Green Vienna and Wiener Schnitzel

Museum Quartier

Vienna is so much greener and cleaner than most cities I’ve visited in Europe, including Barcelona, the city, I live in. Somehow Vienna is urban, green and alive, a curiously new-looking antiquity that is especially prevalent in the richer parts of western and northern Europe in those communities that can actually afford the expensive upkeep of old architecture. A full day of filming around the city awaits us and we start back in the Museum’s Quartier, ready to capture art but end up spending a good-sized chunk of time people-filming (the camera-happy version of people-watching). Locals and tourists alike soak up
the bright mid-day sun sprawled across clunky neon-pink benches. In Barcelona, lying down on benches in public places is for necking teenagers and the sleeping homeless and is generally frowned upon, but here it seems to be socially acceptable for all ages.
We take a cable car across town to break for lunch and end up with the end-all and be-all of Austrian cuisine for so many Americans, Wiener schnitzel.  To be fair, it is far better than any Wiener schnitzel I’ve ever eaten; even more delicious than the huge, plate-sized schnitzel we devoured in Salzburg.  I talk to Piroska, our Hungarian, Sophia-Lauren-esque guide about the traditional mechanics behind the dish. I think I’ve got it, but we’ll have to see when I get home to my own kitchen exactly what I can reproduce.  In the meantime, there are herbed potatoes and a glass of the crispest, most delicate tasting white wine I’ve ever tasted to finish off. Apparently, Austria is best known for dry whites, which is perfect, since that’s what I prefer to drink and is also home to Riedel, for those individuals who prefer to drink their imported wine in extremely expensive imported wine glasses.
Inelegantly at best, I gulp down what is left of my wine before Piroska/the board of tourism pays for our meal and we’re on our way to waltz class. We’re not going to learn to dance, but rather to interview and videotape a well-known instructor and his class.
The students are teenagers who are required to attend waltz classes before their “coming out” into society at one of the Vienna season’s balls. Especially important is the Imperial Ball, a New Year’s Eve event where ball-goers must dress the part. That means a full tux with white gloves for gentlemen, and full-length white ball-gowns with white gloves for ladies. This formality is echoed in the class we sit-in on. Teacher wears a three-piece suit and tie, and his pupils, ranging in age from 14 to 18 respectively, are decked out in semi-formal wear. The young men step and occasionally stumble in white gloves, and ties, shirts and slacks freshly pressed and falling elegantly over wing tip shoes and expensive loafers; the young women twirl in dresses and skirts, stocking feet shoved into high heels. 
As they circle and step in and out of time, boys and girls alike look subtly pained, and a little less subtly bored, with the exception of the instructor and his partner, who expertly whirl, at peace with their place as the professionals among so many unwilling amateurs.
Despite it’s current incarnation as an elegant and inoffensive dance, the Viennese waltz was not always considered so harmless. Once prohibited by the church, the whirling dance was performed at a much faster tempo, and the Viennese were only allowed to dance the waltz for half an hour, and were then required rest for a full hour afterwards, or so the instructor informs us.
We take our undeserved hour of rest directly outside Vienna’s State Opera House, where we, along with anyone else, who walks up, will view part of tonight’s selection on the large television screens that almost cover one side of the building, no strings attached, free of charge. Ironically, what’s showing tonight is “Carmen,” a Bizet fantasy about a bullfighter, a Basque soldier, and Carmen, a sultry gypsy. Unsuccessful in Bizet’s lifetime, the opera is a musical mosaic of stereotypical Spanish characters.  The story is heart-breaking and the music is more so. It brings back memories of watching “Carmen Jones” with my grandmother, who was a fan of both opera and Harry Belafonte…She should be here, by my side, so that afterwards we could criticize and compare this particular spectacle to others we’ve seen on tape, perhaps share a cackle or two at the production’s expense. Jesus is not much on opera, although he occasionally appreciates my criticize, compare and cackle routine.
Back in Barcelona, with Vienna far far away in Austria, and Carmen blaring loud enough on my kitchen stereo to bring the neighbors knocking, I do my best to re-create the Wiener schnitzel.  I pound veal with a meat tenderizer until it’s thin, until it breaks in some places, and then I overlap the broken pieces and pound it some more.  I egg, flour and bread it, frying it until it’s crisp and brown: All in time with Bizet’s famous “Toreador Song”. I skip back to the cabinet for plates to “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (Love is a rebellious bird),  and lIke the gypsy herself, I’m regal, I’m flirtatious, et violà, I’m finished with dinner. I plate the fried meat beautifully, if untraditionally.  Forget herbed potatoes, I mutter to myself, serving the schnitzel on crusty rye bread with homemade alioli (garlic mayonnaise), a fresh slice of tomato, and a leaf of lettuce. Sort-of-Austrian dinner is served.
To make your own Wiener schnitzel sandwiches (for two), you will need the following:
 4 slices of thick rye bread
½ tomato
2 teaspoons alioli (an easy substitution is mayonnaise mixed with garlic powder to taste)
2 veal cutlets (you can substitute beef, chicken or pork, but veal is traditional)
1 tablespoon flour
Salt to taste
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
½ cup Lard for frying
1 lemon
2 leaves of fresh lettuce
  1. Put your lard on high heat
  2. Beat the cutlets until they are ¼ of an inch thick. I
  3. Dredge cutlets in flour until dry.
  4. Beat the egg.
  5. Coat in egg
  6. Roll in breadcrumbs
  7. Fry schnitzel, turning once so that both sides become golden brown.
  8. While the schnitzel is frying, toast your bread and spread it generously with the alioli
  9. Cut your tomato in thick slices to cover the bread
  10.  Rinse two leaves of fresh lettuce
  11. When the Weiner schnitzel is golden brown on both sides, place it on a plate with paper towels to drain off the oil.
  12. Sprinkle with lemon and salt.
  13. Put on bread with lettuce and tomato.

Copyright 2011 Chris Ciolli. All Rights Reserved. First Published in the Tipton Times unless otherwise noted.

Video About Traditions in Vienna (In Spanish):

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