I first stumbled on Naschmarkt dazed and groggy after napping through my slow Saturday morning train ride from my Austrian village to Vienna. Still half asleep, I stepped out of the Kettenbrückengasse U-Bahn stop, wondering what in the world I could do with myself for 40 minutes in the crisp chill of late autumn before wandering off to my yoga class. Commuting to Vienna from my village had taught me to maximize my time by either writing furiously on my laptop in 1-hour pockets or dozing off at irregular hours to my train’s view of Austrian mountains. However, twiddling my numbing thumbs aimlessly as I waited on either side of the train had begun to deplete my yogic wells of patience. In the frost-bitten breeze, I was left bitterly cold. As I mounted the train station’s stairs to arrive to the dreaded freezing Viennese air, my sleep-heavy eyes suddenly widened with dumbfounded amazement.
I had stepped off my platform struck with the realization that I was not in the Vienna that I had known anymore. Rather, I was in Naschmarkt, Vienna’s largest and most-frequented open-air market. Naschmarkt is a melting pot of cultures made flavorful by the myriad people who by one way or another have found their way to Vienna. It is a showcase of their stories that continue to be written. It’s an exhibition of their pathways, and a unique display of foods from where they came and those that market well to their varied patrons of locals and tourists alike.
I can never make it far down the aisles of its adjacent Saturday fleamarket without being stopped in my tracks by a silly Viennese elf hat or a bold-patterned Indian scarf that screams my name. It is utterly fruitless to walk with purpose down the aisles of local produce vendors as I am inevitably called to with a smile, “Deutsch? English? What language you speak? Where you from? Ohhhhh, America! You have no dried hibiscus in your country. Try!”
I open my palm to all that they have to offer – mango slices, wasabi peanuts, toffeed pistachios, Ayurvedic rose tea, all kinds of nibbles of bright colors and pungent spices. Through the aisles of bold variety, I fly away to a sensory adventure. I leave each time with a plump belly, a piqued curiosity, and a few new jovial food-selling friends.
Naschmarkt is where old meets the new. It is a haphazard dreamworld where Austrian specialties proudly exist alongside the most sought-after specialties from cuisines of the world. Viennese artisanal craftsmen happily sell their Wiener Schnitzel and Glühwein alongside Middle Eastern tellers, who offer their sunny falafels and baklava with unapologetic enthusiasm. On frigid cold winter mornings, sellers expertly act on the knowledge that all patrons, regardless of where they may originate, simply want to be warmed and nourished with enticing foods that are lovingly cooked by those who care.
Naschmarkt is small but powerful example of the means by which food connects. It is not merely a vehicle to fill our baskets with exotic fruits, but an exemplary symbol of how sharing of scrumptious cuisine can be used as a delicious starting point for peaceful and meaningful coexistence.