If there’s one food most closely associated with Vienna, then it’s the Wiener Schnitzel. You see it on just about every restaurant menu in the city (which makes it perfect for comparing prices across establishments).
- Vegetarians and vegans look away (I’m one, too)
- Fried, breaded escalopes made of pork, veal or turkey
- Side dishes are typically more or less just decoration
- See also: Viennese food
So what’s a Schnitzel?
Traditionally, a Wiener Schnitzel is a cutlet of veal pounded thin by a meat tenderizer, then dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs (in that order), and fried until golden brown. Although linked with Vienna (Wiener means “Viennese” in German), the Schnitzel originated in Milan, Italy.
The dish is not one of those traditions actually only found in restaurants and tourism brochures. It really is a hugely popular meal in Austrian homes. So, if you’re OK with eating meat, having one counts toward your collection of authentic Viennese experiences.
With time, various derivatives of the basic format have appeared. Of those, the most popular option is probably the “Cordon Bleu”, which is a Schnitzel with a filling of melted cheese and chopped ham.
Things to know
If a restaurant sells Schnitzel made from some other meat than veal, then they have to say so. In other words, assume your Schnitzel is veal if not otherwise labelled in the menu.
You’ll soon discover that veal Schnitzel is relatively rare in restaurants and homes. Apart from the expense, there is growing awareness of the animal welfare issues surrounding veal production. So most places offer pork (“Schnitzel vom Schwein”) or turkey Schnitzel (“Putenschnitzel”).
On most menus, your Schnitzel comes with potato salad and a slice of lemon (which you squeeze over the meat), though french fries and rice are not unusual side-dishes these days.
If you do order a Schnitzel in a restaurant, don’t be surprised to get a near pizza-sized piece of meat deposited on your plate with a couple of spoonfuls of that potato salad. The Viennese are not big on health food. But they are big on pork; your average Austrian consumes around 37kg of it each year.