South Tyrol’s delectable nature soars far beyond its epic mountains, lakes and castles. Discover the iconic foods to savor while adventuring in the culinary star of Italy.
With more than 300 mountain peaks ravishing the skies of South Tyrol, you can count on working up a mountain-size appetite while bounding from one valley to the next. Fortunately, for us, South Tyroleans shine at satisfying hunger in the most spectacular ways.
Here, Austrian, Italian and Ladin culinary traditions rub elbows creating an enthralling gastronomic tapestry unlike anywhere else in the world. Every dish in South Tyrol tells a rousing tale often rooted hundreds of years in the past.
In this article, we highlight the classic South Tyrolean cuisine you’ll want to try when visiting. Whether you are hiking in the Dolomites or skiing high above Merano, these delicious dishes will make you view eating in South Tyrol as a thrilling adventure all its own.
When a dish has been a favorite in the Alps since the Middle Ages, you know it has to be belly-rubbing good. A medieval fresco on the weathered walls of the 12th-century chapel at Hocheppan Castle depicts a happy chap devouring a pot of knödel.
Knödel is bread dumplings flavored with a host of herbs and specialties. The dish can be found in restaurants and mountainside taverns all over South Tyrol. It is served as a starter, as its own entree, or as a side complement to other Alpine dishes.
Our favorite knödel dish is Knödel Tris, a triple dumpling wonder comprised of a spinach dumpling (spinatknödel), cheese dumpling (käseknödel) and a speck dumpling (speckknödel). Another variation of knödel is Speckknödelsuppe — a bacon dumpling soup sure to warm the soul after a chilly hike.
Knödel even makes it onto the dessert menu in South Tyrol. If you skipped dumplings on your main course, order a dessert knödel dish where you can savor dumplings filled with everything from jam to chocolate and vanilla sauce.
By the way, no matter what kind of knödel you order, never cut it with a knife. That will offend the chef. Knödel should only be enjoyed with a fork.
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Schlutzkrapfen is the first South Tyrolean pasta dish we fell in love with. It is a delicious dinner-time favorite that never fails to wow us. Like knödel, Schlutzkrapfen is served as a starter or a stand-alone entree.
Schlutzkrapfen is a ravioli dish originating in South Tyrol more than 300 years ago in Val Pusteria. The dough is typically made from rye or buckwheat flour with finely chopped spinach, onion, garlic and ricotta cheese filling the pocket. A sprinkling of chopped chives, parsley and grated Parmesan cheese along with a drizzling of melted brown butter top the half-moon pasta.
You can also find Schlutzkrapfen filled with potato, meat, mushrooms, nettles or turnips. To fully savor Schlutzkrapfen, it is recommended to cut the pasta in half with your fork, let it slide into your mouth and allow the filling to melt on your tongue.
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It is said a true South Tyrolean eats five times a day: early-morning breakfast, mid-morning breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner. The mid-afternoon sitdown includes a South Tyrolean Marende and a glass of light-bodied red wine, typically Vernatsch (also known as Schiava).
The Marende is a cold-cut specialty traditionally served on a wooden board known as a “brettl”. It consists of speck (South Tyrol’s famous mountain-smoked ham), Kaminwurzen (a dry-smoked sausage, schüttelbrot (a spiced crispy flatbread) and a handful of sliced Alpine cheese. Fortunately, Marende is not only for afternoons. You can order a board or platter at virtually any time of day throughout South Tyrol. In fact, it is so popular with locals that it is handed out like candy at events such as Almabtrieb parades.
We recommend enjoying Marende as an appetizer or snack. Another good option is to toss some schüttelbrot, and Kaminwurzen along with a few South Tyrolean apples in your backpack before hiking. After a steep climb, we love snacking on these goodies while taking a breather.
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Spinatspatspazlen mit Schinken-Käsesauce
Spinatspatspazlen mit Schinken-Käsesauce is a mouthful to order off the menu if German does not roll easily off your tongue. But oh is it worth the effort!
This hearty dish is spinach spaetzle with ham and cheese sauce. It is a wonderful full-flavored choice as your main course.
Thankfully for us, the first time we ate Spinatspatspazlen mit Schinken-Käsesauce was at a friend’s mountain cabin so we didn’t have to bumble through the pronunciation in front of a waiter. But since then, whenever we want to revisit this South Tyrolean classic we make an honest attempt and then simply point to it on the menu. You can do the same.
Spaghetti Bolognese mit Speck
In case you thought South Tyrol is not in Italy, Spaghetti Bolognese mit Speck will convince you otherwise. When we are lusting after a traditional Italian red sauce pasta dish, we order up a plate of this twirl-worthy fare.
