A guide to better living through cured pork products

Saturday, May 31, 2008


I had a couple of good meals while I was in Vienna. The place I liked the most, in terms of atmosphere and cuisine was Amerlingbeisl. It had a fantastic courtyard seating area with a really beautiful arbor of hops (or some such vine). It was quiet and charming. The waitress was really nice and recommended a great glass of wine with the meal: asparagus wrapped in a farmers ham, and spuds swimming in butter( hell, I'd bet the potatoes were marinaded in butter the night before).

The best part is that this is all squirreled away in a two story Biedermeier style building in the heart of Vienna (probably from the early 1800s or late 1700s). The building also serves as a cultural center for the Spittelberg neighborhood. But the cultural center was a product of the 1970s, not the 1800s. Check out the pictures from the 1970s. Check out the courtyard panorama on the restaurant's home page too.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Vienna Municipal and State Archives

So the Vienna City Archives are just one metro stop further down the U3 than the National Archives. And they are housed in a much more interesting building. At the turn of the nineteenth century (you know, the other Fin-de-Siècle, 1900) the city of Vienna produced its own gas from coal. They stored it in four Gasometers near the town of Simmering. Liquid natural gas made them obsolete and the city government stopped using them in the 1980s. In 1995 it was decided to convert the historic landmark into multi-use buildings. They now contain a shopping mall, offices for city and government services, apartments and... the Vienna City Archives!

Here is a spiffy link to the Gasometer Community they have a nice gallery of pictures.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vienna: the breaded and the fried

Typically, Viennese cuisine involves three things: pork, breading and frying. The famous Wiener schnitzel is nothing but a charming slice of pork, pounded out flat, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It is typically accompanied by some form of potato and slices of lemon. Sometimes there is a garnish of lettuce or sauerkraut to provide a fig leaf to cover up the utter lack of vegetables. The pleasure of this concept should be self-evident to everyone except the vegetarians.

Like Marxism, however, problems arise in the praxis of the thing: the meat can be overcooked and tough; the breading can be too heavy, and if it dwells too long in the deep fat fryer it tends to be really greasy. So finding a really great Wiener schnitzel is a joy to treasure. I haven't had one on this trip. In part I am afraid I will have a bad one, but also, there are many other things to try that aren't breaded and fried. Although that can surprise you too. The other day I ordered some Chevapi for lunch. Typically this Balkan dish is grilled not fried. But in Vienna, they roll those little guys around in the breadcrumbs and pop them into the fryer!

They also do this with apricots by the way... Marillen Knödeln – These are dumplings stuffed with apricots or maybe an apricot wrapped in dumping. Then they are deep fried and served with apricot jam and powdered sugar. Its Marillen season soon, so maybe I can score some.

A trip to the Archives

Not all archives are created equal, at least not in aesthetic terms. The Hungarian archives are squirreled away in a nice nineteenth century historicist building in the the Buda Castle. Great building, nice reading room, but a bit small, so bits and pieces of the archives are stashed in other parts of the city.

In Vienna, the Austrian State Archives are in a big modern building out near the suburban district of Simmering. The outside of the building is fantastically ugly. Its a terrific example of modernism gone wrong. The building is lumpy and white, and the windows have a gold reflective coating that is particular to Central Europe.

Best of all the reading room of the archive has this terrific institutional furniture made of wood laminate. Its light blond in color and has the same appeal as the "avocado" or "golden rod" colored appliances of the same era.

Of course, what the archives look like is besides the point. True beauty is what lies within. And in that respect the Austrian State Archives are great. The staff are unfailingly kind and helpful. They have graciously put up with my crummy German. Based on the finding aids and their advice, it turns out that there will be plenty of material for my projects. I can't wait until I get to visit again.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Favorite 'commie modern' building in Bp

To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, "Commies love concrete." The era of "Socialist Construction" in Hungary was littered with gobs of prefabricated concrete apartment blocs and monumental office buildings in the 'neo-brutalist' style. But there were a few architectural gems built too. One of them is the central bus station on Elizabeth square (Erzsibet tér).

Here are two pictures of the mildly renovated bus station. There is a little bit of nostalgia involved. I used to take the bus to Vienna a lot back in the 1990s and in 2000-2001. Nowadays the central bus station is out at the Népstadion (People's Stadium) which I think has been renamed after Ferenc Puskás, the soccer player.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A freshly installed hole

One of the ongoing infrastructure projects in Budapest is Metro 4, the new subway line that connects the city center with South Western Buda. This summer I have been spotting various fenced off parts of the city that are part of the project. Here is a picture of the construction near the Freedom bridge and March 15th Square. They have shut down the bridge, part of the street and closed the #2 tram stop.

Budapest has a long history of holes. When I was here in 2000-2001 they were in the middle of the fight over where the national theater would be. So there was a gigantic, incomplete parking structure/hole in between Elizabeth and Déak Squares. The magyars eventually resolved the impasse between the city government (run by MSZP) and the national government (run by FIDESZ at the time... I think) by building a cultural center.

Monday, May 19, 2008


So, I am off on my research trip to Budapest. Here is a picture of the freedom monument on Gellert hill and the bridges over the Danube. You can find the higher resolution picture on Flikr.

Over the next few weeks I plan on documenting some of my important work in rétes/strudel studies, as well as the pastry techniques of the various Budapest cukraszdas/confectionery shops.

Cricket in Hungary

On Sunday I went with my buddy Yusaf to see a cricket match in Dunabogdány, a small town north of Budapest. Yus is the captain for the Dunabogdány team and invited me to play. It was a lot of fun, I didn't get to bat, but I had a great time fielding. Here is a picture of Andras, one of the Hungarian players, bowling. Its after the release, so you can see the red ball in the upper center part of the picture.

Cricket is a little odd from the American point of view. Its similar to baseball in that you have batters and people throwing balls, but cricket matches last longer and involve breaks for tea and sandwiches (I'd argue that this makes it a little more fun to play). But there are only two bases in cricket, and two batsmen, who switch places when they hit the ball. Its a little bit like baseball in the round. Cricket is more fun to play than it is to explain.