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Art & Culture

“Salzburger Bierfleisch” and The Legend of The Bull Washers

Salzburg and beer, they go hand-in-hand. Hardly any wonder, then, that a dish that involves beer and braised beef occupies a special place in the heart of most natives of this city of Mozart: known locally as “Salzburger Bierfleisch”. And there’s even an old legend that ties together the people of Salzburg with beef “on the hoof”.

When anyone from Salzburg claims to be an “authentic bull washer” (“ein echter Stierwascher”), what they mean is that they were born and bred right here in the city of Mozart. A genuine Salzburger, in other words. This curious description actually derives from an ancient legend – as you might expect, we are indeed referring to “The Legend of The Salzburg Bull Washers”. Back in the 16th century when there was a peasant rebellion, Salzburg came under siege. But when the thick city walls of Salzburg successfully withstood the initial assault, the attackers had to come up with a Plan B: They decided to starve the people of Salzburg into submission. With that in mind, they completely encircled the city and cut it off from the outside world. No one was able to escape. But more importantly, no more food made it into the city. The commanders of the garrison reacted immediately and ordered strict rationing of the food supply. However, the siege endured. Soon, the food warehouses were empty and all the cattle had been slaughtered. Except for a single bull.

Salzburg’s last bull

According to the legend, it was a truly magnificent creature – well-fed, stout, flecked with brown and white spots. But there was only one. That’s when the commandant came up with a clever ruse. At the crack of dawn, a contingent of the besieged citizens cajoled the bull to the top of the city wall, then paraded it back and forth right in front of the enemy’s eyes. The same ritual was repeated the next day – however, during the night the Salzburgers had kept busy and painted the same bull white. Creating the impression amongst the besiegers that there was still plenty to eat behind the city walls. The Salzburgers employed the same deception yet again – though this time the bull strutting along the city walls was pitch-black. Well, as you can imagine, that pretty much burst the peasants’ bubble: Assuming they would never be able to starve out the city, they decided instead to pack up their belongings and head for home. Needless to say, the people of Salzburg were jubilant, celebrating their victory and their “heroic” bull, which, now the masquerade was successfully over, they scrubbed clean until you could see its original brown and white spots once more. And that’s why Salzburgers are still known as “bull washers” to this very day.

Dark beer for a sweet note

Whether from Pinzgau or Pongau, boiled or braised: Beef has always been a popular dish here in Salzburg. And the ideal drink to go with it? A good, cool beer. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is also said to have quaffed a sip or two on occasion, with a personal preference for the darker, somewhat sweeter version of the brew. And that’s precisely the type of beer you should use if you plan on cooking up a meal of Salzburger Bierfleisch. Though if you prefer a slightly tarter flavor, you simply need to switch the dark beer for a light one. Whichever the case, Salzburger Bierfleisch is well worth the effort – an authentic traditional recipe from this beautiful city of Mozart. 

Salzburger Bierfleisch: the recipe (ingredients for 4 to 6 people)

The beef has to simmer for a while, which is why you should schedule about 1 ½ hours to make this dish.

  • 1 onion
  • a little butter to sear the beef
  • 750 g beef (such as a shoulder roast)
  • 150 g ham
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 0.5 l dark beer
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt, pepper
  • sugar and a little vinegar to taste
  • thyme, parsley (also as a garnish)


First peel and thinly slice the onion, then sauté in butter. Cut the beef and ham into finger-width strips, add to the onion and brown everything. Dust with flour and pour in the beer. Add salt and pepper as well as the thyme, parsley and bay leaf. You will now need to cover the meat and allow it to simmer for about an hour. Finally, sprinkle with chopped parsley and, if you prefer, serve with tagliatelle-style noodles or dumplings. Enjoy!