If you’ve been visiting Italy from some time now, I guess you are aware of the culinary differences between the regions (and even towns) and you know it’s clever to try local dishes when in a specific territory (as it always should be). In this post you will find a list of dishes you should taste while in South Tyrol.
“When in Rome do as Romans do” is a motto that can be conveniently applied even in the branch of food. It’s always a good idea, regardless of the country, to mingle in the context and give local dishes and beverages a try. The situation is allegedly more complicated in Italy, though: you can surely find the National staples all around the peninsula – a good lasagna or pasta al ragù can be potentially found everywhere in the country – but to truly and fully appreciate the strong points of a territory, local specialities are the ones to look for.
Regarding the South-Tyrolean cuisine, we can state that it finds its roots in the rural heritage, made by farmers and shepherds, and has been sublimated in the recent decades with the development of the hospitality industry and the spreading of high quality restaurants. At this day, South Tyrol is one the regions in Italy with the highest number of Michelin’s stars restaurants.
As all the Italian cuisines, the South Tyrolean one is the result of plenty of influences: the local rural one, the Venetian one and the Austrian-Hungarian one, given that the region was once part of the Empire of the Augsburg family.
Here you are a list of typical dishes to try in South Tyrol!
Knödel / Canederli
Die Knödeln, known in Italian as canederli and often translated in English as dumplings, represent the dish associated the most with South Tyrol. The dough is made of stale white bread drenched in milk, eggs, chives and onion, with the adding of a main ingredient which gives the dumpling its characteristic taste. The classic Knödel has a rounded shape and is made with speck, a dry-cured and smoked ham typical of the area.
You can usually have the Knödeln in two ways: in a broth (look for Knödelsuppe or canederli in brodo in the menu), or with butter sauce, generally served with a salad as side-dish. The latter ones are often presented as “a trio” (look for “Knödeltris” or “tris di canederli”): three dumplings, one made with speck, one with cheese and one with spinach.
Knödeln have a very long history: the oldest representation of this dish dates back to 1180 and it is to be found in the chapel’s frescoes of Castle Hocheppan (Castel d’Appiano) near Bolzano: you can see the Virgin Mary lying in a kitchen with a servant nearby who is cooking and tasting five Knödeln.
Spätzle / Gnocchetti Tirolesi
Another dish connected with the German/Austrian-Hungarian heritage is represented by the Spätzle, translated in Italian as “gnocchetti tirolesi”. They are a small-sized kind of pasta made with fresh eggs, flour and salt and characterized by a chewier texture. The peculiarity is represented by the fact that they made by scraping them off a wooden chopping board directly into boiling water. The classic ones are made with spinach and served with speck and cream.
Schlutzkrapfen / Ravioli Tirolesi
The Schlutzkrapfen, nicknamed “Schlutzer” and translated in Italian as “ravioli tirolesi” (Tyrolean ravioli) are the product of the Venetian influence. The word “schlutzig” in the local dialect means slick and it is here used to indicate that this pasta is served with butter sauce, which makes them appear slippery.
Schlutzkrapfen are a good choice for those who are looking for something vegetarian, as they are filled with spinach and ricotta cheese.
Hirten Makkeroni / Maccheroni alla Pastora
It’s not clear the precise origin of the Hirten Makkeroni, literally the “shepherd’s maccheroni”, but, given that we are talking about pasta, I hazard a guess and say that we are dealing with an Italian influence.
Even though they refer to maccheroni, restaurants often use other pasta shapes which remind them, like mezze penne or penne rigate. The sauce is made with tomato, cream, peas, champignon mushrooms and ham (some recipes indicate speck as an alternative).
Suppen / Zuppe
For those tired of carbohydrates and looking for something to warm their bellies, in South Tyrol there’s a large offer of soups to choose from. Soups here are not served “the Italian way” – big portions in large soup plates – but rather the “German way” – a small quantity contained in a Tasse (soup cup).
The offer of soups varies and depends on the corner of the region you find yourself in, but here I mention a couple of them, which are pretty common: the Goulashsuppe (it. Zuppa di goulash), which origin is clearly Austrian-Hungarian, and the Frittatensuppe (Frittatine in brodo in Italian), also present in Austria and in some areas of Germany. The first one doesn’t need introductions, but the second one might be less known, I presume.
Die Frittatensuppe is something that, by the look of it, reminds of the Italian tagliatelle in brodo, a long-striped pasta served in a broth. In reality the frittatine are not pasta, but an omelette, sliced into coils and served in a clear soup.
