Not Austria Day Six – Mountain Food

Photo One by Benreis / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Tiroler gröstl (Photo One)

Dear Readers, it’s just as well that I only go to Austria once a year, and that when I’m there I’m exercising vigorously. The food of the Tyrol is highly calorific (as befits people who spend a lot of their time outside, in all weathers). It tends towards root vegetables, pork products and copious quantities of dairy food (from all those lovely Alpine cows). It is just the thing at the end of a slog uphill in freezing rain, but it doesn’t always translate to a more sedentary London existence. However, I am going to attempt my own version of Tiroler gröstl tonight, as I have spare potatoes, spare cabbage, spare onions and a number of eggs to use. As I am vegetarian I shall spare the bacon, though I should point out that, for once, this isn’t typical – normally in Obergurgl it’s made with leftover beef , maybe from the tafelspitz shown below.  Austrian cooks are nothing if not resourceful.

A lot of Tyrolean cooking features things that my parents would have recognised. They have their own version of boiled beef called tafelspitz, for example, served with boiled potatoes and carrots and creamed spinach plus horseradish (essential). I’m sure my grandmother would have loved it. Like a lot of cooking from the region, it uses cheap cuts of meat, cooked slowly. The beef in a tafelspitz is normally soft enough to cut with a spoon.

Photo Two by Karl Gruber / Wikimedia Commons

Tafelspitz (Photo Two)

As Obergurgl is on the border with the Italian Tyrol, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Tyroleans have developed their own form of ‘pasta’ – spätzle. Normally served with meat ragout, or in a sauce stuffed full of cheese and cream, it sometimes feels like it might be the final straw for my grumbling gallbladder (though it has never actually caused any problems). spätzle is made with a dough similar to that of Italian pasta, though heavier in eggs – the traditional formula was to add one egg more than the number of people who would be dining. Traditionally, the dough is scraped into long, thin strips and added straight to boiling salted water, though you can use a proper spätzle maker to form the shapes (spätzle means ‘little sparrow’ in German, as the dough can also be made into little cushions that more closely resemble the bird). Once made, it can be turned into a savoury dish, as described above, or mixed with apples or cherries to form a dessert (though I’ve never seen this in Obergurgl, where they like their spätzle as a main course).

Photo Three by Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Käsespatzl (spätzle with cheese) (Photo Three)

Dumplings are also a staple food. Known as knödel,  – they can be popped into soup, accompany a main course or be served as a dessert. In the Tyrol, you can find speckknödel (dumplings with bacon), spinatknödel (with spinach) or leberknödel(with liver) along with plain old knödel. Often these turn up in one of the clear soups that the Austrians are so fond of, but a big slab of fried knödel may turn up next to your goulash (Hungarian being another big influence on Tyrolean cooking what with it being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for all those years) or to a hearty pork stew.

Photo Four by Kobako / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

Pork stew with dumplings (Photo Four)

How I love the sweet dumplings of the Tyrol, though! They come in all shapes and sizes, and again I’m sure my parents would have recognised and loved germknödel, a massive steamed dumpling with poppyseeds and ‘vanilla sauce’ aka custard. Mum was a life-long advocate of the steamed pudding as a way to cure all ills, and I’m sure she was right. Although this looks as if a normal human being wouldn’t be able to eat all of it, I can assure you that it’s much lighter than it looks. Plus, you can always have a nap afterwards.

Photo Five by FakirNL / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Germknödel with vanilla sauce (Photo Five)

And I fell in love with the tasty little apricot dumplings that turn up occasionally – these are usually crispy on the outside, slightly tart on the inside, and come with custard. Known as Marillenknödel, these are so exquisite that a trip to Austria doesn’t feel complete without a plateful. Photo Six by fotogoocom / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)Marillenknödel (Photo Six)

And finally, on the dessert front, there is kaiserschmarrn, named in part for Franz Joseph I and in part for the German word for ‘mess’. What a strange dish this is! A baked pancake with rum-soaked raisins in it is torn to pieces and then served with apple sauce or jam. In my book on Alpine recipes, it stipulates that kaiserschmarrn made with 3 eggs would serve ‘one advanced eater or two beginners’. It is certainly a hearty dish, though if you can manage a germknodel on your own I’m sure you’d be able to manage this.

Photo Seven by Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Kaiserschmarrn (Photo Seven)

And finally, what to wash it all down with? The traditional after-dinner drink of the region is schnaps, which comes in dozens of varieties – the Tyrol tourist board is now offering a schnaps route that takes you to the many local distilleries, though driving home along those mountain roads might be something of a challenge. A very local Tyrolean version is zirbenschnaps, made from pinecones picked in the spring which have been soaked in grappa for a couple of months. This came as something of a surprise to me, as I had always assumed that it was made from the fragrant pine needles, but no.  After all that fat and sugar, you might as well commit yourself completely with one of these. I can guarantee that you’ll fall unconscious as soon as your head hits the pillow.

Photo Seven from https://www.starkenberger.shop/produkt/zirbenschnaps-01l/

Zirbenschnaps (Photo Eight)

Photo Credits

Photo One by Benreis / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Photo Two by Karl Gruber / Wikimedia Commons

Photo Three by Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Photo Four by Kobako / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

Photo Five by FakirNL / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Photo Six by fotogoocom / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

Photo Seven by Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Photo Seven from https://www.starkenberger.shop/produkt/zirbenschnaps-01l/

4 thoughts on “Not Austria Day Six – Mountain Food

  1. Anne

    Wonderful looking food – if you can get non-meat versions of it. I am usually disappointed by vegetarian alternatives on offer: as though we live on cheese and eggs alone!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Anne, the Tyrol is getting better for vegetarian food – being so close to Italy they have a lot of vegetarian pasta dishes, and some of the soups and other dumpling-type dishes are ostensibly vegetarian, though I am always a bit nervous about the stock they use. You definitely have to be prepared for cheese and dairy though – I think if you were vegan you’d be living on green salad!

      Incidentally, if you ever get a chance to come to Europe again, some of the best veggie and vegan food I’ve ever had is in Berlin…

      Reply
  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    As you say, very hearty looking food indeed! I’m not sure I liked the sound of slogging uphill in freezing rain though. I can honestly say I’ve never, ever done that over here. That’s something I definitely associate with the UK. But then the forecasts are more reliable in the centre of Europe and I tend to stay at home if and when rain is imminent. Yes, I admit it, I’m a fair weather walker!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Gosh, you haven’t experienced horizontal hailstorms at the end of a seven-hour walk when you’re trying to get down a steep rocky footpath through some recalcitrant cows? You haven’t lived Mike 🙂

      Reply

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