Apologies to my long-term readers hoping for a eulogy about bakers making money from their joyous bespoke goods. Much as I enjoy and loyally support my local bakery, Wannenmacher, I am not dedicating this post to their industry and baked goods that enrich my pack lunches and breakfasts. Or to the “bobo” bakeries à la Joseph Brot that seem to have proliferated in Vienna and who have elevated baking to an art form, albeit an expensive one. Or to the chain bakeries like Ströck, Felber, der Mann or even Anker. Or those devilishly good cakes from Oberlaa.
Instead, my mantra of “Where there’s dough, there’s dough” relates to the latest phenomenon to have punctured the Sommerloch here in Vienna. Vienna boasts all manner of Asian restaurants, from the MSG Chinese restaurants that sometimes are (in many cases wrongly) presumed to be linked to crime, Vietnamese pho bars, sushi restaurants, fusion restaurants and the like. A shopping mall or railway station here also doesn’t seem to be complete without a noodle bar, some of which still serve into the small hours, their noodle boxes often disposed of in a littering manner. All serve “Teigtaschen” in all their many manifestations from their respective cuisines. But now the humble and tasty if well-made Teigtasche finds itself embroiled in crime.
The current en vogue nefarious activity of the season is illegal dumpling production. The word “Teigtaschenfabrik” has risen to prominence in the last month or so, with a fourth illegal Teigtaschenfabrik recently having been raided in Vienna. I would probably not have even really taken the subject that seriously, had it not been for a raid in a neighbouring property to a friend’s place in Penzing. Of course the keyboard warriors of the newspaper online forums lapped up each raid like a tasty morsel. Newspapers were forced to find synonyms for verbs meaning reveal, discover, uncover – Nephew effusively pointed out how good it was for the lessons he was teaching in German to an American house husband in terms of broadening his vocabulary.
My friend in Penzing had never thought that anything was up next door that was at all untoward, although some of his quick-witted neighbours were instrumental in alerting the authorities. His view was a typical Viennese one. This being Vienna, if you live in a property made up of multiple dwellings, particularly where there is mixed owner and tenant occupancy, you may not know your neighbours, unless of course you have your resident curtain-twitcher who ensures that all comings and goings are noted and duly investigated if they deviate from an acceptable norm. That was the case for him, and like a gardener who won’t attack a snail as long as it isn’t attacking the vegetables, he never thought to question or interfere. Now while Austria doesn’t have the babushka concierge officially, in some buildings they still exist, and my home is under the careful watch of my elderly neighbour. Were I to ever have a suspicion, I would in time-honoured fashion befitting the Cottageviertel naturally extend an invitation to her for Kaffee und Kuchen, to find out everything I needed to know – such as whether new neighbours passed muster – and could be quietly confident of her opinion starting with an evaluation of choice of removal company, furniture seen being unloaded and the neighbours’ general demeanour.
In hindsight, my friend did remark that the comings and goings and the large amounts of flour and groceries being consumed, and even the smell should have registered. The vans and cars and couriers with cool boxes ought to have been another tell-tale sign. The windows that were covered over should have given it away too. But otherwise, for him, next door was just another flat with people going about their lives, as is so frequently the case in big cities. Flats in Vienna are every bit as higgledy-piggledy in terms of being a melting pot for many different races. Ahead of the elections (which are now only a mere four weeks away), the list of the number of registered voters has long been up, and it is interesting to see how few Austrians live in some blocks of flats based on the number of eligible occupants.
Austria’s newspapers have also seen fit to enlighten us on what goes on in such denizens of dough. The “Teigtaschenfabrike” seem to produce and freeze amazingly large numbers of dumplings, often in a heavily improvised kitchen and with a living room full of freezers. What amazes me is that the electricity bills are not so horrific that they give away some kind of commercial activity. Some of the news reporting showed flats with lots of full “chest” freezers, packed to the brim, and other impromptu storage solutions.
But what is so wrong about such production facilities? Well the obvious concerns are the lack of quality control of the ingredients, cleanliness of food preparation areas, the observance of the cold chain, the integrity of the power supply, the safety of the appliances used, leading all in all to the offending items violating the Lebensmittelgesetz (for my British readers – the level of affront is similar to the Findus Horsemeat Lasagne scandal in the UK). Of course, with an election to fight, the stories also attract a human element, with rumouring and posturing about the (il)legality of the workers, the legitimacy of the proceeds of the endeavours from running such a facility. I had long expected the FPÖ, who have put up their posters already on the triangular stands to be freely defaced on a near nightly basis, to have run posters about illegal production facilities – they ran similar kinds of poster in the past.
Others have been discovered in Margareten, Favoriten and most remarkably, for a district that snootier residents claim “Oh, that kind of thing doesn’t happen round here!”, here in Döbling. However, other than shut down the illegal production facilities, what else is the effect? Well, according to a lot of the media reports, there is to be a thorough checking of all Asian restaurants and retailers – there are apparently over 500 in Vienna – to see if they have been taking delivery of the illegal Teigtaschen. It’s all a cunning ruse to be seen to be clamping down. We’ll never know if restaurants were using illegal production and staff illegally in Austria, as many restaurants use August for a Betriebsschluss/Betriebsurlaub and then some inevitably do not re-open. In addition tales emerge of workers hiding in cupboards to avoid being busted for being here illegally, or of them living in bunk rooms, with 6-8 to a room intended for at most 1-2 based on its dimensions.
But maybe we’ll also see a chain reaction – à la “first they targeted the Teigtaschenfabrike, then it was the Pirogi makers” – such is the melting pot of Vienna’s outer districts surely it will only be a matter of time before headlines unearth an underground Caucasian Khinkali cell in Kaiserebersdorf, a covert Balkan Burek bakery in Brigittenau or a secret spaghetti supply in Simmering. Or then again, the impending elections will surpass all other news (apart from the recently announced retirement of Marcel Hirscher, which attracted similar coverage to that of the Herminator (Hermann Maier)) and the cloud of steam from the Teigtaschenfabrike will dissipate gently into the apparently now cooler Viennese skies.