Spoonfuls of Germany

The politically incorrect schnitzel


Zigeunerschnitzel1Zigeunerschnitzel (Gypsy Schnitzel) is usually not prepared by home cooks in Germany. The thin breaded schnitzel smothered with spicy pepper sauce and topped with mushrooms is something you would order at a restaurant. If you can find it on the menu under that name, that is.

In 2013, the city of Hannover banned the name Zigeunerschnitzel from all its municipal eating establishments after the Hannover branch of the Forum of Sinti and Roma, the German association of the Romani people aka Gypsies in English, filed a discrimination complaint.

Hannover was the first city in Germany to ban the name. Now it’s called Balkanschnitzel. The following year, the Interior Ministry of the State of Baden-Württemberg followed suit, no more Zigeunerschnitzel in its cafeterias neither.

In contemporary German the term “Zigeuner” has been replaced by “Sinti and Roma”. Zigeuner was also the term under which the Nazis persecuted the Sinti and Roma. More than 500,000 Gypsies perished during the Third Reich.

So, yes, the term Zigeuner is indeed politically incorrect when referring to the ethnic group. But going after a harmless dish? I doubt that it does anything. Eating a politically-correct renamed schnitzel does not inject the person who eats it with tolerance and respect for people with a different skin color, language, culture or religious belief. These attitudes come with the atmosphere in which the dish is eaten, no matter what its name is.

In a guest blog post called “Food Names That Don’t Go Down Well that I wrote a while ago, I pointed out that German has many other dishes with names that could be viewed as ethnically offensive: the half-moon cookies called Amerikaner (Americans), Franzosensuppe (Frenchmen’s Soup), Russische Eier (Russian Eggs)… the list goes on.

After reading that blog post about food names, a friend of mine living in Hannover emailed me the menu of a local steak restaurant. “Look,” he wrote, “there is still Zigeunerschnitzel on the menu, in the good company of Jägerschnitzel (Hunter Schnitzel) and Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese Schnitzel). Maybe the owner is simply insensitive because the kids’ menu suggests eating entire members of the Duck family with dishes like Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck and Aunt Daisy.”Zigeunerschnitzel2Schnitzel with Pepper Sauce and Mushrooms (Zigeunerschnitzel)

It has been ages since I had eaten Zigeunerschnitzel. Frankly, I did not have very good memories of it – too much sauce that tasted like it was coming from a package, and rubbery canned mushrooms. But I was ready to give this German-Austrian classic a fresh, unbiased start, using the last peppers of the summer from my garden and fresh mushrooms. Made from scratch is a different matter, and delicious.

And if you share my you have ethical concerns about eating veal, note that it is just as good with pork or chicken cutlets.

At restaurants in Germany, the schnitzel is usually served with French fries; we had it with roasted potatoes instead.

Sauce and topping:

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups (8 ounces/225 g) finely diced red bell peppers (from 1 large or 2 small peppers)

¼ cup (60 ml) dry red wine

½ cup (120 g) peeled chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned

1 tablespoon paprika, more to taste

1 pinch of smoked paprika (optional), more to taste

12 medium crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced


Freshly ground pepper


8 small thin organic veal, pork or chicken cutlets (14 ounces/400 g)

Flour for dusting

Oil for frying


1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook over low to medium heat until soft and translucent.

2. Pound the peeled garlic cloves with the kosher salt in a mortar to a paste. Add to the onion and cook for 1 more minute, until the garlic is translucent.

3. Add the bell peppers and cook until they start to soften, stirring often. Add the wine and cook until it is almost completely evaporated. Add the tomatoes, paprika and smoked paprika and mix well. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens, stirring often. If the sauce is too thick and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a bit of water, wine or tomato juice. Season with salt, pepper, paprika and smoked paprika to taste. Cover to keep warm.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Fry the mushrooms in a single layer until soft, turning them as needed. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm. Wipe the skillet with paper towel.

5. Wash the cutlets under cold water and dry them well with paper towel. Lightly dredge the meat in flour and shake off any excess.

6. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet. Place no more than two cutlets at once in the skillet and brown both sides on high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and fry each side until cooked through. Remove the meat from the skillet and keep warm. Fry the remaining meat the same way.

