“Schnitzel: das ist nicht nur nach den Umfragen das Lieblingsessen der Österreicherinnen und Österreicher. Das ist fast schon ein Religion, oder zumindest ein Kultobjekt, der Mittelpunkt eines heliozentrisch-kulinarischen Systems.”
Not only is schnitzel Austria’s favourite food, it’s almost religion, or at the very least, a ‘cult object’ (at) the centre of a heliocentric culinary system.
– “Genussland Österreich: vom Wiener Schnitzel”, by Gert Baldauf (ORF 2011).
The short wood mallet strikes with a thud.
Then, a second; followed by another.
The targeted slab becomes flatter, the fleshy disk gets thinner, growing outward with every thump. The shape is closer to circular, its size as large as a dinner plate.
The prep staff in kitchen-whites, in full concentration with their labour.
And that piece of freshly cut veal pounded thin will soon be breaded, and deep-fried to a crispy golden-brown.
The Wiener Schnitzel will soon be mine.
Two years of living in Germany and countless return visits in subsequent years have taught me a lot about deep-fried portions of meat. In Heidelberg, I received introductions to the Schweineschnitzel (pork) and the Huhnerschnitzel (chicken or turkey) at Schnitzelbank.
Delicious and obvious: it’s something like the familiar Cantonese-style lemon chicken, but without the sticky sauce. But I’m not oblivious: many Schnitzel at different restaurants have sometimes been chunky, chewy, and disappointing.
I want to relive that 2002 visit to Vienna. Despite forgetting where, I remember the meal itself: a first-time Wiener Schnitzel, a first-time in Wien. A true Wiener Schnitzel is made only with veal; anything else is a secondary option made in the “Vienna style” (Wiener Art).
I’m spending an 30 days in Vienna. I’m only going to have veal schnitzel twice: at a neighbourhood café in the 6th district, and at the well-regarded Meissl & Schadn in the 1. I know months in advance I’ll be at one of their tables; the restaurant’s menu (“Speisekarte”) includes many choices, but I remain steadfast to the “golden calf”.
Yes, there are other restaurants in Vienna making and delivering other varieties of schnitzel with less pomp and at cheaper prices. But it’s clear to me the Meissl & Schadn experience will be worthwhile, from the initial grab of eyeballs, to the moment I’m about to meet a fork with a meaty morsel.
Fast forward to mid-week in June 2022, and I’ve reserved a table a few days in advance. When I arrive early afternoon, the place “post-lunch” is busy, but not full. The maître d’ leads me to a table inside, next to the open walk-through window. She hands me a menu; a quick look confirms what I have in mind.
A few minutes later, another well-dressed staff member arrives at the table, and takes my order:
Erst zum Trinken: Soda Zitron, groß. Zum Essen hätt’ ich gern ‘nes Wiener Kalbsschnitzel, mit allen Schikanen, bitte.
The famous Vienna white wine is definitely an option. But on this warm day, I want something cold and non-alcoholic, which is how the large fizzy drink enters the frame.
“Mit allen Schikanen” is “all the extras”: breaded veal that’s deep-fried in lard, instead of butter or oil; served with potato salad; cranberries (Preiselbeeren); and “Viennese garnish” consisting of chopped parsley, capers, hard-boiled egg, and anchovies.
The atmosphere is classy but not rigidly formal; there’s white linen on tabletops and a large chandelier over the preparation area. There’s buzz from conversation inside and street noise outside, but it’s not loud. Minutes drag as I sip the lemon spritz and observe the surroundings.
Table behind me: business visitors from France.
Table directly in front of me: resident “regular” (Stammgast) in a suit.
Table in front to the right: more business visitors from France.
Table in front to the left: casually dressed local.
When food arrives, I pause with a silent benediction to gods past and present. I sneak a couple of pictures, because it looks too good to eat. The rolling rumble of hunger says otherwise: “come on, Oida: dig into that beauty.”
With the dwindling pop and sizzle straight from the fryer, the veal schnitzel is topped with a fresh slice of lemon for a splash of fresh and sour to counter the fat, and a caper wrapped in an anchovy for a small but intense punch of salt.
The veal is moist and seasoned, the fried breading crispy and flaky. Juice squeezed from the lemon, the shot of salt from caper and Viennese garnish, and the sweet-sour from the cranberries provide punch and counterpunch with every nibble. It takes some extra mindfulness and effort to slow down and savour every bite. The accompanying potato salad is perfect: it’s not mushy or chewy, the creamy finish with hints of parsley and vinegar plays against the schnitzel crunch.
By meal’s end, there is no room at the inn for dessert. It’s only mid-afternoon, and I have hours of walking ahead. I chat with Nico, staff member of the restaurant who’s taken my order today. I tell him I’ve flown 8500 km from Canada for their schnitzel; he recommends I post a review online. I take his suggestion under advisement and extra photographs get made. My final message to him and the rest of the staff is:
Der Schnitzel war köstlich. Wenn ich bald in Wien zurück, komm’ i ma’ wieder.
(2022) Public transport with Wiener Linien:
• Tram 2, 71, or D to stop “Schwarzenbergplatz”.
• U-Bahn U1 or U4 to station “Karlsplatz”; or U4 to station “Stadtpark”.
• DW Food visits Meissl & Schadn, on their English-language YouTube channel.
• Austrian ‘AEIOU’ applied to food: “alles Essen ist ordentlich urgemütlich.”
• The schnitzel might have its earliest origins to “meat served with gold leaf” in 9th-century Constantinople (Istanbul); i.e., Der Standard (2006); Neue Heimat Zeitung (2018).
• 1000 things in Austria: best Wiener Schnitzel, part 1 of 4.
• Nods to Lukas Galgenmüller for their “making of” video at Meissl & Schadn.
After many years working diner kitchens, Dad would’ve been gobsmacked at the prices, but he would’ve enjoyed the prep area, and I know he would’ve liked the food. My visit to Meissl & Schadn was neither requested nor sponsored. All images above were obtained with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime on 8 Jun 2022. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-n0U.