A Culinary Journey through Switzerland
At a Glance:
- Switzerland’s food is heavily influenced by its neighboring countries and also varies a lot in the different language regions.
- There are around 450 different types of cheese in Switzerland and it is therefore no surprise that many Swiss dishes contain cheese.
- A visit of a grotto in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland is not to be missed! It’s the best way to taste authentic cuisine from Ticino.
Of Herdsmen and Farmers — Typical Dishes of Switzerland’s German-Speaking Region
Switzerland’s German-speaking part is the country’s biggest language region and therefore offers a wide culinary variety. What is more, every town or city has their own specialties and variations of dishes. From sweet to savory, the list is long. Find below an overview of the most popular dishes in the German-speaking region of Switzerland.
Savory Dishes and Their Origin
A very popular dish in the German-speaking region of Switzerland is Älplermagronen, which translates into herdsman’s macaroni. Several variations of this rustic dish exist, but it usually consists of macaroni, potatoes, onion, cheese, and ham — ingredients that the herdsmen working on alpine pastures usually had readily at hand. Älplermagronen is traditionally served with apple sauce.
Originally a farmer’s breakfast, Rösti is now a popular dish throughout the country. Rösti — Swiss-style hash browns — consists of fried grated potatoes. Depending on the region, other ingredients are sometimes added such as apples, cheese, or onions. It usually accompanies main dishes, such as the famous Zürcher Geschnetzeltes. This Zurich-style sliced meat, as is its literal translation, consists of sliced veal meat, mushrooms, double cream, beef stock, and white wine. Sometimes veal liver is also added. As mentioned before, it is usually accompanied by Rösti, and sometimes noodles or rice.
It was not that long ago that a girl from Basel could not get married until she knew how to make a proper Basel roasted flour soup. The soup is traditionally only eaten during carnival and the first plate is served at the “Morgestraich”, the beginning of carnival at three o’clock in the morning. It is made from flour, butter, onion, and beef stock and is topped with grated cheese (mostly Gruyère).
Nutritionists and Sweet Treats
The invention of the Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximillian Bircher-Brenner is still one of the most popular breakfasts in the country. Rolled oats, grated apples, condensed milk or yogurt, lemon juice, and nuts, mixed together and soaked overnight make Birchermüesli a nutritious dish. Although many people think it’s only served for breakfast, the Swiss love their Birchermüesli at any time of day, preferably accompanied by a slice of walnut bread.
The Engadine walnut cake is a sweet cake made from short crust pastry. The delicious filling consists of chopped walnuts, honey, caramel, and cream. This specialty from the canton of Grisons is not only enjoyed by the Swiss people but also exported all over the world.
Bon Appétit — Specialties of Switzerland’s French-Speaking Region
The cuisine of the Romands — the people living in the French-speaking part of Switzerland — enjoys an excellent reputation throughout the country. And why wouldn’t it: local products mixed with the best of the French cuisine are the ingredients for delicious food. Everything begins with Switzerland’s probably most famous product: cheese.
It’s All about Cheese
It is no secret that the Swiss love their cheese. Switzerland is grassland and since around 80% of cultivated land is unsuitable for farming, it is used for keeping animals. As such, cheese production has a long tradition in the country. There are over 450 different types of cheese whereas Emmentaler AOP, Le Gruyère AOP, and Appenzeller are probably the most internationally known. It comes as no surprise then, that many dishes in Switzerland contain cheese, the two most famous probably being Fondue and Raclette originating in the French part of the country.
Fondue is a Swiss national dish which is mainly eaten during winter time. It is served in a so-called Caquelon — a pot usually made from cast iron. The melted cheese — mostly a mixture of Gruyère and Vacherin (moitié-moitié) — is slowly heated in the pot and infused with white wine. When the cheese is completely melted, rustic bread is dunked into the cheese.
Raclette is a semi-hard Valaisan cheese made from fresh cow’s milk. It is traditionally melted over charcoal fire and the melting cheese is scraped off layer by layer onto boiled potatoes, pickles, and onions. Raclette grills brought the national dish into Swiss homes, where it can now be enjoyed with friends during hours-long dinner parties. The dish is often served with a white wine, such as a Fendant or Savoy wine.
Swiss Drinks: An UNESCO World Heritage and the Green Fairy
The Lavaux Vinyard Terraces stretching along the shores of Lake Geneva have been protected by UNESCO since 2007. The stunning landscape is best to be enjoyed with a glass of Chasselas, the most famous white wine of the region. The wine is only produced in small artisanal batches, therefore there is virtually none left to export.
Besides wine, the French-speaking region, Val-de-Travers in the northwest to be exact, is also the birthplace of the once forbidden Absinthe. The drink was banned following a widespread panic about potential hallucinogenic and deleterious effects and the production of the “green fairy” has only been legalized again in 2005.
More Things to Try in the French-Speaking Region
There are many more local dishes to try in the Romandie — the French-speaking part of the country. These include, but are not limited to Papet Vaudois, a mash made from leek and potatoes accompanied by Saucisson (sausages), Swiss meringue with double cream from Gruyère, and Gâteau du Vully, a sweet yeast dough cake topped with plenty of cream.
Taste the Northern Italian Influence — Traditional Food of Switzerland’s Italian-Speaking Region
The Italian cuisine heavily influenced the food in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking part. The Ticino canton is for example famous for its polenta, a dish made from cornmeal. The genuine polenta has a long tradition and was originally cooked over a fireplace but this is no longer the habit. Nonetheless, it’s still a traditional (side) dish in the Italian-speaking region. It is usually accompanied by stew, mortadella (an Italian sausage), or alpine cheese. However, it is also delicious only accompanied by fresh milk.
The region also produces a wide range of different types of cheese. One of its most popular cheeses is probably Zincarlin — unmistakable recognizable by its cylinder shape. This fresh cheese is made from cow’s milk as well as a small quantity of goat’s milk. Its treatment with white wine and salt almost every day makes its flavor very intense and unique.
When living in Ticino, you should not miss out on dining in a grotto. A grotto is probably the most characteristic type of restaurant in the canton of Ticino. Once stone cellars where wine and cheese was stored, today grottoes are simple restaurants where you can enjoy local cuisine, accompanied by a glass of Ticino Merlot. The ambience in a grotto is unique as they are mostly located in quiet hideaway places with breath taking views.
All Time Favorite: Swiss Chocolate
Not restricted to any one region in Switzerland is one of the most popular Swiss products: chocolate. Swiss chocolate is known to be one of the best in the world. Its excellent reputation comes from the high quality standards in its production. Manufacturers can only call their chocolate “Suisse chocolate” when it’s ready-conched, or the chocolate mas was entirely manufactured in Switzerland. There is a law and industry-wide agreement to ensure this. Switzerland’s over a dozen chocolate manufacturers produce a variety of chocolaty treats; from chocolate bars to pralines and spread.
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