prague, vienna and a mixed salad

Not to make the understatement of the century or anything, but Prague is stunning with its pastel contrasts, village-under-a-snow globe cityscape and cobblestone sidewalks, not to mention beer so delicious I’m still craving it with breakfast today, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. We walked from one end to the other twice, ate leaden dumplings and paperweights of smoked pork while accordion players stumbled around us. We failed to hunt down the Golem, or even a chunk of mud from the river for my father, as he requested, but had fun trying. I’m really glad I finally made it there.

trolley linesa hundred wishescemeteryprague vista

So were the other ten million people in the city last week, where the tourism, I’m sorry to say, is near-paralyzing. (We, of course, were not tourists but world citizens. Right.) Sure, we were warned, but we live in New York and understand that any place worth wandering around will be filled with others who had the same bright idea. But this was like Times Square, minus the cozy neighborhoods twenty blocks in any direction, and the small city seems to be struggling under the weight of all of the world’s citizens wanting to take a peek. You know, people like us.

coffeeoutside the bookstorerye breadsp

But Vienna, Vienna my love. Vienna waited for me, just like Billy Joel promised me it would when I had my monstrous crush on him throughout middle (coughhigh) school. I fell instantly in love with its cafe society, late nights, lush park space, walkability and impeccably dressed masses. We’d been warned that there wasn’t a whole lot to “do” in Vienna, that we wouldn’t need more than 48 hours there, but I don’t think these people used their time as I did: imagining our expatriate lives there, and taking late night swings into to sidewalk restaurants for a glass of wine and a slice of cake, with our Westie in tow.

orange flower, state operacastlecastle groundsgaslight

I don’t even know where to get started on the food, but rest assured you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming weeks. For today, however, I’m going to start in the simplest place, this delight known as the gemischter Salat, or mixed salad, available everywhere from basement beer pubs to sleek, minimal restaurants.


If there is one running joke we had about Central Europe, it’s that aside from cabbage and potatoes, these children do not eat their vegetables. We tried to offset the leaden-belly effect with a salad the first night, ordering a mixed salad that I secretly hoped would be like the scattered Bibb lettuce salad I like at Wallse, finished with drops of nearly pitch-black pumpkin seed oil. Instead we received a bowl of rather ordinary-looking lettuce, but after lifting a couple pieces unearthed a trilogy of awesome underneath: a spoonful of potato salad, cucumber salad and cabbage salad.

shredded cabbagecaraway seedspotato saladcabbage salad

After a week of eating out and more pastries, beer and wine than I’d ever own up to, I was craving only this when we returned. Luckily, we’ve already got the Viennese cucumber salad down pat, but I struggled to get the potato and especially cabbage salad the way we’d eaten it Austria, which is a shame as they were so simple.

gemischter Salat

Thus, I’ve got no recipe to swear by today, just approximations in my head I hope to get ironed out in the coming weeks, weeks that by the end of, I’m sure we’ll all be crying out for more mac-and-cheese, less streudel. But for me, at least, that’s a long way off.

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78 comments on prague, vienna and a mixed salad

  1. I’m so jealous! I’ve been drooling over your photos in Flickr, and now your writing. What a fab trip. Austria has been on my travel list forever, and I hope to make it there one day soon!

    Thanks for such a vivid recollection! And welcome back…

  2. Kvv

    I was just in Prague 2 weeks ago; it is eery to see some of the same photos I took here on YOUR blog. Welcome back.

  3. This is such comfort food for me. As for Wallse, it’s one of my favorite restaurants ever. Next time you go back, try the braised rabbit spatzle appetizer and the apple-celery sorbet with horseradish and sea salt. I’m dreaming of it nightly and once the weather improves, will commence my experiments in the kitchen with the ice cream maker. Your trip looks amazing and I can almost taste the apfelstrudel — welcome back. Do you miss the Viennese coffee yet?

  4. Mona

    Haven’t made it to Prague yet, but can’t wait! Vienna is gorgeous…..*so jealous of your trip*

    Can’t wait for all the upcoming recipes. :-)

  5. Kim

    I, too, loved Prague, especially getting lost in the residential areas away from the Charles Bridge and up behind the castle. I was a little sad that I didn’t have to try out my really bad Czech to speak to people, and I found some of the streets to be a mix of Mexican market and Disneyworld kitsch. I hope they can get a handle on the people streaming in, as the place really is enchanted.

    It’s funny to hear you say how, may I say, “resentful,” you were of all the other tourists. We just returned from Venice and I made the same remark to my husband. “Why,” I said as we were literally standing still in a pedestrian alleyway due to the number of people trying to walk through, “do I feel angry about all these other people here when they’re doing the very same thing I am? Am I somehow a better tourist?” We’re so much more respectful than everyone else, right? :-)

  6. Aimee H.

    I studied abroad in Vienna for a semester and thought there was tons to do there. Almost too much to see, too much to eat and experience. And all the people I met were so friendly. Glad you had a great time!

  7. When I was a child, I found it painfully boring to view other people’s vacation photos. I can remember having to sit through slide show after slide show (slides were big in the 70’s.) Now, I LOVE seeing the places people have visited and reading little notes about things they observed. It’s fascinating, and what phenomenal photos these are! So bright and eye-catching.

    A lovely tour, albeit brief and not quite the same via a computer monitor versus seeing the sights in person. Someday, Europe, I will visit you. Until then, thank you Deb for sharing your photos.

  8. okay you just made me de-lurk. an ex-boyfriend of mine was viennese, i went to visit every summer and eventually got to live there for 4 months. his parents were amazing cooks who loved to get produce from the market day of or even go directly to farmers to see what was available. i used to bring back a jug full of pumpkin seed oil with every return. i would even sneak in a few glass bottles of stiegl. my love for vienna will never fade. it is a beautiful city rich in culture and vibrant in life. viennese food is amazing, light but also just the right amount of rich. fresh and tantalizing. i had never eaten a potato salad until i was there and it makes the stuff you find in delis here pale in comparison. it just danced. im so happy you went to vienna and so glad you brought back such wonderful memories of it.

  9. Jenya

    Beautiful! Especially the amazing doorknobs and knockers (no pun intended *stiflesgiggle*), all in all – you take beautiful pictures;
    the restaurant scene with a band could have been a painting.
    a painting I’d spend good money on ;) Kudos, cara mia.
    The horse chestnut blossoms make my heart ache – I miss Europe, but better late than never, I’m going to Moscow in July.
    Do you have any burning questions about it? Not likely, but if you do – I’ll go and find out, it seems I’ll have the faculties to this time.
    = )

  10. Oh, beautiful, I am leaving for Budapest/Slovakia on Thursday, for a month to meet my boyfriend’s family, but am planning on going to Prague and Vienna as well, even if it’s just for a day or two. I can’t wait, and your post made me that much more excited!!! Thanks!

  11. I have longed to go to Vienna ever since the Time Life books on the foods of the world came out years ago and there was a picture of a Spaniche Windtorte on the cover of one of them. The pastries, the bakeries the whole thing totally got me.
    I am so glad you had such a wonderful time. And the salad looks great too!

  12. last year i was in prague for the first time, and although it was beautiful, i wasn’t fond of the city and the atmosphere itself. but then i continued on to budapest and loved it there. hopefully next time i can visit vienna too!

  13. ooohhhhh looks like a really wonderful trip! I am so with you on getting a bit obsessive with location-associated food things post-travelling… it’s a way of making the trip last a bit longer, at least via your tastebuds!

    that cabbage-caraway is such a distinctively Germanic-European combo.. & really yummy!

  14. The only thing it seems you missed from your time in Vienna is some Sturm – which is the best drink on the continent and only available in the fall.

  15. Mireille

    Vienna? Prague? Wow, if only I was there. I had some delicious pastries there, and the architecture was just *sigh* all so beautifiul-everything about Vienna was all so-beautiful.
    Lucky you. I’m turning into a green monster….

  16. Awww, I was in those two cities this past October (you can see pictures on my blog), and I miss them so! The hordes of tourists/world citizens you speak of, were nonexistent, but I guess this is the beginning of the summer travel season, though, so it makes sense that they would be out in full force. However, the leaden dumplings and salty, smoky pork and amazing beer (nettle, beer, anyone?!) were omnipresent. Did you make it to the Naschtmarkt while in Vienna?

  17. Kitta

    they are really nice pictures.
    Jill – Budapest is the capital city of Hungary not Slovakia :-)
    Because of the Monarchy Budapest is really beautiful like Vienna with Buildings with the same character. Castle,Parlament etc.
    I live here so I know Budapest and also Vienna.
    :-){ “feedUrl”:””, “width”:”300″, “height”:”90″, “orientation”:”horizontal”, “size”:”xs”, “bgcolor”:”#000000″, “textcolor”:”#FFFFFF”, “random”:false, “number”:”3″, “target”:”blank”, “staticUrl”:”” });

  18. nice to hear that you enjoyed vienna – the town where i’m living and writing this post right now.
    concerning the salads: one of the most important things for the typical austrian salads (only a few people here like them in restaurants, they all do them better at home…) is the vinegar. it’s usually a very cheap one, called “hesperidenessig” in austria. it’s available for 80 years now and almost everyone – in gastronomy or private – has got it on the shelf. it’s made of distilled wine vinegar, wine vinegar and apple juice. the best method to replace it is maybe a mixture of real wine vinegar with real apple vinegar. they always mix it with water to make it “milder”. just try it out! ah, and the oil: it’s the same: usually very simple oil that doesn’t taste of anything, like desodorated sunflower or rapeseed.
    in higher gastronomy, there are used very good vinegars (all made in austria, from wine, apples, pears, raspberries and so on) and very good oils (made in austria, too, from sunflower, walnut, hazelnut, linseed, grapeseed and so on).
    but if you want the typical “mixed salad”-taste, you have to use the ones mentioned above. trust me, i tried it out for myself: i’ve got only high quality vinegars and oils in my kitchen – and the salad tastes always very good, but not the way it does in typical viennese restaurants.
    if you want recipes, just let me hear, i could do a bit of research for you or translate some of them.
    best wishes!

  19. Wow, Prague and Vienna… Y was there about… oh my gosh, is it already 15 years ago??? I don’t remember it as an overcrowded with tourists city, but of course, it was 15 years ago :)

    The only good memory I have of Austrian food is Sacher Torten… when will you treat us with a recipe of that wonderful chocolate pie?

  20. Esz

    Vienna is just beautiful. I could easily live there and I fell in love with the cobbled city streets and little restaurants all tucked away.

  21. Joelle

    I visited Prague in March, during Easter/Passover season. It was very, very cold, but only ran into tourists in the Jewish Quarter and the Cathedral. Of course, I was staying with my Czech friend and her grandmother, so we weren’t exactly traveling in the tourist circle.

  22. I have never been out of the United States, but your pictures are absolutely stunning! It makes me want to reserve a flight to Prague right now. I have always wanted to visit Vienna, but haven’t gotten a chance to yet. I invite you to submit some of your wonderful recipes on my site
    I really enjoyed your blog and will be coming back all the time now! Thank you for your stunning photos! Now, it’s time to go make lunch!

  23. helena in sweden

    Aw, what a sight! That little Maltese sleeping by the window… Some pictures do not need words, do they? In spite of all the great architecture a country can collect, a little dog connects more to the human heart than a tonne of bricks!

    Oh, what am I suppose to say now?!? [sorry, brain swept away by the dog!] Oh, yes, your eye for details is merciless! [and that is a good thing…] Hope your holiday went beyond the gastronomic! Au revoir!

  24. Yum, I miss Vienna. I spent a gastronimcally (and canine-ly) wonderful year there a looong time ago. It’s a wonderful place to wander, relax and explore slowly.

  25. Tea

    I nearly clapped my hands in delight at this post. I lived in Vienna for a year and while I had mad weekend love affairs with stunning Prague, I was always happy to come home to dear reliable Vienna. It’s the sort of city you settle down with.

    Looking forward to the recipes–a year in Eastern Europe firmly converted me to the school of “better living through the use of carraway seeds.” Your photo of them was enough to make the cravings start… Glad you had a lovely trip!

  26. I love Vienna oh so much. I lived there for six months in high school with a Viennese family and had the pleasure of eating the delicious foods turned out daily by the grandmother of the family. I left there with a few of her recipes in tow: her potato salad, the best green beans ever made, and of course, strudel. Your post just gave me the kick in the ass and the cry for nostalgia I needed to actually try my hand at some of these. Thanks! And I’m so glad you guys had a great trip!

  27. Oh! We just moved from Prague (back to the States) about two months ago. Oh the leaden dumplings! Mmmm! I actually like bread knedliky better than the potato ones. I kind of miss the pub food. And yes, it can be crazy crowded with tourists but if you take the tram or metro just a few stops away from the city, it’s just normal, day-to-day living with the locals. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit!

  28. I always feel like a need a cleansing and detox after all the great but rich food in Vienna. That mixed salad always pleases me however. I havent hadanything like it here at home. Sounds like a great trip.

  29. Oh, my. Travel plans are long-overdue! I’m jealous of you and all your readers who’s been to vienna recently. Given how crowded it was this time of year, maybe i will just accept my hubby’s suggestion that central and eastern Europe is great in November and December! (My thin southern blood tells me otherwise.)

    Thanks for the gorgeous photos!

  30. Sue

    I just had to tell you how much I enjoy your writing, photography and culinary inspirations. Sounds like a wonderful trip.

  31. Jan

    Hi Deb,

    I follow your blog and I am not sure whether it’s your recipes, your pictures or indeed your humour that I love best. I also follow your advice on photo equipment, so for the last month I am a proud owner of the Digital Rebel and the 50mm prime lense. No, my pictures are still nowhere near yours!

    What a surprise to find out that you went to Prague! I come from Prague, and in fact I am returning back to Prague next week, after living in England for more than 6 years. What a pity – I missed you by about 2 weeks. I would have loved to meet you and hopefully be of some service. I would have loved to repay at least a little bit the joy and inspiration that your blog is for me.

    When you come next time, please do get in touch, or at least give some warning in advance!

    Many thanks for all the kind words that you had for my country
    Warm regards

    PS: Do you know, my grandmother used to have a clothing shop in that narrow street on your first picture? Until the revolution in 1989, that street was filled with shops that sold clearance clothing and fabrics. I remember it being a really spooky place, an only such place in Prague. It was really a bit of a different world, a different century – think Harry Potter and the Diagonal Alley. I had my first ever jacket from their shop, I still remember it with great fondness.

  32. Like you, I need a lot more time in Vienna! I had two weeks a few years ago and there was still so much left that I didn’t have time to see!

  33. Smitten Kitchen went to Europe and all we got was this lousy salad.

    Kidding! Glad you had a good vacation, glad you’re back. And when you do figure out the salad recipes, I’ll be waiting.

  34. jen

    vienna is wonderful. Its not an immediately obvious city and has a rather horrid past. But the cafes are great and the art is amazing. the Brueghels! their design museum is awesome. and yes, don’t even get me started on the pastry. the food in vienna is very good. I actually found the freud museum kind of cool and weird too in its emptiness. Regrets: no time to hear the symphony! Prague is a favorite place too but you are right: too touristy and the food isn’t great. I would love to explore smaller cities in austria..but vienna is amazing.

  35. Oh, the tourists! I lived in Prague for 3 years – from 2004 through 2007. I spoke Czech and was immersed in Czech life and let me tell you… tourists = bane of existence. There were seasons and months for each nationality. May was known as Italian Season. And the Brits… Oh. I was happy to be American. The stag parties were god awful and even banned from many places.

    Czech food, however. My one complaint. One can only eat so much fried cheese and dumplings. Not to mention their tradition of sadlo (lard) smeared on a piece or two of toast for dinner. Nope, I definitely didn’t move there for the food.

  36. I was in Prague with my boyfriend last summer and it was so amazing. Your pictures made me miss it a lot! I think one of my favorite things about Prague was, as you said, that you can walk across the entire city so easily. I spent five days there and probably walked across the whole city six or seven times. I’m excited to see what you thought of the food there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a such a great experience with Czech food, but I probably didn’t go to the right places.

    Thanks for sharing your great pictures!

  37. My oldest visited Prague and Vienna while she was staying in Croatia for 5 months. She came back home a little heavier than she liked. Beautiful photos and recipes. I want to go there!

  38. miri

    my grandparents were austrian – and i remember that my grandpa’s potato salad was fabulous..along with my granny’s vanillekipferl (though i think we called them vanillekipffen (sp?) and my grandpa’s mustard bread…

    now i have to go dig out those recipes :)

  39. Wow, these photos are very nice! You know what I like the most? the one with salt and pepper. In Czech, it is called Sůl a Pepř, so the first letters are internationally comprehensible. These are typical as the best part of Czech pre-revolutionary design was focused mainly on ceramics and glass.

  40. Kathryn

    I can’t tell you how jealous I am. I’ve been in Italy for FIVE MONTHS and never made it to Prague (damn strong euro). Your pictures are amazing. I guess I’ll just have to come back at some point =).

  41. Katie H

    I am on my way to Vienna! I leave on Monday. My best friend lives there and she just had a baby. Do you have any tips on places to go for pastry? You’d think my friend who has lived there for almost 5 years already would know but she is not the pastry type :-0

    Gorgeous photos!

  42. Barb

    Your pictures made me ‘homesick’ for the 18 months I spent in Prague.
    I recognize most of your scenes, and I must have 50 pictures of just doors.
    I miss being able to wander out of my apartment, take a tram across town to the castle, and walk a different route the 3 miles back, sampling the local fare along the way.
    I went back 2 summers ago, and it was extremely hot and crowded in the centrum. I, too, felt resentful of the other tourists, and wanted to scream at them “go home, get out of my city!”