Brettl mit Speck und Käse / Tagliere di Speck e Formaggi
The Brettl is a wooden cutting board loaded with local speck, cheeses and pickles. It’s the typical snack offered by the locals as a sign of hospitality. The content of the brettl can vary according to the area and the local specialities – you can also find Kaminwurzen (sharp sausages) in some of them – and the speck is not always presented in the same way.
The classic brettl wants speck to be cut 3 cm wide (see pic), but many restaurants prefer to present it in thinner slices to make the job easier for the customer.
The Brettl mit Speck und Käse is often perceived as an appetizer – especially by Italians – but it’s frequently presented as a first course in the menus.
Goulash mit Knödeln or Spätzle
As mentioned before, goulash is a dish coming from the Austrian-Hungarian heritage. When served as a second course – a stew seasoned with red paprika and other spices – in South Tyrol it is often accompanied by Spätzle or Knödeln.
Wiener Schnitzel / Cotoletta alla Milanese
The Wiener Schnitzel is a famous Austrian dish: it’s basically a slice of veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried. In the South-Tyrolean menus, you might find it with two different denominations: Wiener Schnitzel, as mentioned, and Cotoletta alla Milanese for the Italian speakers.
Even though in the local menus they are used as synonyms, they are actually two different recipes (and there’s actually a dispute between Austrians and Milanese people on who invented this dish first): the classic Wiener uses a cutlet without bones and it’s very thin, whereas the Milanese version is thicker and uses the meat with the bone. What you find in South Tyrol is something that is more similar to the Viennese version. It’s usually served with fries/chips or a potato salad.
Spiegeleier auf Speck / Uova al Tegamino su Speck
A classic, simple, yet nutrient dish of the local tradition is represented by the fried eggs with speck and roasted potatoes. If it weren’t for the roasted potatoes, I bet it would seem like some sort of breakfast for Northern European!
Game / Selvaggina
Given the local environment, game is something South-Tyrolese chefs know very well and that is worth trying while there (if you’re not a vegetarian). There’s a large variety of game-based recipes.
What is the South-Tyrolese staple along with Knödeln? But the Strudel, of course! It’s some sort of oblong pastry, usually filled with grated cooking apples, sugar, cinnamon and bread crumbs. The dough is very elastic and stretched by hand very thinly, but there are various takes on the matter and basically every local family has its own recipe and opinion regarding how the “right dough” is supposed to be.
The classic strudel is the one filled with apples and, given that South Tyrol is the largest closed apple-producting region in the EU, it’s definitely worth a try. It’s often served with various toppings: vanilla ice-cream, vanilla sauce or whipped cream.
Süsse Knödeln / Canederli Dolci
There’s also a “sweet version” of the previously mentioned dumplings. They are made by wrapping around entire plums or apricots a potato dough, which is boiled and then rolled in caramelized bread crumbs. You can find the plum dumplings under the local name of Zwetschgenknödeln or the Italian one of canederli di prugna. The ones with the apricot are the Marillenknödeln / canederli di albicocca.
Buchweizentorte / Torta di Grano Saraceno
This is a cake, which is made with buckwheat flour and hazelnuts and filled with a cranberry marmalade.
The Kaiserschmarren, allegedly the favourite dish of the Emperor Franz Joseph I, is typical of the whole territory formerly belonging to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Literally translatable as “the Emperor’s mess”, it’s some sort of shredded fluffy pancake served with cranberry marmalade or apple mousse. It’s very nutrient and often consumed as a main course, rather than an end-of-the-meal dish.
Heisse Himbeeren / Lamponi Caldi
The Heisse Himbeeren, in German also known as “Heisse Liebe” (literally “hot love”) is a soft dessert made of hot raspberry sauce, vanilla ice-cream and, usually, with whipped cream on top. I’ve heard that the expression “hot love” derives from the fact that vanilla and raspberries are considered to be a perfect match.
There are some desserts which you might find only during specific periods of time.
The Kastanienherzen/cuori di castagna, for example, are autumnal desserts local people go crazy for. The name literally means “chestnut hearts” and they are heart-shaped desserts made of chestnut puree covered with dark chocolate. During this period of time you’ll find all sorts of chestnut-based sweets (chestnut rolls, cakes etc.)
All throughout Christmas time you’ll find all sorts of biscuits/cookies, lots of which are spiced.
This is not a complete food guide of course, but I think I have given you some inspiration for the time you’ll visit South Tyrol. Have you found something that makes your mouth water? ;P