I like to write about off-the-beaten-path travel, but that doesn’t always mean deserted places. It’s more about sights and curiosities that most garden-variety travelers won’t gather the gumption to check out, the places the locals go. Often, first on that list is the open-air city market. Almost every worthwhile city has one, and they’re almost always worth visiting.
Vienna’s version is called the Naschmarkt (yes, nasch here is a variant of the Yiddish nosh, for eat/munch/taste/oy that’s good). It’s a permanent fixture in a wide berm between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Friedrichstraße, still in the First District but outside the Ring. Some call this neighborhood east Mariahilf, but don’t worry about that; just get off the Unterbahn (subway) U1, U2 or U4 lines at Karlsplatz and ask once you get upstairs. You’re a three-minute walk away.
What makes Naschmarkt special, compared to other city markets such as Paris’s Les Halles and London’s Covent Garden? Well, nothing obvious. It’s shoulder-jammed close quarters and shopper-bumping fun, and fresh things abound in such quantity that you wonder how even a big city can eat it all. A closer look, though, reveals a clearly Viennese character. Positioned as it was for centuries on western Europe’s eastern frontier (“the breastplate of the armor of Christendom,” to paraphrase one writer), Vienna was a merge point for cultures from all over Europe and eventually, the world.
So it is that dozens of earnest men lean over counters with golden balls of falafel on forks, offering you a taste that they hope will make you reach for your wallet. One booth’s sandwich board sign advertises its authentic Russian borscht and promises more Slavic delights inside. Saffron sellers brag loudly about the Iranian origins of that expensive spice. Rows and rows of brightly colored scarves blow in the breeze beside shelves upon shelves of teas from all over Asia. Yet there is also veal pre-pounded into cutlets for schnitzel, or already breaded if you want to take it home and get it frying right away. Four-story tortes and hospitably stuffed apfelstrudel tempt the famous Viennese — and international — sweet tooth.
Every city market, even the Strip District in my home town of Pittsburgh, has some tourist temptation in it, and Naschmarkt knows its clientele too. But if you watch the signs, see where the Viennese shop, drink coffee, pause and chat, you can hone in on the authentic and spend a rewarding morning. Gut essen.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
Photographs by Adam Barr