It’s a quiet Sunday morning in the city, but down a narrow alleyway a bustling courtyard is filling up with patrons sitting at round tables with sun-shielding umbrellas. A busy café just inside is overflowing with the rest of the crowd—locals drinking coffee, meeting friends, and reading the newspaper intently.
Sweet and savory smells waft in the air and envelop the small, lively space. The aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries fills the room and sizzling hot dishes make their way to each crowded table.
On this warm day, I’m at Kafe Leopold, a popular restaurant in the heart of Washington, DC, that serves up its traditional fare from Austria and Germany to devoted patrons. Many of the warm, hearty dishes served remind Austria-native Andrea King of her hometown of Salzburg, one of the biggest cities in Austria. A Rosetta Stone Studio Coach for the German language program, Andrea has lived in the DC area for several years but calls Austria home. After recommending the restaurant as a place where authentic and delicious Austrian delicacies are served, she meets me to discuss her favorite places in this city to get her fix of her homeland and culture. We also discuss what she loves about Austria and what she recommends doing and seeing for those interested in traveling there.
Sitting in the bustling café, it’s clear to me why King and so many others love this restaurant. The space is bright and sunny and people seem to truly enjoy being here. Along the back wall of the restaurant is a long, glass-enclosed display shelf filled with decadent pastries and delicately constructed desserts. Mounds of heavenly scented macaroons sit on the top shelf—they’re offered in unusual flavors such as banana rum, green-apple coriander, blackberry olive oil, and pistachio—and on the bottom shelf sit colorful cakes, including an opera cake—an almond sponge torte layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache.
Although just about everything on the menu looks mouthwatering, Andrea chooses a few traditional dishes for us that remind her of home and her family back in Austria. As I bite into the schnitzel, its mustard-lemon dressing adds a surprising zing to the dish’s base of breaded veal cutlet. I top off that sensation with a creamy and zesty potato salad which melts in the mouth. Next, I try the skillet-smoked bratwurst with celery sauerkraut, and roasted potatoes on the side. For dessert, Andrea orders Apfelstrudel for us. The flaky, sweet apple strudel with hot vanilla sauce and vanilla ice cream plopped on top is irresistible. Sachertorte, a traditional Austrian dark-chocolate cake layered with apricot preserves and chocolate glaze is the grand finale and a perfect ending to this decadent food journey.
Andrea’s favorite dish is the Kaiserschmarrn mit Zwetschgenröster, and once the plate arrives, it’s obvious why she loves it. The scrambled soufflé with plum compote and currants is warm, buttery, and filled with a delicate, syrupy-sweet stewed mixture that warmly lingers in my mouth, filling my taste buds with sweet berries. It’s wonderful sampling these traditional, authentic dishes while Andrea provides context for each dish along with a special memory or anecdote. She shares how Kaiserschmarrn mit Zwetschgenröster reminds her of morning meals with her family back in Austria.
So here’s my food for thought. A wonderful way to practice a new language or learn more about a culture or country is to seek out dining experiences that mirror those you’d find in-country. When your dining companions and waitstaff were raised in the culture you’re eager to know about and they speak the language you’re learning, you can truly have a completely sensory learning experience. Practice your new language by ordering your meal, discussing the dishes, and asking questions of your tablemates. In local dining spots like Kafe Leopold that offer authentic, home-country cuisine and ambience, you can practice the nuances of your new language as well as the gestures, customs, and traditions that make it unique and special.
Studio Coaches like Andrea are great resources for learning about culture. When we’d nearly finished eating, we began talking about Austria and the culture of the country and region. She discussed how accessible and easy it is to travel around Austria and Germany—for residents and newcomers alike.
“Every major city is connected by train,” Andrea said, adding that it’s an easy and affordable way to get around and see the country and landscape. She also urged visiting Austria’s capital city. “If you’re interested in art and culture, I would recommend visiting Vienna. It’s a beautiful city and has many museums, historic churches, and beautiful parks.”
The wonderful conversation and delicious food made me truly excited to visit Austria. It was wonderful talking with Andrea about the authentic dishes, culture, and the overall vibe of the region. She had great recommendations for getting a taste of Austrian and German culture right in DC and shared helpful tips for visiting her native country.
I’m happy to have had such an enriching cultural experience right here in my own neighborhood. I look forward to more such adventures, learning about food, culture, and the languages and traditions of other countries. Stay tuned!