Thanks to its privileged location nestled at the foot of the Dolomites Mountains, South Tyrol’s cuisine is a fiery, yet surprisingly perfect mix of Austrian and Italian influences. You can expect ravioli, followed by apple strudel.
On a recent trip to Merano in South Tyrol, I was lucky enough to go on a culinary journey and experience some of the tastiest dishes in the area – in between a bit of sightseeing. Whether you fancy dining in a hotel restaurant, a local taverna or at a food market, below is a run through of the best foods to try on a visit to South Tyrol.
Pur Restaurant and Shop
Pur restaurant and shop is as its name would suggest – it’s a wonderful place to eat lunch, as well as pick up a gift for loved ones. Selling everything from wines, pasta, herbs and spices to cheese, chocolate and pastries, everything sold here has not had to travel far.
We enjoyed lunch on our visit – without doubt the best cheese and meat board I have ever had. The bread hidden under the piles of salami and peppered cheese is not automatically obvious, but keep digging. The board was served with a variety of meats and cheeses, the most renowned being Speck ham (dry-cured prosciutto). Today, almost every farmer in South Tyrol produces his own speck.
If you are able to squeeze it in (or take it back to your hotel), wander back through the shop after lunch and choose yourself a cake. Everything from double chocolate to cheesecake – warning, the slices are huge.
Merano hosts a variety of weekly markets, selling both food and clothing. The largest is held on Friday morning, and stretches from Piazzale Prader all along Via Mainardo. In fact, step out the front door of the City Hotel and you will be right in the heart of it. I was even able to watch as they set it up from my bedroom balcony.
Other markets not to be missed are the Farmers’ Markets. Enjoy the taste of South Tyrol with various local delicacies on offer. Markets are held every Saturday morning on Via Galilei and on Wednesday morning on Via Mainardo (again, right outside the City Hotel).
In true Italian style, you will also find huts selling various gelato flavours. You won’t have to walk far without coming across one.
Famous Apple Strudel
You can’t leave Merano without trying some of the famous strudel. There are no excuses either – they are on almost every menu. They aren’t like the typical strudels we have back in the UK, which consist of flaky pastry; in Merano, it takes the form more of a cake – still as delicious, if not more. The Hotel Splendid is where I enjoyed the nicest strudel. It was huge as well.
Did you know that South Tyrol is the largest self-contained apple-growing area in Europe.
The Restaurant City is located in the City Hotel (you don’t have to be a staying guest to enjoy a meal here). I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek into the kitchen at the City Hotel and meet the man behind the arty, delicious dishes – his name is Chef Pasquale Granata. I watched him make tagliatelle pasta for that evening’s dishes. He explained to me how when he first started out his career, he had to learn to make them individual by hand. After watching how quick he was about to produce the tagiltelle in front of me in his fancy machine, I was left wondering how anyone got their dinner before it was invented!
The passion for what he did was immediately obvious. He used to work as a sous chef at another local hotel for many years, but his drive to want to make his own creations is what led him to now run the kitchen at the City Hotel.
Not short of imagination, or bravery, his dishes were certainly different. We enjoyed everything from lentil salad with crispy bacon, to pasta orecchiette alla pugliese, slightly spicy with South Tyrolean Schuttelbrot – fancy, huh! In simpler terms, it was very nice, home-made local pasta and South Tyrolean bread. This was teamed with a Sauvignon Blanc 2013 white wine from Alto Adige Sudtiroler. My favourite dish was the veal goulash and violet potato dumpling fingers with sour cream – I still crave it now. The pumpkin cappuccino was also a light-hearted surprise.
Other local restaurants
Italians love a bit of al fresco dining, and Merano is not short of options. Whether you choose to dine at an Austrian-style restaurant, or an Italian taverna, there are plenty of places to pick from. In fact, South Tyrol is home to 19 Michelin-star restaurants – one of the highest numbers in such a small area.
What’s to drink
The area of South Tyrol is big on its wine. In fact, a lot of Merano’s surrounding countryside is made up of wineries. During our stay we sampled a number of local wines – someone’s got to do it! Here are some of my favourites.
Peter Zemmer Brut, Prosecco – We picked this up in a local shop in Merano. This sparkling wine comes from the Peter Zemmer winery located in Cortina, Alto Adige. This family winery has been producing wines since 1928.
Sanct Valentin San Michele Appiano – This is a Sauvignon Blanc from the St. Michael Appian winery in Alto Adige. This wine is very popular in Merano, featuring in many restaurants.
I do love a good wine, however my favourite thing to drink in Merano was The Hugo cocktail. This cocktail is made with elderflower, prosecco or sparkling wine, sparkling mineral water and mint, and is very refreshing after a day hiking or exploring the local sights. Head over to the City Hotel bar, the barman there makes a mean one. He will even talk you through how to make one of your very own at home. Team a Hugo with a bowl of olives – perfect.
Have you visited Merano? What meals did you enjoy there?