As the weather cools down and the summer days become shorter, there is only one solace: ski season!
If you love whooshing down epic ski slopes, you surely do not need an excuse to visit one of Europe’s great ski regions this winter, but for those of you who enjoy cuddling by the fireplace rather than tumbling down hilly mountains, taking a short break to a ski resort can still be on your agenda.
When it comes to eating and drinking in the Alps, every self-professed foodie should seek out regional specialities which only appear when ski season starts. Here are some favourites you should seek out this winter.
Tartiflette is the food you want to order if you need to recharge and refuel after a marathon ski session. A combination of tender potatoes, lots of melted reblochon cheese, chunks of French smoked bacon lardons, onions and garlic – are all baked together in one gloriously satisfying dish.
A speciality of the Haute-Savoie region of France, locals dig into this caloric dish during winter to keep warm. The dish was dreamed up in the 1980s by the reblochon cheese producers looking to boost sales. Well, it worked and the dish is still served as a winter staple across France today.
The key to a great tartiflette is the cheese – it must have a thick rind and be super pungent. It’s a great, inexpensive and highly accessible dish found in every resort in Haute-Savoie. Chalet la Pricaz (below) located in Annecy has one of the best.
For something a little lighter but no less satisfying, soupe au calliou (literally ‘pebble soup’ in English) might be perfect for the non-skier in the group. Essentially a slow-cooked winter soup made with hearty French vegetables, its name brings to mind an old fable about three hungry soldiers who convinced villagers to share their hoarded food by pretending they could make soup from stones.
For dessert, tarte aux myrtilles (above) is a must. The French are known for their meticulous pastries and this blueberry tart – some places use bilberries – does not disappoint. Enjoy it with génépi, a sweet, green and very alcoholic liqueur made from wormwood, to end off a great meal.
The Swiss are no doubt known for their luxurious ski resorts, but find your way to places like Nendaz or Villars where you can have great skiing at a fraction of the price, as well as enjoy some great Swiss alpine foods.
The most popular would be fondue (above) – a giant pot of melting cheese (normally gruyère cheese) presented at the table…that’s it! Break off large chunks of country-style bread or tender potatoes, dip them into the super hot melted cheese and indulge in a hearty, yet simple dinner. A recommended wine would be a white such as the local Chasselas.
If you do happen to find yourself in Zermatt but want something cheap and cheerful, Alpenrose is a standout in Zermatt, for its sublime views over the Matterhorn. Don’t forget the apple strudel to finish. Berghaus Grünsee is another great spot with 360-degree panoramas of Zermatt and has other great Swiss specialities like raclette (below).
Raclette is like fondue’s classy and chic sister. The name comes from the French word ‘racler’, which means to scrape, but the dish also has Swiss-German origins – bratchas, which means roasted cheese. Either way, make friends with your waiter and work out a system where when you nod, he comes over with freshly roasted cheese and slides it onto your plate next to the pile of potatoes and cured meats. Pair any of these dishes with a Swiss Williams pear-based schnapps like Williamine.
Northern Italy is famously known among locals for its ski resorts, so it is no surprise that the region specialising in polenta and rice would have its own Alpine specialities outside of the regular Italian pasta dish. Polenta is a corn-based dish usually served with slow-cooked meats in a thick and rich sauce (below). Almost like having a hearty ragu with field mushrooms and cheese (of course), this is a delicious meal to warm up to.
On the menu at all good ski resorts in Italy is bresaola (below). Arguably the best addition to a good Italian charcuterie plate, the air-dried beef from Valtellina is salty, spicy and full of flavour, which is an excellent starter to strangolapreti – a giant Italian gnocchi made with spinach hailing from Trentino. Try these dishes with Birra, a craft ale from a town called Aosta.
Cosy restaurant Dogana Vegia inside the old customs house has many traditional Italian winter favourites, as well as excellent homemade pasta. Hotel Andossi offers the local bresaola from nearby Valle Spluga, as well as a gourmet polenta served with rabbit.
The Austrian Alps are definitely worth visiting if you love skiing and food in equal measure. If giant hash browns sound good, gröstl (below) should be on your must-eat list. Made from smoked bacon lardons and potatoes and seasoned with caraway and paprika, it’s a hearty favourite with many. Obertauern is one of the most popular skiing areas in Austria and Hotel Steiner Obertauern is a great spot for families with a restaurant serving traditional Austrian favourites.
Of course, a visit to Austria won’t be complete without having a wiener schnitzel (below). Even though this iconic Austrian dish is available year round, the fried veal served with warm potatoes tastes even better after a hard day hitting the slopes. A favourite place with locals is at either Romantikhotel Gmachl Elixhausen or Schlosswirt zu Anif, all close to the city of Salzburg if you feel inclined to visit Mozart’s birthplace and catch a concert.
To finish off an indulgent meal, apple strudel is what you should get but during the winter, the Prügeltorte cake – a spit-roasted cake with sugar sprinkled on top to give it crunch – should be shared among friends (or not).
For drinks, anything Austrian from the vineyards lining the Danube river is a winner, something like grüner veltliner. But if you happen to be in Austria during Christmas, order Jagertee, a spiced red wine with plum schnapps.
– TEXT BY MICHELLE TCHEA
PHOTOS: 123RF.COM, INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.