Vegetarianism as a major movement came late to Austria (even if Vienna once hosted a vegetarian congress in 1886). But a cosmopolitan capital has enough options to keep vegetarians like me happy and fed.
Enjoy some tips on what to expect on a meat-free trip, with a small glossary of key German words to finish.
- See also: Traditional food and drink
The vegetarian culture
When I first arrived in Austria, I asked someone where you can buy semi-skimmed milk. They expressed immediate concern for whatever gastrointestinal disease I must have suffered from, for surely no healthy human would want something as exotic and rare as milk without all the fat.
I give you that story just to illustrate that Vienna and Austria joined the healthy eating movement somewhat later than many others.
Times have changed. Fortunately.
In early 2021, for example, Nestpick rated Vienna as the fourth best city in the world for vegetarians out of the 200 they surveyed. Only London, Berlin and Munich ranked higher.
As well as the usual arguments, such as the climate emergency, nutritional awareness and animal welfare, vegetarianism in Austria benefited (in my amateur opinion) from synergies with the country’s remarkable organic food movement. Go into any Vienna supermarket and the astonishing range of organic products available may surprise you.
The actual number of vegetarians in Austria depends on which survey you read, but I’d estimate roughly 5-10% of the adult population as vegetarian or vegan. So being a vegetarian is nothing unusual and the grocery stores and restaurants have adapted accordingly.
The traditional Austrian diet has always been rather meat-heavy. Perhaps the most iconic Viennese dish is the Schnitzel, often served as a plate-sized piece of fried pork where the non-meat component involves a slice of lemon and a thimbleful of potato salad. I’m exaggerating (but not by much).
Restaurants sticking to truly traditional menus still seem light on meat-free options. They often simply rebrand “old school” dishes as vegetarian (like the ubiquitous Greek salad). Käsespätzle makes another good example: a traditional kind of pasta/dumpling dish involving melted cheese and fried onions.
Fortunately, more and more restaurants now include dedicated vegetarian dishes that go beyond historical coincidence. As you’d expect, this is particularly true of:
- Places used to serving international guests (cafés and restaurants in tourist areas ought to have sufficient meat-free options, but snack bars are another matter)
- Student haunts. Around the centre, look for places near to the…
- University of Applied Arts Vienna
- Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
- University of Vienna
- TU Wien
- Medical University of Vienna
- Vienna University of Economics and Business
- Outlets whose cuisine lends itself to vegetarianism. We often get takeout from the Akakiko chain of Japanese restaurants, for example, and noodle bars have begun popping up everywhere
The Christmas and Easter markets now feature vegetarian options in addition to the traditional wintry fare: spicy lentil soup alongside goulash; leek sauce toppings for your baked potato rather than chopped ham and cheese; falafel as well as fried sausage.
And then there are the growing number of dedicated vegetarian or vegan restaurants, with numerous in Vienna’s old town (Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and similar will be happy to recommend some to you).
We don’t eat out much, so I can’t make personal recommendations. But we enjoyed YAMM! on Universitätsring 10 (opposite the university and Schottentor station): the buffet was excellent, if expensive.
The situation is even better for vegetarian (and vegan) food shopping. Vienna has plenty of health food shops and organic grocery stores or chains (like Denn’s, for example) that often stock a decent number of options.
In the last couple of years, the big supermarket chains (finally) scaled up their specialist vegetarian and vegan options, too.
Look, in particular, for dedicated vegetarian sections in the refrigerated areas where you normally find dairy products.
Various choices exist, but, for the record, our trolley tends to contain these brands:
- The Vegavita range of meatless products (especially their tofu)
- Soya drink (as a milk replacement) from Ja Natürlich, an in-house organic brand of Billa Plus and Billa supermarkets. They use domestically-grown soya beans
- The Vegini range of soya-free vegan products: particularly their pea-protein burgers and pulled chunks (Billa Plus supermarkets are usually a good place to find these)
- The Veggie own-brand range of vegetarian and vegan products in Spar supermarkets
In my experience, vegetarian sausages here are a bit hit and miss. And mostly miss. And often ridiculously expensive – so we tend to stick to the other products.
Needless to say, your typical supermarket also has plenty of pulses, cereals (including quinoa), vegetables, fruit, etc.
And ice cream!
I’m not a big ice cream eater, but have noticed of late that many of Vienna’s ice cream salons offer a surprisingly-large number of vegan ice cream options for your cornet.
We even have a chain of vegan ice cream stores: Veganista.
Useful German vocabulary
- Vegetarier / Vegetarierin : male/female vegetarian
- Veganer / Veganerin : male/female vegan
- geeignet für Vegetarier / Veganer : suitable für vegetarians/vegans
- Fleisch / Tier : meat / animal
- fleischlos : meat-free
- Soja : soy or soya
- sojafrei : soya-free
- Pflanzen : plants
- pflanzliches Eiweiß : plant protein
- tierisches Eiweiß : animal protein
- Ei / Eier / Hühnerei : egg / eggs / chicken eggs
- Käse / Milch / Milchprodukte : cheese / milk / dairy products