In our opinion, Spaghetti Bolognese mit Speck is better than the Bolognese dishes you find from Venice to Italy’s boot. Why? The addition of South Tyrolean speck with minced beef or pork adds a hint of smoky flavor. Each savory forkful is like the mountain speaking to you.
The best place to eat Spaghetti Bolognese mit Speck? Any mountain hut where you still have a long trek ahead of you. After a hefty helping, you are going to want to burn off the rich pasta well before settling in for dinner.
Bauerngröstl is a simple South Tyrolean dish that is how it looks: meat and potatoes. What makes it special? The way it is prepared, seasoned and served with the perfect garnishments.
Finely chopped garlic and onions are sautéd in an iron skillet with olive oil and butter. Sliced beef, salt and pepper, marjoram and a bay leaf are then added followed by a drizzle of white wine and the sliced potatoes.
If you need a break from pasta or knödel, Bauerngröstl is a mouthwatering alternative you will come to crave. Especially after a grueling hike.
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Spargel mit Bozner (Asparagi alla Bolzano)
When walking the street food markets of Bolzano, Brixen, Merano and beyond during the height of spring, you will see stands showcasing bundles upon bundles of fresh spargel (asparagus). South Tyroleans adore this vegetable. But what they adore even more is Bozner sauce, which is liberally poured over the top of the asparagus spears.
Bozner sauce is a sinfully delicious concoction that originated in Bolzano. It is a delicacy made with eggs, mustard, salt, pepper, chives, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and butter. Quite often when ordering Spargel mit Bozner, it will be served with a side cup of Bozner sauce allowing you to fully indulge in its goodness.
While Spargel mit Bozner is best enjoyed in spring, plan on trying it no matter when you visit South Tyrol. Like us, you will probably wonder why this dish has not landed on menus all over the world. And like us, we bet you will be seeking out the Bozner sauce recipe when you return home.
Hirtenmakkaroni (Maccheroni del Pastore)
Those preferring penne over spaghetti are in for a real treat in South Tyrol. Hirtenmakkaroni, meaning Sheperd’s Macaroni, is a creamy rich pasta masterpiece that is relished in mountain huts and taverns throughout the Dolomites.
While not a true macaroni dish as it uses penne rigate instead of macaroni noodles, Hirtenmakkaroni typically includes a minced meat Ragu sauce rather than a Bolognese sauce and is mixed with speck, cream, mushrooms and peas. The pasta is topped with freshly grated Parmesan, finely chopped chives and parsley.
We have enjoyed this dish many times and have encountered variations of the classic. Most common is without peas or mushrooms and sometimes chopped ham is included with the speck or in place of the speck. If you are wondering what this dish has to do with shepherds, so are we.
Tiroler Pizza (Tyrolese)
Tiroler pizza is the Alpine version of Italy’s most iconic food. These tasty wood-fired pies are mountain flavored with slices of South Tyrolean speck. In addition, Tiroler pizza is made with tomato sauce, oregano, mozzarella and Gorgonzola.
Other common toppings include spinach, mushrooms and prosciutto for those wanting their pizza to pack an even meatier punch. Of course, if you want to add onions, peppers or any other pizza favorites you can do that as well.
When it comes to ordering Tiroler pizza, you may have to search for it on the menu. Pizzerias often include multiple pies with speck as an ingredient. Additional names for speck-heavy pizza that we have encountered include Jägerpizza (Hunter’s pizza) and Bauernpizza (Farmer’s pizza).
A few of our favorite pizza places in South Tyrol include Restaurant Pizzeria Rustika in Villanders, Oachner Wirt in Völs am Schlern and Römerkeller Pizzaria in Algund. However, no matter where go for pizza in the region you are certain to leave more than satisfied.
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The final item on our must-try foods in South Tyrol list is not a food at all, but a feast. Törggelen is a centuries-old rural tradition in South Tyrol that celebrates the season’s wine harvest. It is known as South Tyrol’s 5th season and begins in October and runs to the start of the Christmas season.
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During Törggelen, South Tyrol’s mountainside farmers reveal their newest wines. These evening gatherings take place in a farmhouse tavern known as a “Buschenschank”. The feast celebrates all the rustic deliciousness of South Tyrolean fare.
A typical Törggelen dinner includes multiple courses. The feast begins with roasted chestnuts served with the season’s new wine. This is followed by pumpkin and barley soup, speck, knödel, Schlutzkrapfen and a grand platter of smoked sausages, pork and ham topping a bed of sauerkraut. To learn more about partaking in this feast, check out our article about enjoying Törggelen in Villanders.
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Savoring the Mountain
This South Tyrolean food guide is far from comprehensive, but we hope it gives you a taste of what popular dishes to sample during your holiday in South Tyrol. In a future article, we will dive into the South Tyrolean desserts you will not be able to resist. For now, we will simply let your mouth water over these culinary treasures. Bon appétit!