the Sacher Torte and hot chocolate. Given that we had just had a long Hungarian dinner (goulash being the lone option for the sole vegetarian) at a small place near Stefanplatz, our stomach did not need another morsel of food. But, the thought of leaving Vienna without completing an annual tradition did not seem right and so we walked slowly towards the Sacher Cafe and finished our hot chocolate and torte before heading back to the hotel.
The web, friends, food magazines, etc. all herald the Viennese cafe hopping experience as something one must do. And I am certainly on that bandwagon, albeit fortunate enough to break down this must do culinary journey into bite size pieces spread over several years. To learn more about these cafes, visit: