The spring season officially started last week. Finally! I had enough of winter. I mean, I really like snow and what it does to the landscape but I hate the cold temperatures and all I the layers of clothes I have to wear to stay warm.
I live in Graz—a small city surrounded by a hilly countryside to where we often go for joyrides but driving on those winding and rolling routes is a complete no-go during winter. That is why I am so thankful that the snow time is over. As soon as it is warm enough to sit outside, we will resume our weekend joyrides.
I am particularly looking forward to our visits to different Buschenschanken. Buschenschanken (singular: Buschenschank) is a Styrian term for taverns run by vineyard owners who produce their own wine and are licensed to sell and serve other home-produced food products in their premises. These taverns vary in size but I particularly appreciate the small ones because the tradition and the authenticity are better preserved there. The wines produced in Buschenshanken are special and need a rather lengthy account that deserves another post so I won’t talk about it now.
So let’s start with the ride that fascinates me very much. Diving on narrow roads through forests, rolling meadows, vast farms, orchards, and vineyards to go to a Buschenschank is an experience I’m willing to live through over and over again! Call me shallow but green sceneries and frequent sightings of deer and wild rabbits never fail to take my breath away.
The ride is just a small part of the whole experience, arriving to a Buschenschank is another. Upon entering a Buschenschank, you’ll immediately feel the very rustic ambiance created by the old-fashioned but fine-looking decorations, the particular aroma of mixed herbs, and the behavior of the guests—it’s like, they know each other well even if they only met each other for the first time. Austrians, or at least the ones who live in the countryside, are pleasant people who are always ready to talk to you (a complete stranger) about trivial things—the weather, the current news, and whatnots. They are talkative little fellows and I like that about them because they immediately make me feel welcome.
You are most welcome to sit inside but when the weather is good, you’ll be crazy not to sit outside. All Buschenschanken I’ve been have benches and tables outside where you can enjoy your meal, your drink, and the view.
One thing I love about small Buschenschanken is the fact that only few number of people go there so the hosts have more time for each guest. Usually you are free, most of the time even invited, to see the kitchen and the winery. Austrians are very proud of their tradition so one question will spark a long litany of how their grandfather’s grandfather started the tavern. They’re always happy to tell you about their history, about how old the things are in the tavern, about how they still do the cooking the exact same way they did hundreds of years ago, and about other special stories they never seem to run out of. One thing I learned from our frequent visits to Buschenschanken is that there is always something about a Buschenschank that makes it unique. There are a lot of scattered Buschenschanken in Styria but none is like the other.
The food? Hmmm…my limited knowledge of appropriate adjectives might not do it justice but I’ll try. (This is the part where I am thinking hard.)
The food is G.R.E.A.T! I mean, what can I say?!? Try “Bretteljause” and you’ll know what I mean.
Buschenschanken only serve cold food (except maybe for some desserts). Bretteljause is the main favorite. It is different “Austrian” cold cuts arranged beautifully on a wooden plate. I just have to stress the word “Austrian” because cold cuts are common in neighboring countries too but each country has its own cold cuts flavors. “Brettel” means wood plate and “Jause” means snack. Don’t be fooled by the word snack there because a Bretteljause is no small bite. It could last you a day or two if you finish the whole plate all by yourself. Boiled eggs wedges, thin slices of onions, gherkins or pickled peppers, shredded horseradish, and three to four different Austrian spreads are usually included on the plate. Bretteljause is also served with bread. Take note, everything is homemade.
And by the way, don’t expect a Barbie-looking waitress to serve you because it is often the cheerful round woman wearing a kitchen apron who puts the meal on the table, pats your on the shoulder, and tells you to enjoy your meal.