Cake cuisine may steal all the headlines, but Austria and Vienna have a love of bread that harks back to the dark loaves baked in alpine farmhouses of yore (with a few modern touches thrown in for good measure).
- Wide variety of breads with a strong focus on rolls
- Breads tend to be darker and denser than in the US/UK with wider use of rye and spelt flours
- Fresh rolls for breakfast is a city tradition, especially in coffee houses
- See also: Traditional food and drink | Bread festival
Brot and Semmel
After arriving in Vienna, it soon becomes clear they take their food very seriously here. And bread (German: Brot) is no exception.
Bread reflects the strong connection to the rural landscape and country traditions that still persist everywhere, even in a cosmopolitan capital city. As such, the focus in bakeries and supermarkets (and homes) is very much on freshly-baked loaves and rolls in all their Austrian variety.
You do find prepacked sliced bread in Viennese supermarkets, but off to the side of the bakery counter and mostly for making toast.
Loaves – join the dark side
(You’ll forgive the allusion, but it’s not everyday I get to crowbar a Star Wars reference into an article on Vienna).
White bread is a rarity outside of toast, baguettes, and some rolls. You’ll struggle to find anything that looks like a standard white loaf, for example.
At the other end of the spectrum, Austria has its dark and heavy rye breads. These evolved to keep you going through long Alpine winters, but can also double as ammunition for trebuchets and catapults. The very best loaves may be handed down from generation to generation without losing their texture or nutritional value.
(I’m only partially exaggerating.)
(Slices of dark rye bread)
Afternoon tea in the Alps consists of a giant platter of cured meat and sausage with slices of dark bread, served with a beer. (Not an exaggeration.)
Most bread lies somewhere between the two white/dark extremes, of course, commonly baked using a mixture of wheat and rye flour (rye causes the darker colour). Typical breads here are coarser and denser than the processed wheat-based breads you might know from elsewhere.
One exception is Fladenbrot, a flatter circular white bread made popular by the Turkish community in Vienna and now integrated within the wider city culture.
As you browse your way through a bakery display, these terms should come in useful:
- Weizen / Weizenmehl: wheat / wheat flour
- Roggen / Roggenmehl: rye / rye flour
- Dinkel /Dinkelmehl: spelt / spelt flour (surprisingly common here)
- Laib: loaf
(A Mohnflesserl or braided poppy seed roll)
Look out for these prefixes:
- Bio: organic (so Biobrot is organic bread)
- Vollkorn: whole grain
- Kurbiskern: with pumpkin (seeds)
- Sonnenblumen: with sunflower (seeds)
- Karotten: with carrots
- Erdäpfel: with potato
- Leinsamen: with linseed
- Nuß: with nuts
- Oliven: with olives
- Laugen: lye (bread or rolls soaked in a lye solution before baking to give a characteristic texture and taste)
Rolls – the joy of diversity
Coffee house and home breakfast menus tend to feature a slice of dark bread and/or, especially, some of Austria’s many varieties of rolls. Almost all have a crust (soft rolls are not really a thing here unless prepacked for US-style burgers).
You might have cereal or muesli for breakfast, but you’re just as likely to have a roll with jam and butter. I’m a muesli man, but a Mohnflesserl (see below) with organic Alpine butter and strawberry jam makes a weekend treat.
(The basic Semmel roll)
The commonest roll is the ordinary Semmel: basically a flat round crusty whitish roll made using wheat flour. Consider it the packhorse of Austrian bread cuisine.
Order a Frankfurter from a sausage stand and it likely comes with a Semmel. Where the British have their sandwiches, the Austrians have their Käsesemmel (a cheese roll), Schinkensemmel (ham roll), Wurstsemmel (roll with processed sausage meat) and Leberkäsesemmel (a roll with that peculiar hot meatloaf-like Leberkäse and a hugely popular snack).
Another version of the basic Semmel is the Langsemmel (long roll), which is the elongated alternative with a central groove. The term Kaisersemmel may be used instead of Semmel or indicate a bigger-sized version.
Confusingly, the word Semmel also serves as a generic term for rolls of any kind. Another such generic term is Weckerl.
Incidentally, most delicatessen counters at Austrian supermarkets let you order a cheese or ham roll with your choice of bread and filling; they’ll make it up fresh for you and throw in extras you might request, such as a sliced gherkin.
The Kornspitz and the rest
(A Kornspitz roll)
Probably the second most popular roll is the Kornspitz: a darker longer roll that’s also popular as a filled roll and typically made with a mix of rye and wheat flours. The Kornspitz comes either plain or with a sprinkling of seeds on top.
Other popular choices include:
- Mohnflesserl or Mohnstriezerl: a flattish braided white roll with poppy seeds
- Salzstangerl: a long, thin white roll covered in carraway seeds and coarse salt. It looks a bit like a stretched-out croissant.
- Wachauer: much like a Semmel but with more rye, so slightly darker and denser. Slightly spiced, too (I think).
As with breads, the prefix offers a clue as to toppings or ingredients. A Sonnenblumenweckerl, for example, is typically a darker wholemeal roll topped with sunflower seeds.
(A Wachauer roll)
Supermarkets (even the discount chains) tend to bake a lot of their bread on-site, so anything not pre-packed should be fresh.
Vienna also has its artisan bakeries, of course, as well as (good-quality) bakery chains. These chains often double-up as mini-cafés and commonly stock a variety of pastries, cakes, and filled rolls, too. Look for Anker, Ströck, Der Mann, Geier, and Felber outlets.
Store opening hours normally forbid Sunday shopping in Austria, but bakeries do open for a few hours on Sunday mornings. As such, nipping down for fresh rolls for Sunday breakfast has become a tradition in many Viennese households (including ours).