Munching for Unicef

25,000 People Stormed the Austria Center in December for the 37th Annual United Nations Women’s Guild International Bazaar

On The Town | Anna Claessen, Alexandra Ruths | December 2006 / January 2007

The India culinary booth at the United Nations Bazaar at the Austria Centre (Photo: Alexandra Ruths)

"Sorry, could you help me? How do I get to Spain?" asked a blond woman in her thirties as I passed through the crowd. She was wrapped in a brown winter coat, holding on to her little girl with one hand and waving a brochure with the other. But her words were swallowed by the noise of hundreds of people milling around, their laughter, chatter and shouting filling the air of the Messezentrum at the Austria Centre.

Out of breath, the woman repeated her question, pulling both me and her daughter a bit closer.

I considered being smart and telling her to hop on a train at Südbahnhof, changing in Madrid, or grab a cab to the airport, but when I saw the urgent look and the nervous twitch of her left eye when somebody pushed her from the side, I decided I had better  stick to the truth.

"Ok, no problem; see Cyprus? You go over there, turn left toward Sri Lanka, follow the path to Peru, until you see Azerbaijan, turn right, and there’s Spain." Before she could thank me, her daughter had pulled her away.

This was the UN Women’s Guild annual International Bazaar, where people from all countries exhibit their handicrafts and cook their traditional foods.

The center’s automatic glass doors opened and closed relentlessly, each time letting another colorful patch of people in and with them the cool breeze of this crisp December morning. Inside, the steam of cooking bowls, the body heat of some 500 people and aromas of a 100 exotic dishes turned the centre into a melting pot on the verge of boiling over. It was full, warm, hectic and great!!!

Our tour around the second hall of the Austria Centre felt like a trip around the world, and we held hands so we wouldn’t loose each other in the mob.

Crossing over, there was a small wooden stage in the middle where a Mariachi band of four caballeros were doing their best to drown out the mass of excited voices and the busy masticating of people sitting at the twenty round tables. We gave them a pitying look, but then took off.

Amazing how easy it was to eat your way through from Dutch matjes to African couscous, from Greek gyros to rice curry from Sri Lanka.

Surprisingly, Spanish paella actually goes together well with pretzels from Germany, whereas American brownies and Turkish baklava absolutely do not make a good combination.

Gulping down the Indian Mango Lassi after having tried Corona from the charming guy at the Mexican booth – this was the last straw that finally broke our camel’s backs. All this tasting and trying, sniffing and chomping had happened in a dazzling hurry. With 50 people occupying all the available tables, the remaining 450 resorted to standing, picking at their food with plastic knives and forks – a difficult task but definitely better than playing musical chairs with the others who were still determined enough to grab a seat at any cost.

But even those minor cockfights did not disturb the cheery atmosphere in the centre. It was a colorful blend of cuisines and people, proving how multi-culti Vienna really is.

The Dutch in orange T-shirts worked in unison and had a friendly smile for everybody.

The Germans in Lederhosen sold Pretzels and beer with great concentration – a total contrast to the African booth opposite, where four women were busy cleaning up the couscous that one of them had spilled seconds before.

French, English and gibberish mixed as all sought at the same time to convince us what to try out next.

Passing ‘Bangladesh’ one of the women in a Sari kept shouting, "Rice, 1 Euro! Very cheap, very cheap!!" She had the true bazaar spirit! Her high-pitched voice rang in my ears all the way through the glass doors, out into the ‘normal’ grey Vienna twilight.

For a ridiculously small sum of 15 Euros we had spent a very different kind of afternoon, sampling food from countries we had never thought to come in contact with before.

We paid for the food but the talking – to people from every corner of the world – was very much for free. And all for a good cause.

"The last year raised about 140,000 Euros with the revenues from the bazaar for children’s charities around the world," a young girl from the United Nations Women’s Guild Vienna told us. "This year we are going to raise 200,000!"

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