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How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?

Despite being Austria's national dish, the origins of the Wiener Schnitzel lie further south. Here's the story of how the breaded meat dish came to popularity in Austria.

How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?
The Wiener Schnitzel is famously Austria’s national dish – but is it actually Austrian? Photo by Lukas on Pexels.

The Wiener Schnitzel might be almost as famous at the city of Vienna itself; so much so the BBC says the Wiener Schnitzel “defines Vienna”. 

It turns out however that the dish was not invented in Austria at all. 

Even though there is Wiener (Viennese) in the title, the schnitzel actually originated from Milan in Italy as cotoletta alla Milanese, although the original recipe used a thicker cut of meat and was cooked with the bone in.

How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?

As with many stories delving into Austrian history, the tale of the Wiener Schnitzel involves royalty, mythology and nobility. 

The story goes that Czech nobleman and Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky brought the recipe back to Vienna from Milan in 1857 after a trip there during the Habsburg rule.

READ MORE: Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?

Radetzky described the dish as a “deliciously breaded veal cutlet” and the emperor requested the recipe. It was a huge success and the schnitzel quickly became popular across Vienna.

Today, the humble schnitzel is the country’s national dish and a key part of Austria’s culture.

You can even find it in cafes and bakeries as a sandwich version called Schnitzelsemmel, which is a schnitzel served in a bread roll.

What is a Wiener Schnitzel?

In case there are some readers out there that are unfamiliar with the Wiener Schnitzel, it is a piece of veal that is breaded and fried, then served with potatoes and a wedge of lemon. 

National Geographic describes the dish as “unassuming” but don’t let that fool you. The schnitzel dominates most menus in Austria and can even be found in restaurants specialising in international cuisine.

The schnitzel is also popular in households across the country, but outside of restaurants it is often cooked with pork instead of expensive veal.

READ ALSO: Caffeine, war and Freud: A history of Vienna’s iconic coffee houses

How to make Wiener Schnitzel

Impressing your Austrian friends with a homemade Wiener Schnitzel is easy.

Simply pound the meat (veal or pork) to an even thinness. Then dip it in flour, followed by egg and breadcrumbs. Fry the meat until it is golden brown. You want it to be crispy but not burnt.

Serve with boiled potatoes and a lemon wedge. A side of cranberry sauce is optional but recommended.

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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Sampling wine in beautiful surroundings is a great way to spend a summer afternoon in Austria. Here are the best places to add to your wine tasting wish list.

The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Austria is on the same latitude as the Burgundy wine region in France, so it’s no surprise that the Alpine country produces some of the best wines in the world.

But simply drinking Austrian wine and actually visiting a winery are two very different experiences, with the latter often transforming newbie wine connoisseurs into life-long oenophiles.

So, for anyone visiting Austria this summer – or for any burgeoning wine geeks out there – here’s a guide to the best wineries to visit to get an authentic taste of Austrian wine.

Where are Austria’s wine regions?

Grapes for winemaking are grown in every federal state in Austria, but the east of the country is best known as Austria’s wine region.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Austria’s wine industry

Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland and Styria are the most prominent wine producing areas in Austria, and Vienna is one of the few capital cities in the world that can boast a wine industry within the city limits.

In these regions, the land is less mountainous than in the west of Austria and the climate is slightly warmer, especially in summer and autumn. This is important for growing grapes, although Austria is still considered as a “cold climate” country when it comes to winemaking.

Wine-growing regions in Austria (© ÖWM / ÖWM)

Today, Vienna is considered as one of the world’s classic wine regions, and wine making is so embedded in the city that there is one wine producer for every 2,500 residents.

Austria is mostly known for producing white wine, such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay, as well as a wide selection of light red wines, such as Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. 

Additionally, Austrian winemakers produce some famous cuvée, such as Vienna’s Gemischter Satz (a blend of at least three grapes from the same vineyard).

Mayer am Nussberg, Vienna

A favourite with locals in Vienna is Mayer am Nussberg, which is technically a Heuriger (a wine tavern).

Mayer am Nussberg is located in the middle of a vineyard with views overlooking Vienna and is only open on good weather days from Thursday to Sunday (as well as public holidays).

