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A lively cityscape of the city of Austin, Texas at night.
Travel & Culture

Significance of Sustenance: Austin, TX

Come for the live music, stay for the amazing food. That pretty much sums up any trip to Austin, Texas. The modern culinary scene is nothing short of sizzling hot. But it’s also steeped in the city’s history and rich heritage. With each iconic, tasty dish, you’lI learn about the influences that shaped Austin’s with each bite. While the city has a diverse history that plays a huge role in its cuisine, we found three major contributors.

Tex-Mex

If you travel to other cities in Texas, (We’re looking at you, San Antonio) you’ll hear about how they either created Tex-Mex cuisine or made it popular. But if you talk to the folks in Austin, they make a compelling case for the important role that ATX played in the development and spread of Tex-Mex cuisine. 

The Tejano women and their families living around Guadalupe Square in Austin would make Mexican candies and tamales that they sold on Congress Avenue. These women — and their cocinas — were the stirrings of the birth of Tex-Mex cuisine that remains an important part of the city’s culinary culture. Guadalupe Park was also in close proximity to Walker’s Austex Chile Company, a nationwide chili powder food plant founded in 1910. 

Local residents worked there or in other food plants, canning tamales and contributing to the national market. You can catch a glimpse into that vivid past when at the Saturday morning farmer’s market in the Square.

Like most of Texas, Austin’s location near the Mexican border combined with its Native American heritage create the culinary traditions that we call Tex-Mex. Some of Austin’s must-try foods include its breakfast tacos. They’re iconic. They’re also crave-worthy, which is why from the first bite, you’ll be inspired to recreate them at home. You can always dice the ingredients by hand, or toss it all in your food processor to make easy work of it. Either way, you end up with warm corn tortillas filled with a mix of eggs, potatoes, green onions, cheese, and salsa that’s worth waking up for.

German

German immigrants are among the most influential ethnic groups in terms of shaping Austin’s culture. It started in 1831 when Frederick Ernst bought land in Austin County. After just a few years, he had other German neighbors. During the 1840s, Germans immigrated to the area in large numbers. Thousands of people came to Austin and other areas of Central Texas, where they created settlements like Fredericksburg and New Braunfels.

If you want to start with a German staple, try a Bavarian pretzel and end with Königsberger Kochklopse — meatballs in a tangy, creamy sauce over homemade spaetzle. You might not have room for dessert, but you can always browse the list just in case your stomach can find the room. Once home, one of our favorite things to do is to try to duplicate our favorite elements of the dishes at home. There’s no pressure to get it right the first time – you can try and try again until you’re satisfied with the end result. That’s the beauty of experimenting, you can make it your own.

Hill Country

Texas Hill Country is the heart of the state, and it includes 25 counties. Although the region is best known for its rolling plains, shimmering lakes, small towns, and open prairies, it also encompasses two major cities: San Antonio and Austin. The culture of Hill Country is a melting pot that produces iconic cuisine. 

German influence is one element in Hill Country culinary culture. Czech cooking is another huge element. Reverend Josef Arnost Bergmann is widely credited with drawing Czech immigrants to Texas Hill Country after he moved there in 1850. After settling in the region, he wrote to those he left behind in Europe, detailing his Texas adventures. That letter prompted many of the immigrants who came to Texas from Czechoslovakia to make the journey. Those who settled here had large families and ties to the land. Their cuisine was diverse, but the most enduring example — and one that remains synonymous with Hill Country cooking —  is kolache. These traditional fruit pastries received a Texas-sized makeover and are widely made with savory sausage instead of sweet fruit. 

Together, the blend of Hill Country flavors has influenced Austin's own food culture over the years.

Hill Country also blends Mexican, Tex-Mex, and American Southern styles into the mix with a deft hand. Together, the blend of Hill Country flavors has influenced Austin’s own food culture over the years. Chicken-fried steak, barbecue, and grits can be found far and wide in restaurants across the city. The best part is, these ingredients are common in grocery stores and don’t take a ton of preparation or skill to make these dishes your own. Next time you’re making grits, get a little creative and add chilies and spices. You’ll be surprised how a few simple ingredients can totally transform the flavor palette.  

If you’ve never visited Austin you might not know that the city’s culinary culture included such a diverse mix of flavors. With influence from Germany and their own backyard, Austin has become a place where those in search of unique takes on classic dishes, come to see what’s cooking.