By Simon Ballam & Dardis McNamee
It appeared suddenly just days before Christmas. In mid rush for last-minute items, we stopped short. At shop No. 44, where our beloved Feinkost Höttinger had recently closed its doors, the paper was down from the windows, the lights were on and things were happening inside.
Wepeeredin: There, in the display coolers where the many cheeses, sausages and cold cuts had been there was now… FISH! Masks back on, we hurried inside.
There behind the glass was the full array of fresh creatures of lake, sea and stream, laid out on the glittering crushed ice – plump trout and their larger cousins the Saibling, salmon, bream, monkfish, sardines, octopus and all kinds of shellfish, including coquilles Saint-Jacques.
We couldn’t believe our eyes. “Are we glad to see you!” we burst out, to the man who appeared at our side. “That’s what everyone says who walks in the door,” he beamed. This was Peter Zinter, manager and presiding presence of LieblingsFisch, an outlet store for the Eishken Estate wholesale fish market in Inzersdorf. He had just opened that morning, and half the produce was already gone. We couldn’t tear our eyes away from the gleaming display.
Except for the mermaid, a life-size mural behind the cash desk. This was no sweet little Copenhagen dreamer, my companion whispered. Her finely chiseled features stare you down, someone between a top B-school grad and a Hamburg Domina. And then off to the right, we discovered more shelves of inviting things in tins, jars and pots, smoked and seasoned for hors d’oeuvres and salads to come.
Taste Tops Marketing
The busy Karmelitermarkt has long been without a fish shop. Years ago there was one, displaced by an invasive species called “Pizza.” Then a short-lived kosher fishmonger, and then nothing. Until now.
In the weeks since, LieblingsFisch has thrived, with a steady business through the week, and long waits on Saturdays. It’s been a business waiting to happen. For Zinter, it also seems a perfect match: A long time friend of the family behind the Inzersdorf market, he jumped at Alexandra Aibler-Bauer’s idea of a shop on the Karmelitermarkt. After stints as chef at several top restaurants in Vienna, he was ready to do what he had always wanted: Run the best fish business in Vienna.
The Eishken Estate has extensive fish ponds in the low lying Traisental, just south of the Danube about 45 minutes outside the city, and all their freshwater fish comes from there. “Everything we do is organic,” Zinter told us on another visit, “because it tastes better.” But they don’t bother with the cumbersome certification to qualify for the “Bio” labeling: “That’s just a marketing Schmäh,” he shrugged dismissively. Moving on from the fresh fish to the cooler cabinets, we discovered a mouth-watering display of North Sea specialties from their partner in Bremerhaven: Bismark herring in an aromatic vinegar marinade, the sweeter Matjes filets and different caviars. Missing a personal favorite, we asked about Seehasenrogen (lumpfish roe): “An industrial product, ”he sniffed contemptuously. Aha. We moved on quickly.
Despite the local family connection, Zinter’s real love seems to be further south. “My aim,” he had told Falstaff, “is to make the best bouillabaisse.” Certainly his own version has been selling briskly at €15.50 a portion: a 400ml jar of the soup broth and a small plastic bag containing a bit of halibut, some mussels and a couple of shrimps. For those who have gazed into a steaming gray-brown tub of turgid broth in the Provence, home of bouillabaisse, the setting seemed rather sterile. But we’re a long way from the sea, so open a bottle of Provençale rosé, shut your eyes and dream.
The shelves that day were stacked with even more packaged stuff, sardines, exotic fish mousses and the Italian standards – olive oils, herbs, pasta, tomato pastes and more – all tastefully labeled with minimal branding, a hand-made look and handmade prices. But with what you’re saving by eating at home, these are affordable luxuries.
As to business under lockdown, “We’re among the profiteers,” Zinter said cheerfully. He has no doubt that people are buying more and better ingredients to cook at home. And when things ease up, he hopes to offer fishy snacks and a simple menu. The market regulations will allow him eight chairs outside to serve food and beer. “Beer?” we asked. But everyone on the market sells wine, too. “Those are the rules,” he said and shrugged.
His body language said everything: Hey, this is Vienna, it’ll work out.