Read Caption
A waiter serves schnitzel at Café Central in Vienna. (Photograph courtesy Café Central at Palais Ferstel)

A Taste of Old World Europe: Wiener Schnitzel

Wiener schnitzel—an unassuming breaded, fried veal cutlet—has so captured Vienna’s taste buds that it bears the city’s very name (Wien = Vienna).

Yet Austria’s national dish may actually have originated in northern Italy as costoletta alla Milanese, a similarly prepared slice of veal. Legend has it that in 1857 Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky brought the recipe back from Italian territories under the Habsburg rule, adding a note in his report to the emperor about a “deliciously breaded veal cutlet.”

Making Wiener schnitzel is easy. Pound the meat to an even thinness, coat it in flour, then with egg, then with bread crumbs. Fry it to a golden brown and serve with a wedge of lemon and a side of potatoes.

Although those stretching a budget may substitute pork, it’s not the real deal if it doesn’t start with veal. That’s the drill at 138-year-old Café Central, across from the Spanish Riding School in the city center, where live piano music adds flavor to the schnitzel and strudel.

At Restaurant Ofenloch, where Franz Schubert once dined, waitresses deliver generous slices of Wiener schnitzel with crispy, bubbled crusts. Vestibül, a cellar-like hideaway attached to the Burgtheater, serves a modernized schnitzel, with a crumb coating that has been rendered thin as a hankie.

“Wiener schnitzel is a traditional part of Austrian cuisine that tastes both young and old,” says Vestibül’s chef, Christian Domschitz. “And it’s enjoyed by all.” Add a stein of beer and consider yourself a local.

> Travel Trivia: The chef of Figlmüller Wollzeile restaurant (circa 1905) hammers each schnitzel out to 12 inches in diameter—the size of a dinner plate.

This piece, written by Carla Waldemar, appeared in the October 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. 

> Related: