The cuisine of Austria is extremely multi-cultural, borrowing dishes from all parts of the Habsburg Empire. There is a spate of Italian, Adriatic, Polish, and Hungarian-inspired dishes and even a rich seam of Balkan flavors. As a result, Austrian food is far more dynamic and flavorsome than most people realize. Although you can try the ubiquitous Austrian classics such as Wiener Schnitzel, Rindsgulasch, Tafelspitz, and Mozartkugel, it’s better to seek out the fantastic variety of regional Styrian cuisine.
The cuisine of Styria is regarded as one of the best in Austria and the region’s obsession with food has led it to be colloquially referred to as “the belly of Austria”. From mouthwatering fried chicken to tempting chocolates, aromatic wines, and hearty salads, the Styrian capital offers the ravenous traveler plenty of unique culinary experiences. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite Styrian foods and regional food products to try in Graz and surroundings. Don’t go home without partaking in some of these calorific delights.
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1. Stryian Pumpkin Seed Oil
First up, we have my all-time favorite foodstuff from this part of Austria. No food item is as intrinsically linked to Styria or as beloved as the famous Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil (Steirisches Kürbiskernöl). An indispensable part of the culinary landscape, one of the first things visitors to Styria will immediately notice is that pumpkin seed oil is used to dress everything from salads to meats. This viscous, dark oil has a heavenly nutty flavor and is a ubiquitous fixture on tables alongside the salt and pepper. Although it is used chiefly used in Styrian cuisine for salad dressings and drizzling over cold dishes, pumpkin seed oil has even been known to be sprinkled on ice cream.
Styrian pumpkin seed oil is a true gift of nature. It has been produced and used in southern Styria at least since the 18th century and is made by pressing roasted, hull-less pumpkin seeds from a local variety of sun-ripened pumpkin. One of the best aspects of pumpkin seed oil is that it is produced without admixture of foreign oil, and without any chemical additives like preservatives.
Pumpkin seed oil is a natural viscous oil that is light to very dark green and thus it is often referred to as “green gold”. The oil has a very distinctive, typical nutty flavor, combined with subtle toasty aromas and delicate aroma of fresh bread crust and light caramel.
Not only does pumpkin seed oil taste good, pumpkin seed oil is also known for its health benefits and is said to help aid prostate-related illnesses, arteriosclerosis, and high blood pressure. It is cholesterol-free and rich in essential fatty acids. Pumpkin seed oil is used as an anti-aging product and to prevent dry skin because it is rich in vitamins A, E, and carotenoids.
Authentic Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil can be identified by the inscription “Steirisches Kürbiskernöl g.g.A.” (“Styrian pumpkin seed oil PGI”) or the EU logo “Protected Geographical Indication” on the product label. This ensures that only those businesses that undergo monitoring by the testing institutions may label their product “Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil”. The Protected Geographical Indication means that there is a close connection between agricultural produce and foods and their region of origin.
PS: Pumpkin seed oil tastes best on Grazer Krauthäuptel, a salad variety grown in the area for hundreds of years. You can identify it by the red tinge to the edges of its leaves. Combined with a dash of Styrian apple vinegar, it’s the quintessential Styrian dish.
2. Stryian Horseradish
Styrian Horseradish (Steirischer Kren) is yet another foodstuff I love due to its pungency, something which is often missing in Austrian cuisine. I love eating strips of freshly grated horseradish which often reduces me to tears and makes hair in my nostrils flare up. Often served freshly grated, horseradish lends an intense flavor to many traditional Styrian appetizers, main dishes, sides, spreads, and salads. Styrian horseradish can be distinguished by its relative lack of bitterness when compared to other varieties.
Styrian horseradish has enjoyed a strong reputation since the mid-19th century and the commercial cultivation of Styrian horseradish developed from the middle of the 20th century. The loamy soils and the favorable local microclimate of southern Styria offer excellent growing conditions and it is here where it is traditionally cultivated.
Styrian horseradish is also well-known for its health benefits and possesses about twice the amount of Vitamin C content as lemons. It has also been said to strengthen the body’s immune system and aids in stimulating blood circulation and digestion.
Similar to Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil, genuine Styrian horseradish can be identified by the inscription “Steirischer Kren g.g.A.” (“Styrian horseradish PGI”) or the EU logo “Protected Geographical Indication” on the product label. This ensures that only those businesses that undergo monitoring by the testing institutions may label their product “Styrian horseradish”.
3. Scarlet Runner Bean Salad
One of the most popular salad dishes in Austria, the scarlet runner bean salad (Käferbohnensalat) is one of the foods you simply have to try when visiting Graz. This simple yet delicious salad consists of scarlet runner beans flavored with vinegar, pumpkin seed oil, onions (grated horseradish can be used instead), salt, and pepper. It is often enhanced with hard-boiled eggs, peppers, corn, or tomatoes.
Scarlet runner beans are a type of large, lilac-violet speckled beans. The German word Käferbohnen literally translates to “beetle beans”. Scarlet runner beans have been grown in Austria since the 16th century, and over time have evolved into a distinctive Styrian specialty. Almost 90% of Austrian scarlet runner beans are cultivated in the vicinity of the town of Bad Radkersburg in the southeastern part of Styria.
