If you walk by a typical Austrian Wirtshaus at this time of year, you may hear the cheerful chatter of old friends gathering, and might even get a whiff of oranges, red wine and spices drifting out the door—along with the savory smell of roasted goose. Late October and November in Austria is a season marked by the celebration of “Martinigansl,” (literally, St. Martin’s goose), a time for meeting up with friends or family and sitting down for a traditional meal.
The holiday feast culminates on Nov. 11th, St. Martin’s Day, and has sprung out of a handful of Catholic legends surrounding the soldier-bishop. Because St. Martin is the regional saint of Burgenland, the holiday holds special weight there, but for many, Martinigansl season is inseparable from delicious food.
In order to understand the ins and outs of Martinigansl culture, METROPOLE talked with Barbara Petretto, Wirtin and co-owner of Wirtshaus Assmayer, a classic Austrian tavern with a bit of modern flair in Vienna’s 12th district. The restaurant has existed in the same spot in various forms since the 1870s, and Petretto has been running it since 2010.
According to Bärbel, as the regulars call her, here are 4 things you need to know about Austrian Martinigansl:
1. It’s a festive tradition centered around people
Martinigansl is a season for coming together with friends and family, imbued with the sights and smells of the holidays.
“You see the people you love, and you enjoy spending time together—being relaxed,” says Petretto. “It smells great, it smells warm—of course the food is hot—but for me it’s a heartwarming smell. It’s comfy, it’s cozy. Martinigansl is festive, and feels a little bit like Christmas.”
“Many restaurants start serving roasted goose in October and go until the middle of November. St. Martin’s Day on the 11th is the high season, so to speak. At Wirtshaus Assmayer, we start in November and serve until the end of the month.”
2. But it might be more about the goose – and the sides
“The atmosphere in the restaurant is really cool because people can’t wait to get their goose. This food comes once a year, and they’re glad for the occasion,” Petretto says.
The traditional meal is “a quarter of roasted goose with potato dumplings, red cabbage and goose gravy,” says Petretto. “And that’s what’s on the menu at Assmayer, but we also serve a goose stew.”
It’s not a true Martinigansl without these four dishes, though some restaurants try to serve goose in as many forms as possible, like goose pickle soup or even goose liver creme brûlée.
3. Reserve early to get a spot
Petretto says that at some restaurants, customers will have to make a reservation early because spots fill up fast. It also helps the restaurant cook the goose on time.
“Each goose needs to be roasted in the oven for three hours, and feeds about four people,” Petretto says.
“Last year, we didn’t have a chance to serve Martinigansl due to COVID lockdowns, so this year, people are hungry for it,” she adds. “Somebody told me they wanted to eat three geese this season because they missed it so much.”
4. The legend behind it is 1600 years old
The legend of St. Martin’s goose stretches back to 397 A.D. and is surrounded by so many different variations that the actual history is no longer clear.
According to Petretto, “The Martinigansl tradition comes from the story of St. Martin, who was a Roman soldier that converted to Christianity. St. Martin’s famous icon shows him sharing his red cape with a poor man.” As the legend goes, the people of Tours, France, where St. Martin lived, called for him to be ordained as a bishop for his good deeds. St. Martin felt unworthy for the Catholic post and hid away in a goose pen to avoid the crowds.
“He begged the geese to be silent,” Petretto says, “but of course they weren’t—and so the people found St. Martin and he became a bishop. And I think he ate a lot of goose afterwards,” she jokes.
“Since St. Martin is the local saint of Burgenland, the kids there have school off on the 11th, and the wine farmers celebrate finishing their work—they open up their wine cellars so everybody can come together for food and wine. Being together at this time of year—that’s the tradition.”
If you haven’t tried Martinigansl yet, you really should
Roasted goose has a particularly “wild” taste, Petretto says: “It’s a bird full of flavor. You can taste that it’s poultry, but it’s very gamey, almost like venison. Compared to duck, the flavor of goose is even stronger.”
But if goose isn’t your thing, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the holiday—most places will offer a vegetarian option too. At Wirtshaus Assmayer, they’re serving up chestnut gnocchi with red cabbage.
Besides, it’s the gathering with friends and family that really dispels the autumn chill.
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy Martinigansl this season, stop by Wirtshaus Assmayer and give Bärbel a “Hallo!” Or check out these other restaurants that are offering goose this season:
- Wirtshaus Assmayer
- Stuwer – Neues Wiener Beisl
- Cafè Restaurant Oktogon Am Himmel
- Rudis Beisl
- Bierosophie and Landia also offer a vegan Martinigansl
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.