The World’s Greatest Snack Food?

Some background: in German, the word “Imbiss” is loosely translated in to English as “snack bar”. One of the best examples was this one (apparently a temporary structure because a friend looking for it later couldn’t find it):

It was located at the beginning of the Graben, Vienna’s premier pedestrian mall in the Old City (Altstadt), just across from St. Stephan’s Cathedral (Stefansdom). (I’m translating so that future visitors can find them on a map or on signposts, because this is how they’re commonly listed.)

Anyway, what set this particular Imbiss apart from all the others was their bratwurst hot dog sandwich — not so much for the food, although it was delicious, but for its preparation. Allow me to explain.

The footlong (or whatever that is in metric) buns are kept warm in a steam oven, just as they are in the U.S. What’s different is that when it’s time to put the brats into the bread, they aren’t slit open lengthwise, oh no. That would make it a messy sandwich, which would be unerträglich to the neat ‘n tidy Austrians.

Instead, the bun is impaled on a very hot spike, which does two things: it makes an opening for the bratwurst to be inserted, and it toasts the bun on the inside.

Now for the bratwurst. It’s not just any old sausage, oh no; it has great hunks of cheese embedded in the meat, and the brats are heated on rollers similar to the one you see at 7-11 — only these rollers are really hot because the cheese melts inside the sausage, in some cases even bursting through the skin, making a crust of burned cheese around the sausage. (Are you drooling yet?)

The vendor will ask you if you want the burnt cheese scraped off (the answer of course should be “Nein, nein! Bitte lassen Sie die Käse!”), whereafter he will insert the sausage into the roll after first squirting some wondrous German mustard down inside the opening.

What you will have (as Daughter exclaimed loudly upon tasting her first one) is the world’s greatest hot dog, and quite possible the world’s greatest snack food, period. It also makes no mess when you eat it — unless you bite into the brat too quickly, which will make melted cheese and sausage fat run down your chin. Here’s the finished product (from the excellent Philosophy and Madeleines blog), but I’m afraid the pic just doesn’t do it justice:

(And of course, keine Coca-Cola, bitte; you have to eat it with a beer — sold at the same outlet.)

I have no idea whether this is a Viennese style of preparation or a common German one. I do know that I’ve never found its like anywhere I’ve looked, whether in southern Germany, the Rhineland or even in Salzburg.

I would hesitate to recommend visiting Vienna purely to experience this wonderfully-delicious snack, but then again there are about a thousand equally-good reasons to go to Vienna. Just add it to the list of things to experience in the Austrian capital, one of my top three favorite places in the whole world.

Next time: Gulaschsuppe and where to find it.


  1. There were a couple places in Australia that prepared hotdogs that way when we lived there in 2010-2012.

    Well, the whole stab the bun and slide the hotdog in. Kinda suggestive really 🙂

    The hotdogs were just regular hotdogs though.

  2. I’m looking at the picture of the bratwurst sandwich and the first thing that comes to mind is the Latin word for sheath.
    I mean WTH, squeeze it a bit and the cheese oozes out; squeeze it too hard and it might even squirt.

  3. I was going to say– why the hell is there a soda in the photo? If that sort of thing doesn’t get one arrested in Vienna, it should.

  4. Wow, that brings back wonderful memories, living three years in Germany and enjoying great street food, Brätwurst mitt Brotchen, each area had its different Brätwurst, Nürnberger Rostbrätwurst being my favorite, drie on a brotchen given to you so hot that the grease would squirt all over as you took your first bite.

    I am lucky because I have some nice fresh bratwurst in the fridge that I can grill this afternoon, those along with a good mustard and sauerkraut make for decent eating and I will forego the brotchen because of the carbs. I understand if you eat the wonderful breads and pastas in Europe the carbs don’t count due to the different hemisphere and magnetic North.

  5. On the tank ranges at Bergen-Hohne there was a regular rotation of food trucks, big green one from NAAFI, (best fruit tarts) grey YMCA van (cheese brotchen to die for) and a little yellow privateer (schnapps and schnausages). The Walsrode ammo dump kantin had the best curry wurst und pommes frites (think yuge mickey d’s) and cheap.

  6. There’s an old German guy who runs a similar stand at a local Farmer’s Market. He has the hot spike thing to toast the bun but also uses it to wiggle the hole a bit bigger then a kind of long half tube spatula thingy to slide sauerkraut and / or fried onions and / or roasted peppers evenly into the hole if you want. Which I do. All of them.

  7. World’s greatest hot dog, world’s greatest snack food; maybe the world’s smuttiest metaphor? I want one.

    Some one could franchise that idea, I bet.

  8. Ah, Wien. I was there in 2009, am headed back in August en route to Eisenstadt. If you haven’t been there, Kim isn’t joking…it’s got the beauty of Paris, but run with Teutonic efficiency.

  9. Yeah, two years in Germany pretty much spoiled me for American food and beer. Currywurst mit Pommes from our favorite little fast food place called the Kochloeffel (cooking spoon.) I didn’t know what it meant until my German girlfriend told me but the door handle was shaped like a spoon so we just came to call it the “Greasy Spoon” and it certainly lived up to its name.

    Don’t forget the Curry Ketchup, something I don’t think I’ve ever found in the States.

    Kim I know you like your British Bitters but to me there’s nothing better to wash a currywurst down with than a cold Kristaller Weizen with a slice of lemon.

  10. I note that this food item is advertised as a “hot dog” (not a “wurst”), and that the stand also offers pizza and kebabs. The internationalization of street food has considerable benefits!

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