Once, people from the Engadin emigrated abroad to work as confectioners. As a result, foreign flavours and ideas came to enrich classic local dishes – leading to a vibrant gastronomic tradition with many regional specialities.
Life in the 15th Century was tough in the Engadin, and many people travelled abroad to look for work. Over the years they gained a reputation as skilled bakers and confectioners, creating cakes, pralines and other treats in the great cities of Europe. Soon they conquered the hearts of sweet-toothed customers across the continent and in some cases amassed considerable wealth. They were particularly successful in Venice, where in the mid-18th Century, 39 out of 42 confectioners were run by people from Graubünden. The best-known result of this era is known throughout Switzerland: the Engadin nut cake. This is the most famous cake in Switzerland – but not to be confused with the multi-layered Engadin Cake, made with shortcrust pastry, crème patissière and a crunchy Florentine topping.
The people of Engadin also have a savoury side and produce a wonderful local Engadin sausage, alpine cheese full of character and the world-famous Bündnerfleisch – Graubünden air-dried meat. This delicacy arose from the need to preserve food for the long and cold winter months. Local people soaked lean cuts of beef in spiced brine for several weeks and then hung them up to dry.
Ever since Columbus brought the potato to Europe, it has been an important feature of Engadin cuisine. It forms the basis of Plain in Pigna, for example, an oven-baked mixture of grated potato and Salsiz sausage; it also features in the traditional Maluns, a dish made with grated and pan-fried potato, served with mountain cheese and apple purée. Bon appétit – or, as we say in Romansch, Bun apetit!