Sandra Shevey visited some Austrian markets. The Innsbruck market was one of it. So, what does she have to say about it?
The train to Innsbruck was jammed with evangelists on their way to Oberammergau for the Passion Play which runs every 10 years. Seating was difficult as I had to make my way around the placards which obstructed the corridors. Window views appeared like a film montage- images of mountains and sheep and deer (right out of `The Sound of Music`). Five hours later I arrived dog tired at Innsbruck, the capital city of Tyrol (western Austria) and one of the best ski resorts in the world. It has hosted the Winter Olympics twice (1964 and 1976) and has also hosted the Paralympics (1984 and 1988). In 2008 it was chosen to host the first Winter Youth Olympic Games to be held in 2012.
Meaning `Bridge over the River Inn` Innsbruck was and is an important trade crosspoint of both Germany and Italy. Lake Como is just across the border and on a clear day you can see George Clooney who has a villa there. The counts of Andechs were given rights over the Tyrol valleys by the Roman Emperor and in 1180 established a market, built a bridge to facilitiate movement of goods between north and south regions of the Alps. It is conceivable they merely regulated an existing market in as much as the location has always had an enviable proximity linking trade routes and the Brenner Pass.
In this Innsbruck would not be unlike our own Borough market in London which originally existed on the north side of the Thames and was expanded by the Romans who built the bridge linking north and south London.
The market began in the open amidst the cobbles and alleys in the old town square. It still exists to some extent today in the same form and the same place. An Art Noveau indoor market hall was built in 1921. A bit of the old building exists and you can view it from the rear of the New Food Hall which was built in 1960. In times past the 1921 hall was doubtless used to sell perishables whilst outdoor stalls sold fruit and veg and other produce.
There still is an outdoor market, generally specializing in antiques, bric-a-brac and other flea items but it was cancelled during my trip. Two outdoor stages had been erected for band concerts taking place in the market square later that evening. I think this is a good omen…..a progressive omen…a healthy omen. Rock concerts sure beat the kinds of entertainment previously generated for the amusement of sovereigns who would sit on their thrones peering down from terraces as some poor soul got his arm or leg hacked off in a tournament or some other blood sport.
The difference between New Hall and Old Hall is that between farm-fresh and organic. New Hall reminds a bit of Harrods. Everything is pukka, smart and expensive. It`s like Saturday at the Borough market in London. Old Hall produce is not only local and home-grown. It is organically grown which means the taste is that much more rarefied. The houmas was thick and rich. Fillets of roast pork were so tender you could eat them with your fingers. Pumpernickel and creme fraiche sprinfled with parsley were definitive in both taste and texture.
The General Food Hall is open Monday – Friday 6am – 6:30pm and on Satuday from 6am – 1pm. The Farmers Market is open Monday – Saturday 6am – Noon. I must admit at this stage that I speak not a word of Austrian. Not a word. And yet it didn`t seem to matter. I had long conversations during my trip but they weren`t always verbal. I was asked to try a cheese which translated means `love cheese`. I was given a single taster. `Nothing`, I said to the cheesemonger. `I need more than one taster to get me going`. A local behind me in the queue quipped, `Natural Viagra`. I howled. I laugh every time I think of the remark, even now as I write the blog. Another stall purveyed homemade onion cake and also a delicious bread called `Feigen cake` which is stuffed with nuts, apples and raisins.
Saturday also hosts two small Farmers markets in other parts of Innsbruck. Visiting them gives you the chance to walk around the city. You feel diminished by the grandeur of Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo architecture- also somewhat daunted by the wooden Durer-like crucifixes which still dominate this lovely, lost Austrian valley, shrouded in mist, mountains and magic.
And it`s not just on the streets. I was booked into the Hotel Adler, around the corner from the old marketplace. A large part of the hotel was originally a Capuchin convent. This 400 year old hotel owned by the Ultsch family since 1900 and currently part of the Best Western Group remains architecturally true to its monastic origins and those origins include a singificant amount of religious iconography. As I savoured some of the best cheese I have ever eaten, I departed this last Austrian market venue. It was the end of the tour. I was sorry it was over. But I thought I`d come back. Like the cheese, it had left a pleasant taste in my mouth.
Copyright 2010 Sandra Shevey All Rights Reserved
Sandra Shevey runs tours around local markets worldwide. http://sandrashevey.tripod.com
Hospitality courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office, www.austria.info
, Food & Wine