What You Need to Eat – Viennese Culinary Grammar and Vocab
Do you want to casually waltz into a Viennese coffee shop and confidently ask for a table as well as your favorite drink in German? If you answered yes, then this is the article for you. Learn how to order in German, what different types of coffee there are in Vienna and build the confidence you need to enjoy your coffee in true Viennese style.
So, you’re in your first traditional Viennese café. The other guests are waving at the waiters, they’re ordering things you didn’t see on the menu and someone just said “Da hams ma jetzt aber an Schlag geben” – in short, you realize that this situation is nothing like what you prepared for in school and you start to panic. When the waiter comes over to your table, you stammer something along the lines of “Bitte Kaffee” and as soon as he leaves, you sit there cursing yourself that you forgot to even form a full sentence. Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Well, we don’t want that to happen to you. This article should give you a brief overview of useful vocab, contractions and chunks so you can prepare for your first visit to one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses.
Your German Intensive Course – Preparation to Order
In your German course at INNES, you will be introduced to real-world usage of grammatical structures. We’re going to revise the ones specifically needed for restaurant/café situations here. Now don’t worry – the grammar used in restaurants and cafés is usually pretty straightforward. One of the strategies that can make your life easier is to shorten your sentences, thereby omitting the conditional in favor of an infinitive or forming a sentence without any verb whatsoever. Sounds complicated? Here are some examples:
Ich hätte gerne einen Kaffee, bitte.
Einen Kaffee, bitte.
Wir würden gerne zahlen.
As you can see, you can omit the subject and sometimes even the verb. Essentially, you simply state what you want and then add a “bitte” at the end – a word that really shouldn’t be forgotten when talking to service staff in general.
Before you now start cursing ever having learned the conditional, don’t worry – you’ll have plenty of opportunity to use it in another context. Unfortunately, German doesn’t get its reputation for needing a lot of effort to be mastered from nothing, but I’m sure you’ll do just fine as long as you try to remember what you learned in your language course and you take your time “in the field” – Viennese people are usually quite patient when travelers need more time to express their wishes.
Now back to the horror scenario in the café. What the hell did that Viennese person mean when they said “Da hams ma jetzt aber an Schlag geben”? This sentence is very Austrian, both in its grammar and in its vocab (which we will deal with below). So, grammar first: “hams” is an Austrian contraction of two words you’re definitely very familiar with: haben and Sie. Similarly, “an” is a short form of einen – another word that you’ve heard numerous times – and “ma” is a short form of “mir”. Not very logical, I know. However, these are very common constructions in fast, spoken language (please don’t ever use them in written language) and sometimes they’re hard to understand even for native speakers of German who come from faraway regions.
Now, only because someone else uses these words (or rather, their variations) you don’t need to be able to pronounce them yourself. Just try to keep what we discussed above in mind when trying to understand Austrians, even though most of them will switch to a more standard language as soon as they realize that you’re not a native speaker. Still, quirky deviations from standard German like this one are what gives Viennese German its unique character. It also hugely contributes to Viennese culture and mentality, as I’m sure you will come to learn after spending some time in the city and having in-depth conversations with locals (which your language courses will prepare you for excellently).
Viennese Dishes and How to Order
We’ve now looked at the grammar you’ll need, but you of course want the true cultural experience involving actual Austrian food. So let’s start with the strange sentence from our scenario above (“Da hams ma jetzt aber an Schlag geben”). You’ve maybe learnt that Schlag means “hit”. However, in Austria, Schlag is an abbreviation of Schlagobers, which in Germany is called Sahne and is translated to “whipped cream”. When you look at the English translation, however, the word “whipped” does have a lot to do with the German Schlag.
With all this knowledge, you should be able to understand what that person was trying to infer. On the surface, they are simply stating a fact: The waiter has given them whipped cream in their coffee or hot chocolate. But like the English “Excuse me, I actually ordered a drink without cream”, this is just another way of saying “I ordered something different, please give me what I actually ordered”. Some communication strategies are very similar in many different languages, after all.
