Visitors to Vienna are instructed to try sacher torte, the dry chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam, invented at the Hotel Sacher.
Yet, I have read that tourists are disappointed in the sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher. Why is this? We want something to be more epic in its original setting. We want angel choirs and rainbows. We want flavor explosions and mouth orgasms. We want it to resemble nothing before, causing our brain to whir into motion while analyzing these new and exciting flavors. We open ourselves for disappointment when we expect this transformational experience, as if chocolate cake can ever cause a transformation (and, if you find that it can, please invite me). And, when we do not receive these blessings, we allow ourselves to become disappointed, like the child who opened a dozen birthday gifts, but can only be unhappy for the one he did not receive.
But the truth is not as exciting. A recipe is merely a recipe, and I can argue that a bakery in London can make a sachertorte as delicious (if not as “authentic”) as one in Vienna. A bar in New York can make a Singapore Sling with the identical ingredients as Singapore’s Raffles Hotel, and it will taste equally medicinal.
Instead it is of essence to soak up the atmosphere of the moment. There is a depth of history at the Hotel Sacher, for in this dining room an invention was created. And for over one hundred years people just like you have stopped here for a treat and a memory. Everyone from the rich and famous to honeymooners to Japanese bus tourists have been here before you for an experience they will always associate with this space, each in his own particular moment in time. Years hence, you can ask them about the sachertorte and they will remember. At the Hotel Sacher, you can equally capture a space and place in time.
Sacher torte is merely an invention. Does a light bulb burn brighter in Edison’s original lab than it does in Gulfport, Mississippi. No, it does not. But it means more in Menlo Park, just as a sacher torte means more in Vienna.
In Vienna, you could go down the street, perhaps save a Euro and perhaps the crowds by going to a different café. But ten years along, you will only remember that you had a sacher torte in Vienna. You will remember it was good, and when a friend asks you for the name of the café, it will have escaped you, just like the name of that little restaurant in Monterosso with the magical pasta. You will look at a map, and every café will look familiar, but you will not be able to decide which one it actually was. However, when you have a sacher torte at the Hotel Sacher, you will remember. When you walk into the café, you must try to capture the moment, watch the unhurriedness of the black-bow-tied Herr Whoever as he brings you the shiny chocolate cake. You must remember skewering the perfect triangular piece with your dessert fork, taking a bite, and waiting for rainbows. There may be no rainbows, but you will remember the tablecloth and the chandeliers. You will remember your companion, and you will tell this story to someone else, just as I will tell you my own Viennese Sacher torte story (which ironically was not at the Hotel Sacher).