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

Guests can sample a variety of wines by the glass or the bottle, including the Mayer am Nussberg classic house red and white wines. Snacks and regional delicacies are also available to order alongside the wine.

Visitors can make their way to the winery with the Heurigen Express (which runs from Vienna between April and October), by a hiking trail from the Kahlenberg Station or via tram line D.

Grafen Bergerin, Carinthia

Recommended by Carinthia resident Wyn Owen, Grafen Bergerin is the province’s highest vineyard, located at 880 metres above sea level in Flattach.

Grafen Bergerin is a fairly new vineyard – planted in 2012 – but already boasts 1,600 vines growing Regent, Zweigelt, Merlot and Rösler varieties.

Not only is Grafen Bergerin open to visitors for tastings, but owner Ernestine Berger also organises vineyard hikes from September to October, which ends with a wine tasting at the Weingut (winery).

Austria’s wineyards by the Wachau valley (Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Harald Eisenberger)

Domäne Wachau, Lower Austria

This is one of Austria’s top wineries that was voted number one in Europe and third in the world in the 2020 World’s Best Vineyards rankings.

It is located on the banks of the Danube River where winemaker Heinz Frischengruber works with vintner families from across the Wachau Valley to produce a range of white, red and rose wines.

Visitors to Domäne Wachau can explore the Baroque cellars and sample a selection of the wines every Saturday at 11am from June to October. The price is €15 per person and includes a tasting a four different wines.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Austria this summer

Tastings outside of the scheduled times can be organised by request, and they can also be facilitated in Czech or Slovak.

Additionally, Domäne Wachau runs special activities throughout the summer months, such as yoga and wine, music and street food events.

Hirtzberger, Wachau, Lower Austria

Wine buffs highly recommend Weingut Franz Hirtzberger in the Wachau for sampling Austrian white wines.

The Wachau Valley is an internationally-renowned wine region and UNESCO world heritage site, and the vines at Hirtzberger have been growing at the site since the 13th century. 

READ ALSO: Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?

The winery has also been in the Hirtzberger family for five generations and is still run as a small family business today.

As a result, the website advises visitors to book in advance to make an appointment for a tasting. They are closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Weingut Knoll, Wachau, Lower Austria

Another winery well-known for its white wines (and grand, distinctive labels) is Knoll, which has been in operation since the 1950s.

Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are the most famous Knoll wines to taste during a visit to the Dürnstein-based winery, but the family also produces highly-rated Gelber Muskateller.

The website advises guests to book an appointment for tastings in advance.

austria village BURGENLAND

The village Donnerskirchen in the region of the Neusiedler See in Burgenland (Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Andreas Tischler)

Umathum, Burgenland

For red wines, look no further than Umathum in Frauenkirchen in Neusiedl am See – another prime location for wine touring in Austria that is easy to reach from Vienna.

Umathum has 30 hectares of vines on both sides of Lake Neusiedl with around 85 percent dedicated to the Austrian red varieties of Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch.

READ ALSO: Discover Austria: Five beautiful hikes and destinations south of Vienna

Umathum has also been consistently ranked as a top wine grower in Austria since the 1990s, which further adds to its appeal.

The wine estate is open to visitors from Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Stift Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria

The architecturally-stunning Klosterneuburg Abbey in Lower Austria is home to one of Austria’s oldest wineries, boasting a blend of traditional and modern winemaking practices and centuries of history.

Wine tours take visitors through the Baroque cellar complex down to a depth of 36 metres to learn about the background to the estate and how it operates today. There is then an optional wine tasting at the end.

READ ALSO: Tips: How to buy wine in an Austrian supermarket

At the top of the tasting list should be the award-winning Wiener Gemischter Satz and the Pinot Noir, but all Klosterneuburg wines are regularly awarded high points by judges.

Tickets for the wine tour costs €11 and includes admission to the abbey. Wine tasting is an additional cost. 

Klosterneuburg is easy to reach from Vienna by bus, train or car.

Useful vocabulary

Wein – wine

Weingut – winery

Weißwein – white wine

Rotwein – red wine

Heuriger – wine tavern

Vinothek – wine shop

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