When I came to Vienna, I had never lived in an apartment before. I lived on campus for my first two years of college, where I didn’t have a kitchen and relied 100% on an expensive, unlimited meal plan. It was very convenient to have my food prepared for me back then, but it also meant I had no experience grocery shopping and cooking for myself! Now I had to learn how to feed myself, and on top of that, I had to learn how to do that in a foreign country. I am going to share some tips from what I have learned and experienced in Austrian grocery stores and my tiny Vienna kitchen!
Essentially, there are 3 different grocery stores you will likely shop at in Vienna. Most of the time, which one you go to depends on whichever is closest to where you live, or which one is on the way between the IES Abroad center and your apartment. The biggest chains are Billa, Hofer (the Austrian branch of Aldi), and Spar. I do not have much experience with Spar, but I shop at Billa and Hofer regularly! Where I live, Billa is the closest, only 3-4 minutes away, and Hofer is only about an 8-minute walk! Both stores have fair prices and a wide range of products, though I prefer Hofer. I shop at Aldi at home, so Hofer’s layout and products are more familiar to me, and I find that their prices are often considerably cheaper than Billa’s, especially for meat!
On the topic of meat- it is expensive in Austria. Yes, even chicken. In fact, chicken is not the most affordable option, which was hard for me and my roommates to accept! We had to adapt to making recipes with other meats- ground pork/beef mixture is your friend. Or just become a vegetarian. That works, too.
One of the most challenging things about grocery shopping in a foreign country is obviously not knowing the language and trying to decipher what exactly all the products are. I cannot tell you how long I have spent walking in circles in the dairy and meat sections hopelessly looking for specific things! I recommend looking up translations ahead of time for items on your list that you absolutely need and taking risks on some of the products you can’t necessarily identify. Sometimes it’s better for me when I don’t go into the store seeking specific items because then I can actually look around more and see if there are interesting products I would like to try! The staple products you need will be very obvious and easy to find- bread = Brot, milk = Milch, eggs= Eier, etc. For the most part, the stores are well organized like grocery stores at home, though Hofer can be a bit of a maze because some things are not where you think they would be. Take time to familiarize yourself with your local grocery stores so you don't have to wander as much every time, but always plan on a trip to the grocery store taking much longer than you think it will!
Differences from grocery stores in the States:
An important reminder about grocery shopping in Vienna (and most of Europe): they will charge you for paper bags if you don’t have your own, so buy a reusable one and always bring it with you! I recommend keeping it in your backpack- too many times I have decided to stop in on the way home from class and I forget to pack my bag and end up shoving things into my crammed backpack and cradling the rest in my arms! Don’t make the mistake of having nowhere to put your groceries once you’ve purchased them.
Also, Austrian grocery stores do not have baggers, so you have to bag your groceries yourself- as they scan them and as you also try to pay. The cashiers are super speedy here and they want to keep the line moving, so you have to work quickly to grab all your items and get out of the way! Sometimes it’s easier to throw everything back into your shopping basket or cart and go to the counter at the front to actually organize and bag your items. Just don’t stand there absent-mindedly and forget; it’s an adjustment to have to remember to do the work yourself when you’re used to having someone do it for you!
Hopefully it won’t be your first time stepping foot in a kitchen when you arrive at your apartment in Vienna. Even though I never had my own kitchen until now, I had helped my mom in the kitchen over the years and had a foundation of necessary cooking skills. Basically, I can follow recipes well and sometimes improvise a little bit. My mom is a pro in the kitchen, and I now wish I had spent more time paying attention to the little things she does that make her so good! I believe everyone is capable of becoming a proficient cook. I know students get a bad reputation for eating instant noodles or cereal all the time, but cooking real meals with fresh ingredients is not that difficult and doesn’t have to break your budget, either!
Something you need to discuss with your roommates once you arrive in Vienna, whether there are 2 or 6 of you, is how much you plan to cook and eat meals together. In my apartment, we have 6 girls, and about 4-5 times a week we have shared dinners together that 1-2 roommates prepare. Eating dinner as an apartment has worked out really well for us- it reduces the amount of dishes, eliminates issues of crowding in the small space of the kitchen, and consolidates the groceries we have to buy. We don’t split the grocery bill per-say, but each person buys things to contribute to the common pantry and we trade off picking up essentials throughout the week. I recommend trying to coordinate your meal planning and grocery shopping with your roommates. It makes your life easier, strengthens your relationships, and makes life more fun! We share recipes in our group message and take turns cooking whenever someone has one they want to make/their schedule allows them time to cook. I have included some pictures of meals we have had in the apartment in the gallery below!
I have found that cooking, and baking, are activities I really enjoy! Making dinner doesn’t have to be a chore. It’s relaxing for me to spend a couple hours in the kitchen making a big pot of soup or baking some loaves of pumpkin bread, and it’s really satisfying when your roommates get to enjoy what you’ve made and brag on you a bit. I always send pictures of what I’ve made to my family back home, as well, and now they’re questioning why I never cooked when I was at home! Oops! Necessity turned me into a chef!
The IES Abroad apartment kitchens are all fairly well equipped, but they don’t all have the same things/some things probably break or go missing over the years. You need to be aware of what utensils, pots, and appliances you do or don’t have as you plan any recipes. Sometimes you may need to pick up a random pan or spatula- T.K. Maxx is a great place to find basic kitchen needs (and much, much more) for reasonable prices!
I have had a great time learning to shop and cook for myself, and the skills I have developed will serve as enormous advantages to me for years to come! It certainly saves you a lot of money if you make your own meals instead of eating out all the time, especially since you eat out a lot whenever you travel to other cities! I will say that you also need to remember to try out some Vienna restaurants every once and a while, or at least go to a dozen or so of the hundreds of cafes! Food is not only delicious and necessary for life, but it is a way of learning about and experiencing different cultures. Be adventurous and try some of the more strange or foreign specialties in your city and others! Even if you don’t love everything you try, you’ll gain invaluable life experience and maybe find a few new things you can try to make yourself!
P.S. Sometimes you’ll need to get lunch between classes, and packing one isn’t always easy. Vienna has amazing street food, especially near the IES Abroad center since it is downtown near a large shopping area. You must try the kebab stand down the street. You will love it. It will take all your money. Happy Noodles and Nordsee are also great places to grab a cheap and tasty meal on the go!
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<p>Hey, y'all! I'm a cat-loving music education major from good ole Fort Worth, Texas. I sing Brahms and Mozart, but I listen to Taylor Swift, Hamilton, and much more! (My Spotify playlists says a lot about me!) I enjoy traveling because I get to meet new people, experience new places, and try new foods (okay- I'm mostly in it for the food). Follow along to see what kinds of adventures (and mishaps) I find myself involved in!</p>