Food for Thought
Mealtime with Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (1833-1896) essentially grew up in the slums of Hamburg. And although the famous “Herr Doktor Brahms” would later rub shoulders with Viennese high society, his eating habits apparently never changed. “I live in Vienna as if I were in the country,” he once told a friend. And that was certainly true when it came to mealtime. He ate his lunch at the same restaurant every day. “Zum Roten Igel” (The Red Hedgehog) was located just minutes away from St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the center of Vienna, and already Franz Schubert had enjoyed the hearty and simple cuisine offered at that restaurant. In addition, that temple of traditional Viennese cuisine was also known and frequented by Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn!

Brahms on his way to the "Red Hedgehog" (Zum Roten Igel)

Brahms on his way to the “Red Hedgehog”

Apparently, Brahms thoroughly enjoyed the “highly-seasoned meat courses,” among them probably a beef goulash seasoned with Hungarian paprika. Most commonly it is served with pumpernickel bread and a slightly chilled lager beer. It’s still a dish you can find on nearly every menu in Viennese restaurants today. And we do know that he had a special weakness for Beef Pilaf, a rice dish cooked in soup stock with added spices and cubes of meat. Brahms never ate alone, but always had two or three friends or acquaintances with him. And the restaurant always kept a small barrel of the finest Hungarian Tokay wine for Brahms’ private consumption.

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On occasion, Brahms would sit across from Anton Bruckner, who also made the “Hedgehog” his favorite restaurant. Not sure they found much common ground for chatting! Following lunch, Brahms would stop at the Casino in the City Park for a bit of digestion. He always sat at the same little marble table on the high terrace, sipping his coffee seasoned with a glass of cognac and reading the daily Viennese newspapers. When hosting Brahms at home, he frequently asked for “Siltsalat.”

Restaurant "Zum Roten Igel"

Restaurant “Zum Roten Igel”

This dish features finely chopped pickled herring, diced cold beets, a tart apple, new potatoes, chopped dill pickle, sweet onion, white vinegar, and oil, garnished with chopped fresh parsley or dill. The dressing was made with heavy whipping cream, lemon and beet juice, salt, and white pepper. He also seemed to enjoy fried “Whitebait,” and it is said that when Brahms opened a can of sardines, he would drink the oil straight out of the can!

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