“Two sacher tortes, a coca-cola light, and a decaf coffee,” the waitress parrots back with a heavy accent. I am distracted by her burgundy polyester uniform with gold lettering, “Hotel Sacher” in fancy script. Around us are sneaker-clad tourists with Vienna maps perched on the corner of their small round café tables. My husband and I are on bar stools at a corner window table looking onto the Kartnerstrasse, one of downtown’s main tourist shopping promenades. But if I turn my head I see the main opera house just across the street. In a earlier version of myself I had dreams of coming to Vienna during opera season where I would arrive and stay in complete luxury and attend the opera in my fabulous evening gown and jewels. Suffice it to say that was a very young, student-y and cash strapped version of myself. I am quite happy with this version of my Vienna visit although I think the joke is on me.
I am not sneaker-clad and I am happy since this corner table represents the conclusion of a rare evening out in the company of only my husband. Chamber music of Mozart and Haydn followed by a street-side table with white linen, a stroll along the cobblestones in the direction of “dessert” under cool dark skies. My husband and I sit in companionable silence now, having exhausted our topics over dinner, watching the human ebb and flow pass by our vantage point. Looking around me inside I notice our café has a “souvenir section”. I know this is a bad sign but I wanted to come here. You too can have kitchen items engraved with “Hotel Sacher”, or you could order three different sizes of sacher tortes to mail or take home to your friends and family. Each comes in a nice wooden box that says all the right things if you’re into foodie history. Probably hermetically sealed, as well.
“Foodie history?” My husband looks at me with his one-eyebrow-up look that not only communicates curiosity but accompanying attitude. My father-in-law does it too, and it’s been taught to my daughter. I know it well. “Yes.” I say firmly. “What is it about me that has to go to places where food was invented?” I was not leaving Vienna without coming to this place, but even before I saw it I knew I would be breaking all my food rules. I love good food. As a rule, I dislike all chain restaurants, and subscribe to a world of extremes where food is concerned. I really enjoy a home cooked meal and when people come to my house I almost always make the meal. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but if I’m going to serve you burgers, for example, then I prefer that they’re burgers I made and seasoned myself. I might even look up a different burger recipe and use unusual herbs or not use beef. I like food to be fresh and tasty. I certainly apply this to my baking. (p.s. the other extreme is an expensive, new and trendy, or “name” chef sort of restaurant).
But apparently the Hotel Sacher does not care that much. At least not for me. Maybe it does for the celebrities who have left “thank you” gifts of glossy eight by tens over the decades that decorate the café walls. But…if you “invented” the world famous sacher torte then I suppose you are going to rest on your laurels and past reputation and mass produce a dry and tasteless sacher torte. The thing I find so funny about myself is that I knew that going into the café and I don’t hate it while I’m here. I even ate most of my slice of cake. But my husband quickly pointed out it wouldn’t have been good enough for my guests. It wouldn’t. But I loved it. I loved sitting at that table and thinking about the generations of opera goers, Viennese, and tourists who have travelled to the café and eaten what I was eating. I also think about the taste sensation it would have created if no one had ever tried it before. Imagine living in Vienna and eating the “new” sacher torte! And I am smiling at myself because I realize this is part of what I love about travel…the food and the history of food. When I’m in historical places, I not only want to see the old architecture, hear its music, and gaze on its historic artistic masterpieces, I want to taste its history. I did this in Cuba…dragged my then-fiancé to the bar where Hemmingway had his Mojitos. On other trips I made him find appropriate clothing in Singapore so that he passed the dress code to drink a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. Made him find the restaurant in Naples that claims to have first served the Marguerita pizza….and on it goes.
I didn’t even have “buyers remorse” after we left. I love my memory of our corner table in the café with the tacky souvenir shop and know that I experienced that history in a slice of time…people were eating that cake there long before I arrived and will do so for much longer. During opera season, some will be dressed to the nines, and in the summers my sneaker friends will come en masse to support the Hotel’s history.
However, I did become highly motivated to find “good” sacher torte in Vienna and planned and led several of the family’s walk routes to encounter various “konditorei” where really delicious versions of the chocolate cake are served. There’s even a bite-sized version so that it’s possible to sample more than one in a day (how thoughtful of the cafes!). Which we did…and will likely do again in our remaining time in Vienna.