So what should you order in an Austrian restaurant? Well, you’ve definitely already heard of the famous Schnitzel. But did you know there’s a difference between the Schnitzel and the Wiener Schnitzel? The original Wiener Schnitzel is made from veal, while the Schnitzel without any additional words is made from pork. Depending on your cultural or religious background and on whether you want to consume veal, this is an important distinction to know. It also explains the difference between the two different price points you will come across – veal is simply much more expensive for the restaurant to buy.
Staying with meats, another famous Viennese dish is the Tafelspitz. One of emperor Franz Joseph I’s favorite dishes, it simply cannot be missed in a good traditional restaurant today. Served with horseradish and minced apples, it’s definitely a dish you don’t want to miss out on if you eat beef and veal.
For vegetarians, Käsespätzle might be the way to go if you want something savory. It’s similar to noodles but cooked with cheese and caramelized onions and often served with a side salad.
And of course, Vienna is famous for its desserts, which we tend to sometimes eat even as a main dish. Whether you prefer Kaiserschmarren (a kind of fluffy, torn-apart pancake with raisins), Marillenknödel (dumplings filled with apricots) or Profiteroles (a choux pastry filled with vanilla and drowned in chocolate sauce and Schlag), you will definitely find something you like.
The Viennese Café – Mélange, Verlängerter and Kleiner Brauner
While we’re on the topic of sweets, let’s discuss Viennese coffee. And yes, they deserve their own sub-category here, since they embody Viennese cuisine like nothing else. Coffee house culture has been an integral part of Viennese society for hundreds of years, and we take our coffee time very seriously. But if you, dearest reader, are a coffee enthusiast, let me help you a little before you head out to your first coffee house experience.
You can get a seemingly infinite amount of diverse coffee drinks in this city. Especially when you’re from a culture that does coffee very differently, you might want a little introduction to your possibilities here. Here’s a list that might help you:
ein kleiner/großer Brauner
This is an espresso with just enough milk to turn it a brown color (hence the name). As you’ve probably already guessed, there’s a small and a big version of it, hence the kleiner/großer.
Basically the equivalent of an Americano. One third espresso shot, one third water, one third milk. Unless you order einen Verlängerten schwarz, in which case the milk is left out.
In the US, this is called a Café Latte! An espresso shot with two thirds of the cup filled with milk, the other third filled with foam.
ein Café Latte
The European Café Latte contains a lot more milk than the Northern American version. Be aware of that when ordering it – if you like a very weak coffee, this is the one for you.
eine (!!!) Mélange
For the foam enthusiasts. Baristas will usually use the same size as for the Cappuccino but use as much foam as they possibly can. Interestingly, this is the only coffee that’s assigned the female grammatical gender. That’s because it’s originally a French word that has passed on its grammatical gender along with the word itself.
From the Language Course to the Café Counter
So how do we now combine the grammar, the vocab and the cultural knowledge from this article?
First of all, when ordering a coffee, you could use the grammar rules explained above. Pick the kind of coffee you want (just state it with the indefinite article I’ve provided for you in the list above) and add a bitte at the end, and you’re golden. When you’ve finished eating and drinking and you’d like to pay, simply use Zahlen, bitte. But because you sometimes need to use more specific phrases, I’ll leave you with a couple of examples that follow the rules explained above:
Mit Karte, bitte.
Payment by card is accepted in most cafés and restaurants in Vienna.
The literal translation would be “Separately, please”. You’ve probably already guessed what we use it for: to say that we want to pay separately.
“Together, please”. This phrase, of course, indicates that you want to pay for the entire group.
Haben Sie einen Tisch für zwei?
„Do you have a table for two?” This sentence follows the regular rules for questions. Feel free to swap out the number for whichever one fits your situation.
And one last bonus:
Entschuldigung, ich hatte XY bestellt.
„Excuse me, I ordered XY“. Suitable for when you’ve been served the wrong dish or drink. Notice the use of the Vorvergangenheit, which is why this is the bonus phrase for particularly motivated students.
With all this preparation, we hope you’ll be able to experience this city’s amazing restaurant and café culture comfortably. Have you ever had an experience in a coffee shop where you needed similar phrases to the ones above? Which ones helped you? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. And here’s to so much practice you return to your room at night with the biggest caffeine buzz you’ve ever had.
If you are looking to boost your vocabulary and real-life conversation skills even more, join classes at INNES!