This Saturday, a long overdue concept will make its debut at Manhattan’s Hester Street Fair: Israeli schnitzel with an urban-inspired twist. Schnitz NYC, a pop-up vendor, started by three childhood friends, Allon Yosha and siblings Donna and Yoni Erlich, will launch their business with two schnitzel sandwiches topped with unconventional condiments like daikon ginger relish and caramelized onion mustard.
“There’s a big educational component with schnitzel, in general, because a lot of people don’t know what schnitzel is,” said Yosha, a businessman with a lifelong passion for food. This isn’t to say that the word “schnitzel” is completely esoteric — with trendy schnitzel trucks on both sides of the country (and even in fantasy animation land, the food’s popularity is indeed growing. But for those who are still under the impression that schnitzel is “like a sausage or whatever,” they’ll be surprised to hear that they’ve likely had something like it — though it might have been called Milanese. Or Tonkatsu. Or, dare I say, a McNugget. The bottom line is, most cultures have a fried meat tradition, and while Italian and Southern American varieties may have already earned their fame, it’s time for Israel’s comfort meat to shine.
Before my recent move to Israel I imagined the food in my new home to be something of a mix between a Jewish deli and a Middle Eastern falafel stand. And while this has proved to be not entirely off-base, schnitzel did not fit anywhere into my expectations.
Though, largely unacknowledged by American Jews, schnitzel – a thinly pounded, breaded, and fried cutlet – is one of the de facto national dishes of Israel. “Schnitzel, not falafel, became to Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds what hamburgers, fried chicken, and pizza are to Americans,” writes Gil Marks in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.”
Here schnitzel is so ubiquitous, both in fine dining and in cheap lunch spots, that one of the common words for boneless chicken breast is, simply, schnitzel — because what else would you use that cut of meat for? And indeed in German the word schnitzel means cutlet.