“If I speak of Vienna,
it must be in the past tense,
as a man speaks of a woman he has loved and who is dead.”
Erich von Stroheim [Jewish filmmaker and actor]
Greetings, I am Nino Shaye Weiss, an unbridled foodnik kibbitzing (aka blogging) from Vienna, a place steeped in history and culture. The city of music and dreams, once loved and hated by Sigmund Freud, has been home to many celebrated Jewish figures, including Theodor Herzl, Gustav Mahler, Viktor Frankl, Martin Buber, Stefan Zweig, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Arnold Schoenberg, and Erich von Stroheim, among others. In my blog, I endeavor to pay tribute to these great figures as well as to the anonymous Jew of pre-Shoah Jewish Vienna by delving into memory’s kitchen and celebrating their once-rich and diverse cuisine, now lost forever. From Italian and Hungarian influences to Bohemian and Galician, I explore the eclectic flavors and unique stories of this previously vibrant culinary tradition, often with a Freudian twist. Join me in my virtual kitchen as I offer a culinary armchair therapy for a fictional restaurant, and discover the delicious world of Jewish Viennese food.
I am writing this blog from Vienna’s Island of Shattered Glass (“Glasscherbeninsel” a.k.a. “Mazzesinsel”, Matzo Island), the name of which stands as a tribute to the many Jews who used to live here. Post-World War II Vienna is marked by the destruction of the vast majority of its Jewish inhabitants along with the heart of its former vibrant intellectual, cultural and social life. The Viennese are still struggling to fully grasp the void created by this rupture of civilization.
Yet, the cosmopolis of Vienna at the turn of the 1900 century was cherished by its Jewish inhabitants, despite or maybe even against the city’s visceral old and new anti-Semitism. Many wanted to assimilate and even dissolve in the local fabric by going as far as to convert to Catholicism. Cookbooks were written that had a very large audience and even catered to the Jewish more or less secular population too. One such cookbook was Olga and Adolf Hess’ “Viennese Cooking” from 19131, a year before World War I, decades before the Shoah. The book also contains in code — a code known by all more or less assimilated Jews in Vienna — food suitable for Passover and for other holidays and possible kosher requirements. This is how the English translator of “Viennese Cooking”, Carla Schlesinger, introduced and lauded Viennese Cuisine, “one of the most refined eating traditions of the civilized world”, in 1952 in New York to its post-Shoah audience, which included many refugees and survivors:
VIENNESE COOKING has a unique pedigree. For many centuries, Vienna, capital city of a mighty Empire and situated on the crossroads of Central Europe, drew its cultural incentive from a variety of nations; and Viennese epicures considered delicacies to be no less important culturally as conventional works of art. They tasted the preferred dishes of herdsmen from Hugarian plains and the Transylvanian and Carpathian mauntains, the food of Alpine lumbermen, the fare of Czech peasants and Serb mountaineers, the culinary extravaganzas of Polish nobles and Turkish Pashas, the dainties of Italian seamen and Levantine traders. The Viennese were choosy: they kept the best, and put their pride into improving it even further. There were at least as many national cookeries in the realm as there were languages spoken by its people; according to official statistics, sixteen languages were spoken in the Monarchy under the reign of Francis Joseph I.
Vienna’s Continuing Hostility Towards Jews
But in 2014 the Viennese weren’t even able, or more precisely, they likely conveniently forgot to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s death. Scholars frequently discuss the public’s indifferent, somewhat hostile attitude toward Freud and psychoanalysis. Historian Peter Gay largely sums up the issue with the following statement: “Vienna, it seems, has largely repressed Freud.”2 One might add that the Viennese have done so especially with regards to the psychologist’s Jewish heritage as the city has done with its own Jewish past as a whole. Many of the articles here discuss Vienna’s lost cultural background with regards to the impact the Jews have had culinarily throughout the years.
Sigmund Freud’s haunting specter
Sigmund Freud, who is perhaps the most famous thinker to have come out of Vienna, happened to have had very particular tastes and preferences regarding his meals. He offered at least one cookbook to his wife, Martha Bernays, and later, another cookbook to their cook. And then there’s Freud’s own (apocryphal) cookbook. The pages you will find here try to investigate, albeit light-heartedly, the relationship between food and thought, particularly of psychoanalytical ideas and Viennese food with a special focus on its more or less repressed Jewish influences.
For me, cooking is akin to treatment. By researching a particular food’s history, I begin to work through the events in my own personal life. Even the simple process of cooking itself — the act of washing and cutting up vegetables, for instance — is a rewarding, meditative ritual. Then, in turn, serving that food to guests, friends, and family members is rejuvenating and therapeutic.
Of course, cooking cannot replace proper psychotherapy
Here I’m particularly interested in the cultural – especially sociological and anthropological – aspects of food. Vienna has a kind of melting-pot cuisine. Its cuisine has been influenced by its neighbors and immigrants, including the Jewish, Italian, Hungarian, and Bohemian nations, all of whom lived in or interacted with Austria at some point throughout its history.
We can, indeed, gain valuable insight into Viennese ideals and values through immersing ourselves in its culinary culture. Psychoanalysis, which has come to shape the Western world of the twentieth century is, indeed, an apt lens through which we can come to appreciate national, and perhaps even international narratives. The process of becoming aware of one’s cuisine, of the recipes, ingredients, and flavors through which it expresses itself, can serve as the culinary equivalent to psychotherapeutic analysis.
Ever since your mother’s milk, all eating must surely be an oral fixation
If you believe in the therapeutic potential of the culinary arts, and you enjoy a bit of academic humor, you’ve come to the right place. Put briefly, what I hope to evoke through my blog are some of the stories we as humans tell about ourselves through our food.
While to some extent my culinary interests have a Southern Central-European and Austro-Hungarian focus, my kitchen is very cosmopolitan, or at least European. Thanks to my time in Vienna, Budapest, Paris, Tel-Aviv, as well as my frequently prolonged stays in Venice and New York, I often blend cuisines and flavors in my culinary explorations.
My Cosmopolitan Kitchen
Modern technology has made international travel and exchange of information easier than ever. It has developed the globalization of food production. New ways of cooking mean new ways of telling stories. That is partially why I like to think of this blog as exploring textual landscapes and analyzing the new worlds they reveal.
Leave me your email address to get notified of new posts and important updates.
LET’S STAY IN TOUCH
If you’d like to hear from me now and then, sign up below.
Share if you care!
- Olga and Adolf Hess, Viennese Cooking (Vienna: 1913 / New York: Crown, 1952)
Most of the recognition Freud has received in Vienna has been the work of foreigners: His bust, which now stands in the University, was presented by Ernest Jones. There is in Vienna, crisscrossed with streets named after its great, or at least prominent, residents, no Freudgasse….The public indifference, the latent hostility, are chilling. Freud, the first psychologist to chart the workings of ambivalence, had, in this city he hated but could not leave, abundant materials for the exercise of mixed feelings. Vienna, it seems, has largely repressed Freud.
Edmund Engelman (Author, Photographer), Peter Gay (Introduction), Berggasse 19: Sigmund Freud’s Home and Office, Vienna, 1938: The Photographs of Edmund Engelman, (U. of Chicago Press, 1981), p14.
Though Edie Jarolim, aka Freud’s Butcher, expresses some hope in her first post for her blog on Freud’s world over at Psychology Today. See “Did Vienna Repress Freud? A New Attitude in Austria. Given scant attention in Vienna for decades, Freud may be staging a comeback.” (published May 15th, 2018) (retrieved on May 18th, 2018 URL: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/freud-s-world/201805/did-vienna-repress-freud-new-attitude-in-austria>).