7. Place two schnitzels on each plate, top with pepper sauce and mushrooms. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings






17 thoughts on “The politically incorrect schnitzel

  1. Looks great, and really interesting intro- haven’t had this in Germany, will have to look out for it!

  2. Looks and sounds delicious, actually. And, having probably a very superficial knowledge of Sindi and Roma history and/or culture, I find the old name merely interesting – and enticing. It says “colorful and different,” to me. It just doesn’t sound like something that was named as an insult! But in fact, most of Europe had felt free to insult “Gypsies” for 400 years or so, ever since they first started to immigrate, so maybe it was originally an insult – in which case, yes, that would be a problem and the name should be changed.
    The Nazis mis-used all sorts of words, and they did inflict severe damage on the whole Gypsy population of Europe. So I guess I can’t argue with the Sind-and-Roma wanting that name changed . . . but that’s not the fault of the dish. The other names – Russian Eggs? I’m sure, if you could find the origin, it would just be a recipe that someone got from a Russian visitor, or ate on a visit to Russia. Whyever is that non-PC?
    A former co-worker of mine had just opened a lunch-café, right after the NY World Trade Center was knocked down. Because someone in the French government had called America’s response “arrogant,” a whole lot of people, my co-worker included, immediately renamed “French fries” as “freedom fries” because they were insulted at this one Frenchman. I thought that was both ridiculously chauvinistic and hilarious; I continued to ask for French fries, if that was what I wanted to eat.

  3. That brings back great memories, I’ll have to cook that again before too long – thanks for reminding me!!
    As to the name, there are indeed lots of food words in Germany that could be construed as being non PC, but then the French and English languages have those too. Salade Russe is Russian salad and I’m sure the list could be as long as one would want it to be. A strange thing about the Sinti and Roma objecting to the name : yes the word Zigeuner has a pejorative connotiation, but by objecting to it being used aren’t the Sinti and Roma actually identifying with it?

  4. A local German Restaurant near me tops this with a bit of crumbled Feta Cheese. Delicious!

  5. Very very interesting description and an introduction to a dish I had never heard of before! Perhaps the issue with the name is that it is talking about to a specific ethnic group rather than a country? It looks so good though I wouldn’t mind having this schnitzel named after my ethnicity.

  6. I spent 8 years in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRD/West) in the late 70’s and early 80’s and enjoyed Zigeunerschnitzel (Gypsy Schnitzel) from the North to the South, and from the East to the West of the FRD. I found that unlike Jäger-Schnitzel (that I dearly love) which was basically the same no matter where you ordered it Zigeunerschnitzel was a little different everywhere you went. It definitely lived up to it’s name. In your remarks just before the recipe you stated “It has been ages since I had eaten Zigeunerschnitzel. Frankly, I did not have very good memories of it – too much sauce that tasted like it was coming from a package, and rubbery canned mushrooms.” If you had this wonderful dish in one of the larger cities in Germany I would have to agree with you. However, when prepared in the smaller towns and villages I always found it to be delicious and always a little different. I can’t wait to try this recipe, it sounds so good.

  7. I’ve had an ethical thing about veal, ever since I found out where it came from. However during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s I was ignorant of the origin and enjoyed countless zigeuner and jager (sorry, can’t be bothered to find an umlaut) schnitzels. I’m looking forward to preparing your sauce recipe this evening and pouring it over breaded pork chops. I’m sure it will evoke happy memories of days gone by. Thank you for the recipe.

  8. The problem with the word is that it was a derogatory term. At least the English word ‘Gypsy’ was — an ethnic slur that was so commonplace that it became the name of that group to the rest of society. Calling something Russian or French or American is not the same at all. There are any number of American dishes that have their origin in the cuisine of African Americans in the southern US but we would never use the n-word in referring to those dishes. We say Creole or Southern or Delta or other regional or group terms.

    • In the UK, it has been used in a derogatory way too, however, it is still the correct word; Gypsies are a protected group under the Discrimination Act, and even have a Gypsy Council that represents them. To be clear, “Gypsy Council” is its official name.

  9. Why politically incorrect ???

  10. Surely it’s the opposite of political correctness..?
    It’s like saying “Ooooh no! I don’t want nasty gypsies being associated with my food!” for goodness’s sake! How bad is that?

  11. Zigeuner is also my Austrian mother’s surname. It’s a very rare name but she made such fantastic schnitzels of all sorts that I think we should call it Ernaschnitzel!

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