4. Styrian Fried Chicken
Although you can sample fried chicken (Backhendl) throughout Austria, it is the Styrian variant which stands head and shoulders above the rest. Not only is Styrian fried chicken (Steirisches Backhendl) my favorite local dish, it is also one of the best foods I’ve eaten, period. It consists of pieces of chicken that have been coated with spices and lemon juice which are then breaded and deep-fried until golden and crispy. You may be wondering why I’m making such a fuss over a simple dish like fried chicken but, believe me, there is something special about the way the Styrians do it!
I don’t know quite what they do to the chicken that makes it so appetizing. As soon as you take a bite your taste buds will go into overdrive! The crunchy coating outside keeps the chicken inside succulent and soft, thus lending the meat its subtle flavor and an unrivaled taste. Styrian fried chicken is traditionally accompanied by lemon wedges, parsley leaves, lettuce, and potato salad, all of which are a complete treat for the palate.
Another very common version of this dish is the equally scrumptious Fried Chicken Salad (Backhendl Salat). Strips of stripes of warm breaded chicken, bacon bits, and hand warm potato pieces, all drenched in pumpkin seed oil, are thrown in together to make the salad, which in fact, is a whole meal.
PS: To make it even more Styrian, look out for pumpkinseed-breaded chicken!
Another true specialty of Styria, Verhackert is a popular and yummy spread which is similar to bacon jam. It is made from smoked, finely chopped bacon that is blended with salt, minced garlic, and sometimes even pumpkin seed oil. This bacon-rich spread is sometimes sold in the form of sausages with a plastic casing, and more rarely in cans or jars.
One of the finest comfort foods in Styrian cuisine, verhackert is best served cold with bread as an appetizer. Blessed with enough character to be considered a culinary event, verhackert is often served as part of the famous Brettljausen and is usually best paired with thick slices of dark bread.
6. Styrian Wines
Wine is deadlocked with beer as Styria’s favorite alcoholic tipple. Styrian wine is mainly white, though there are excellent local red wines. Styria’s best wines are produced on the unending, undulating steep slopes of the rolling hills in the strikingly beautiful region of Southern Styria. Some of the best-known Styrian wines are the Welschriesling, Traminer, Gewürztraminer, Morillon, and Weissburgunder. All of these possess the classical hallmarks of a refreshing white wine, filled with citrus and floral notes, with the cleansing acidity racing over the tongue.
Of all the Styrian wines, one wine that has become part of local folklore is the Schilcher, a unique rosé wine made exclusively from the indigenous Blauer Wildbacher grape variety. Originally a rustic country wine with aggressive acidity, the Schilcher has transformed into a highly prized wine of international renown thanks to continuous quality improvements. It is famous for its unmistakable zingy citrus acidity and a hint of spice. Although I’ve yet to cotton to wine in general (I’m a sworn beer aficionado), Jacky loves wine and swears that the Schilcher is one of the best she’s ever had.
The Styrian wine region is best visited in autumn (end of September until mid-October) when new wine is offered for tasting alongside the sweet young wine known as “Sturm”, which is semi-fermented freshly pressed grape juice. Wine festivals take place in Leutschach on the last weekend of September and in Gamlitz on the first weekend of October.
Since I’ve now covered Styrian wines, I’ve got to mention Brettljause, a wooden sharing platter with a selection of local Styrian delicacies. Omnipresent in many bars and restaurants of Graz, Brettljause would typically be served in wine taverns (Buschenschank) along the Styrian Wine Roads.
A standard brettljause consists of a tantalizing array of cold cuts (roast pork, ham, dry sausage, bacon, smoked sausage) and delicious spreads (liver sausage, gram fat, frying fat, pumpkin seed spread) accompanied by horseradish and black bread.
8. Styrian Beers
Most Styrian beer is a good quality brew of the light, continental-lager, or pilsner type. One of the most popular beer styles in the region is the Märzen, a medium body beer with a flush of lightly toasted, spicy malt flavors, and bright, glowing golden and copper-orange hues. Three of the most omnipresent beers in Styria include Gösser from Leoben, Puntigamer from Graz, and Murauer from Murau.
The craft beer scene in Styria and Austria in general has been relatively slow to pick up traction as compared to some other parts of the world. Craft beer in Styria is still a bit under the radar. Beer drinkers here are comfortable with drinking one beer for their entire life – perhaps because Styrian beers have a centuries-old tradition with top-notch brewing standards. The popularity of lager beers doesn’t let the craft beer market to grow. Younger people are quite enthusiastic about trying something different, but the prices of craft beers don’t help.
Despite the small craft beer market, there are a couple of great microbreweries in Styria. Bevog is the biggest and most well-known microbrewery in Styria. Based in the small town of Bad Radkersburg, just north of the Slovenian border, Bevog has grown into one of the most popular craft breweries in the country winning many plaudits along the way. They are mostly famous for their hazy and hopped-up beers which stand out in particular due to their intense bouquet of juicy hop aromatics. I also really love the art on their cans and bottles which are unique and professionally designed.
