Wiener Schnitzel and Why it Plays a Role

Nick Beauregard



Wiener Schnitzel and Why it Plays a Role

Wiener Schnitzel is the term for a veal cutlet that has been pounded very thin, is breaded, and pan fried, and it is one of the most famous dishes of Austria.  The term literally means “Viennese Schnitzel”, or “little cut/sliver” and is protected by law; the dish can only be called Wiener Schnitzel if it is made with veal.  There are a lot of other types of Schnitzel but the Austrians are very proud of their Wiener Schnitzel, even though it didn’t originate in Austria.  Two branches of the Hapsburg family, Austrian and Italian, both tend to claim that they were the first to come up with the dish, with Italy claiming it dates back to a meal in 1134 for the canon of Milan’s St. Ambrogio Cathedral (Hale, 516).  However there are a lot of stories as to where it comes from.  One story that was told for a while was that Joseph Radetzky, the renowned field marshal who was in the Austrian army for seventy three years, had a breaded veal cutlet while he was in Italy and he requested it when he returned from the Battle of Solferino.  However this was a story that was first mentioned in 1969 in an Italian gastronomy book and was most likely referring to cotoletta alla Milanese which is similar to Wiener Schnitzel but it is cooked with the bone in whereas Wiener Schnitzel is cooked boneless.  Also, the story is probably made up, or the author got the date wrong because the Battle of Solferino happened in 1859 and Radetzky died in 1858 (Harris).  In any case neither country truly “created” the dish.  Tenderizing meat has been around since the beginning of man.  The first records of people frying food are way back in the Byzantine empire, and every time someone encountered the fried food they brought it back to their people, spreading it from East to West.

This dish may have been around for a long time, no one is quite positive how long, but the Viennese aren’t concerned with who created the dish, they are the ones who perfected it and made it what it is today.  Since it came to Austria the people have created a culture around it.  Any restaurant in Austria, from just the little diner down the street to the nicest restaurants, that claims any form of  “true Viennese cuisine” will have Wiener Schnitzel on the menu, and if they don’t have it on the menu odds are the chef knows how to make it and will.  The Viennese take a lot of pride in this dish including how it is prepared and what accompanies it.  People in America tend to think that you would add the same food to a Wiener schnitzel as you would add to a steak dinner, potatoes, green beans, that sort of thing; but in Vienna it comes with a thick lemon wedge and usually a green salad of some type or marinated cucumbers, or sometimes with a lingonberry sauce.  To the people of Vienna the sides a big part of the meal.  It is important to properly serve it; it is a national dish after all.

The dish became a staple of the people in Vienna and made people proud, however it was also able to cause a riff.  “The religious split in town ran straight through the populace’s Sunday menu; the Jews had Wiener Schnitzel, the Gentiles had roast pork with sauerkraut and dumplings.” (Wechsberg).  This is how it looked between World Wars I and II in the Viennese restaurants.  The menu made it very clear who was Jewish and who was not, someone could know your religious beliefs just by looking at your plate, which was not something you wanted at the time.  This is very interesting because the pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings is traditionally a German food, and now Wiener Schnitzel is a point of pride for Austria.  After the second World War Austria wanted to show that it was independent from Germany and should not be affiliated with them.  One great way they did this was making Wiener Schnitzel an Austrian thing and everyone ate it, unifying the country. Although it caused some problems in that sense it now plays into the role of Nationalism for the people of Vienna.  They are so proud of their dish that it can only be served their way, by law, although I could not find the specific law.  It is also a staple in any restaurant.  People from every socioeconomic class gets to enjoy this national dish, it is a common love of the Austrian people.  I have read about first generation Americans, with Austrian parents who seem reclusive.  The mothers usually taught the children to prepare Wiener Schnitzel because it would be the family’s favorite dish.  This simple act of preparing a meal that means so much to the family would open up conversations about the food and the culture of a place that the parents missed very much, and the children had never seen (Waxman).

Now Wiener Schnitzel is making its way around the globe.  A lot of places are starting to cook up Wiener Schnitzel however some restaurants in Vienna are going for the biggest, with the Figlmüller restaurant making one that is 30 centimeters in diameter.  This is abig part of the tourism economy, people go in search of Wiener Schnitzel.  It has actually been given a day, September 9 is annually observed at National Wiener Schnitzel day.  It amazes me that this food has made such an impact on Vienna and how the people feel about their home.





Block, Stephen. “The History of Wiener Schnitzel.” N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.


Harris, Ann Pringle. “FARE OF THE COUNTRY; Hearty Schnitzel, a Staple of Vienna’s Kitchens.” The New York Times. N.p., 11 Nov. 1990. Web.


Pohl, Heinz Dieter (2007). Die österreichische Küchensprache. Ein Lexikon der typisch österreichischen kulinarischen Besonderheiten (mit sprachwissenschaftlichen Erläuterungen) (in German). Vienna: Praesens-Verlag. pp. 154–155. ISBN 3-7069-0452-7.

“The World’s Biggest Wiener Schnitzel.” Phoenix & Phoenix. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.


Waxman, Barbara Frey. “Food Memoirs: What They Are, Why They Are Popular, and Why They Belong in the Literature Classroom.” College English, vol. 70, no. 4, 2008, pp. 363–383.

Wechsberg, Joseph. Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure. Chicago, IL: Academy Chicago, 1985. Print.


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