One of the best ways to ruin a fine weight-loss diet in Vienna is by eating a Leberkäsesemmel. It’s a standard bread roll (Semmel) with a hot slice of, well, Leberkäse inside.
The delicatessen counter at most supermarkets will sell you one. It’s also standard fare in football club canteens and a not uncommon extra at the many sausage stands around the city. But what is Leberkäse, exactly?
- Fat-rich meatloaf that comes in several variations
- Most definitely not a component of a well-balanced diet
- See also: Viennese food
It’s not what it sounds like
A quick look at your German-English dictionary tells you that Leber means liver and Käse means cheese. So what we have here is clearly “liver cheese”, a name lacking in both charm and, as it turns out, accuracy.
There is neither liver nor cheese in Austrian “liver cheese” (but see below). It might best be described as a kind of meatloaf.
The slice in your roll traditionally comes from a baked, crusty loaf, where the main ingredients are very finely-chopped beef, pork and bacon. Sometimes Leberkäse is made with horse meat, lamb, or game, but is always labelled as such. The result looks a little like a pinkish pate but is much firmer.
It’s not exactly fat-free (you have been warned), but it’s very tasty (again, you have been warned). Common variants in Vienna are:
- Käseleberkäse – with added melted cheese
- Pikant Leberkäse – with red and green bits of spicy peppers mixed in (my favourite before I turned vegetarian)
- Chilileberkäse – spiced up with hot chilli
- Pferdeleberkäse – made with horsemeat
- Wildschweinleberkäse – made with wild boar (you often find these at the Christmas markets)
My best guess is around 95% is bought and consumed hot in a roll, but you can buy Leberkäse in supermarkets as thin cold slices to eat like ham or as uncooked part-loaves for home baking (to be eaten in the traditional roll or on its own with ketchup or mustard).
So is the name, Leberkäse, some kind of joke?
The words Leber and Käse are nothing to do with the common meaning of each: they almost certainly stem from adaptations of traditional German words like Laib and Kas that reflect the shape and consistency of the food.
But to really confuse matters you need to take a trip to Germany, where calling something liver cheese is a bit of a no-no unless it actually has liver in it. Even though the word liver has nothing to do with offal. So any Leberkäse sold in Germany is expected to include liver…unless you’re in Bavaria. Outside Bavaria, liver-free Leberkäse is known as Original Bavarian Leberkäse. It’s all a bit confusing.
Perhaps you’re safer sticking to Schnitzel.