The first thing I do when I come to Vienna – after hugging my mom of course, since she has to get out of bed and wait around at the airport – I get a Leberkäsesemmel. What is Leberkäse you ask? Well, let me explain.
Leberkäse sounds somehow disgusting. In Vienna it used to be made out of horse meat, which you still sometimes find at a ‘Würstelstand’ or at the butchers. Alright, it doesn’t only sound disgusting. Wait! The Leberkäse is cultural heritage. A subdivision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry even dedicated a whole website to this Austrian meat loaf. The literal translation is ‘liver cheese’, however the Leberkäse contains neither. Not only you but also linguists all over the German speaking territories are scratching their heads where the name actually came from. There is a legend that the butcher who invented the Leberkäse called it ‘Laab Kääs’ because it looked so similar to cheese, in the sense of cheese being a solid mass in the form of a loaf. Who knew. And as to not to have Austria claim all the fame, the butcher was from Mannheim and he invented the loaf for the Bavarian Elector. But what the hell, the Viennese perfected it.
Nowadays it is made out of a blend of mostly pork and/or beef, bacon, pickling salt, snow (yes), and depending on your recipe – with muscat, thyme, marjoram, ginger, white pepper and coriander. I once tried to make one myself, all I got was a gigantic, not very well ground frankfurter and a mess in the kitchen.
Despite its very simple look the Leberkäse is an excellent snack, an even better drunk food or a hangover cure and can be enjoyed in different variations – baked with gooey cheese inside, or bell peppers for a little kick, with a side of potato salad or in a bun – the Leberkäse makes a perfect meal for cold days. A good quality loaf should not contain flour as a filler, which also makes it gluten free if you skip the bread.
You can get Leberkäse anywhere. At the supermarket, the butchers, the Würstelstand. But one new addition to Vienna’s liver cheese scene are specialized shops which sell nothing else but the Mortadella like delicacy. One of them is Leberkas Pepi.
Originally from Linz Pepi is an institution in his hometown. After having tried his luck and failed in London England, Pepi wanted to know if he can succeed on the livercheese battle ground of Vienna. So far it seems to be going well.
In a rustically restored hole-in-the-wall in Operngasse 12 you find Pepi’s counter with all the meat blocks on display and around ten bar seats to be able to enjoy them sitting down. The menu lists twelve items – classic, cheese, horse, mushroom-truffle, chili, spinach-garlic, roasted onions, chilli-cheese, spicy, pizza, turkey and ‘Seasonal’ which I was too hungry to inquire about. So as long as you are not a vegetarian, there is everything your heart desires. Although I didn’t quite agree with them naming the pork-beef one “Classic” and the horse one “Horse”, since classically it’s the horse that makes it a Viennese tradition, I opted for the classic since it was my first Leberkäse and since it was my first, I asked for an extra large portion. Because I live only once.
Delicious! Just as any other quality Leberkäse it was juicy, well seasoned, not too salty. The bun was fresh and soft, with the crust nicely flaking under the pressure of my teeth. The Gurkerl (gherkin), which is a must in my Leberkäsesemmel could have been a tad more crunchy but its acidity was just right. We also tried ‘roasted onions’ and the fancy schmancy ‘truffle’ variations, both equally good where the taste of the added spices mixed well with the broiled meat.
I definitely recommend the Pepi if you’re out for a little adventure or just want to feel fabulous while eating the simplest but most delicious sandwich Vienna has to offer.
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