The craft beer trend has seen several new players pop up in recent years who are doing amazing things and redefining the modest beer. Some other good craft breweries in Styria are Noom from Riegersburg, Erzberg from Eisenerz, and Forstner from Karlsdorf. The Thirsty Heart and Hops Craft Beer Bar are two of the best craft beer pubs in Graz while Bier Boutique is a great place for anyone looking to buy Styrian craft beer.
9. Zotter Chocolate
While Vienna’s got the Sachertorte, Linz the Linzertorte, and Salzburg the Salzburger Nockerl, there isn’t a Styrian sweet specialty. Instead, we have Zotter Chocolate, the biggest and coolest independent chocolate maker in Austria. What makes Zotter unique is that they make everything in-house, from the first step to the last, and are one of the very few bean-to-bar producers in Europe. Its daring chocolate flavors and techniques, as well as delightfully creative design and packaging, have made this company a leader in fine organic chocolates.
Zotter has been experimenting with exciting new flavors and combinations for nearly three decades. Zotter offers over 400 different kinds of chocolate, making this one of the widest offerings of chocolate flavors that I’ve ever heard of! Their chocolates are superb and will often leave you bleary-eyed and sugar-clogged. I reckon that even people who aren’t sweet-tooths will appreciate the quality of Zotter’s chocolate.
Zotter’s flavors range from the traditional to the outright whacky. Some of the most eccentric and popular chocolate bars produced by Zotter include:
- Avocados with Tangerine Yoghurt
- Plum Brandy
- Almonds with Grappa Raisins
- Bacon Bits
- Pumpkin Seeds with Marzipan
- Pineapple and Sweet Pepper
- Arabian Dates with Mint
- Hemp Bonbon
- White Poppy with Cinnamon and Apricot
- Bird’s Eye Chilli
- Olives with Lemon
- Sheep’s Milk and Honey Nut Milk Chocolate
- Almond Roses
- Rum Coconut
- Cherry Brandy with Marzipan
- Scotch Whiskey
- Marc de Champagne
Zotter Chocolate is widely available at most supermarkets and small stores in Graz and the rest of Styria. However, if you truly want a complete repertoire of their chocolates, you have to visit the Zotter Chocolate Factory (Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur) in the small village of Bergl. Here, you are treated to the complete Zotter experience and can indulge yourself by sampling various flavors of chocolate. You could also pick up a few bars as they make great souvenirs!
10. Pork Knuckle Soup
Hearty and delicious are two words which describe traditional Styrian cuisine and this is perhaps no better exemplified than when eating Styrian “Pork Knuckle Soup” (Klachelsuppe). Originating in Styria, the name of this traditional Styrian soup refers to its key ingredient – pork knuckle. Other ingredients include carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves, juniper berries, caraway seeds, grated horseradish, peppercorns, marjoram, sour cream, flour, salt, pepper, and a dash of white wine if desired.
The pork knuckle is cooked with the vegetables, and the bones are later removed, while the meat is sliced into small pieces. The flour is mixed with the cream, and the combination is stirred into the soup with seasonings and white wine. Pork knuckle soup is traditionally served hot and is usually best paired with Heidensterz, another traditional Styrian dish.
11. Styrian Buckwheat Mush
The ultimate homely food in the region, Styrian Buckwheat Mush (Steirischer Heidensterz) is a traditional peasant dish that is often regarded as Styria’s national dish. It consists of simple, everyday ingredients, typically a combination of buckwheat flour, fat, water, and salt. Styrian Buckwheat Mush is thought to have originated in the 15th century and is made by quickly pouring the buckwheat flour into boiling water with a pinch of salt, which creates large flour lumps.
The water is then drained, and the lumps are mashed and roasted in a pot of melted lard or butter. The mixture is stirred and left to cook for another few minutes until it is firm. Styrian Buckwheat Mush reminds me a lot of southern grits in the USA. Heidensterz is traditionally served with either mushroom soup or dumpling soup, but can also be accompanied by sour milk
In its early years, heidensterz was a popular peasant dish due to the accessibility of its ingredients and its high nutritional value. Today, however, heidensterz is now also served as a side dish in upscale restaurants.
12. Styrian Boiled Pork With Root Vegetables
Ah, we now come to the Styrian Boiled Pork With Root Vegetables (Steirisches Wurzelfleisch), one of the most beloved foods in Styria. Much to my chagrin, pork is undoubtedly the preferred meat of choice in Styria. But Steirisches Wurzelfleisch is one of those rare occasions when I don’t mind having pork.
Steirisches Wurzelfleisch is relatively easy to prepare and involves boiling meat, vegetables, and potatoes together in seasoned stock until soft. Other ingredients include carrots, yellow beets, parsley root, celeriac, leeks, chives, garlic, onions, and spices such as salt, pepper, bay leaves, caraway seeds, marjoram, thyme, and juniper. Wurzelfleisch is served with vegetables, greasy potatoes, and freshly grated horseradish. Don’t miss out on it!
Now, what do you think? Have you tried any of these dishes before? Which one’s your favorite? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!