  43. constant

    great photos and a really nice text.

    but, oh my oh my, poor americans !!

    everything seems to have to be an experience,

    and we europeans feel like you are coming over to visit a zoo…

    glad you enjoy it

  44. Jane

    Coming from Boston, I felt like I was in Faneuil Hall when we were in Prague last summer there were some tourists in the square. Nonetheless the beer was great and my husband is still searching out the Pilsner Urquell.

  45. I just returned from Prague2 days ago! (The crowds departed mysteriously mid-afternoon May 11 and the streets were lively but not jammed for the rest of the week. I think it’s my new favorite city. (Sorry Amsterdam)
    Anyone who says you can see/do everything in Vienna in 48 hours must be totally lacking in imagination. I’ve been there twice and haven’t even begun to feel as if I know the city.

  46. Gretchen

    Just found this–your post brings back the delightful memories of my trip to Prague three years ago that haunt me….I hope you found the Golem and the Kakfa house. Both were marvelous! Your photos of Vienna inspire me to visit there…sometime soon, I hope. Thanks for the lovely memories!

  47. those are beautiful pictures of prague. i spent two and a half months there, and i don’t think my memories of the place can live up to those photos! still, made me get a little bit nostalgic and feel a little fuzzy around the edges.

  48. Vienna… oh how do I miss home now. I am born/raised in Austria and moved to the US 4 years ago. In 55 days I’ll go back to Austria for the first time in almost 3 years!

  49. Christiane

    Those pictures make me homesick for Austria! Haven’t been home in too long.
    The secret to the real Viennese potato salad (as drilled into my head by my cooking teacher in hotel school) is to put the still hot potatoes into the hot marinade (made out of stock [brought to a boil], chopped onions, little bit of mustard, little bit of sugar, oil [sunflower oil works well], vinegar [apple cider or white wine vinegar work well], salt and pepper.). Let the potatoes cool down to room temperature in the marinade, don’t refrigerate (makes the potatoes slimy) and don’t keep left overs (something to do with the onions going off. I wish I could remember what my teacher used to rant about.)
    I’m glad you enjoyed Vienna, it’s a beautiful city!

  50. I visited Prague earlier this year, and I loved it!
    I also had the best pizza EVER in Prague. I came home and attempted to create it.

    I took a refrigerated pizza crust (gasp!), and covered it with gorgonzola, parmesan, and toasted pine nuts. I also added some pan fried pork (I think I used prosciutto).

    Right before serving, I covered it with fresh arugula. Sooo delicious!

  51. I hit “surprise me” and got this post. How neat! I lived in prague for 5 of my last single years and love it and it’s surrounding areas unbelievably. I’m glad you enjoyed your time, and sorry you went during a peak season! I genuinely believe it’s a city that must be enjoyed in each season…. Few brave the winter but it’s like a fairytale…

  52. Dragana

    I just stumbled on this post even though I have been reading your lovely blog for over a year now. Being of Serbian descent, I pride myself on my knowledge of all things cabbage. The trick to cabbage salad is to salt the shredded cabbage, or as my mother in law often does, salt and vinegar it for at least an hour. Then drain, dress with oil, more vinegar, lots of black pepper (my preference), and garlic (if you’re brave). Hope this helps.

  53. C.

    are you still looking for a recipe for the potato salad? im german and my grandma was from vienna.. she made the best potato salad and i would love to shar it with you!

  54. Tirolean girl

    If you want to get the Austrian potato salad right, using the right vinegar isn’t the only important thing. The trick is to purée some of the potatoes and mix them into the dressing (and don’t forget to add some chicken or beef stock), and for an extra-rich taste pour some browned butter over the top!
    Personally, i like to add some thinly sliced onions, chives, a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg and some lemon juice. Try it, it’s lush and goes perfectly with a good Wiener Schnitzel!

  55. Amy

    Hey Deb! I spent a month in Europe this spring and am desperately trying to recreate the Austrian mixed salad! Did you develop a recipe? Would love your thoughts! Thank you!!

  56. Christina

    From a foodie perspective I love the way the cook roast duck in Prague but I prefer Vienna for the sweet treats like strudel. Both a lovely cities in different ways.

  57. In Central Europe, we make the potato salad like this: cook potatoes with peel on, then peel them and slice them into a big bowl; then add finely chopped cucumber pickles and fresh onions, corn kernels, peas and finely chopped, cooked carrots. We mix it all well and add a lot of salt because potatoes will absorb it. Then we pour in this mixture: in a small pot we boil water, vinegar, pepper, paprika and let it cool. The whole salad must be well mixed and quite wet. We let is stand overnight in the fridge so the potatoes can soak in all the flavours. We serve it cold. Another version is to add mayonnaise or cream cheese to have a creamy variety.