There’s more to Swiss food than fondue

March 14, 2010, 2 Comments

Today is officially the first day of spring. This has nothing to do with the weather (there’s still snow lying around), or the date (who cares about 14 March?) but everything to do with food. Today I had my first Osterchüechli, or little Easter cake, of the year, a certain sign that spring has sprung. Admittedly Easter is quite early this year, meaning that the shops are already packed with smiling chocolate bunnies even though it was minus 39C in Canton Schwyz last Tuesday. And the bakeries have massed ranks of Easter cakes on sale for the next few weeks, which means I don’t have to think about what to buy to fill that mid-morning gap.

For most people Swiss food means one thing – fondue – but there’s so much more to Swiss cusine than that cheese-and-wine party in a pot. I have to confess it’s not one of my favourite things, so instead I have been discovering other  local delicacies. That’s one of the distinct benefits of living in another country: you get to try all the dishes that don’t usually make it into the outside world. So here are my top ten Swiss culinary discoveries, all of which are truly scrumptious. Welcome to the wonderful world of Swiss food!

Osterchüechli – custard tart but with sultanas and pudding rice also in the mix.

Älplermakkaroni – pasta and diced potatoes in a creamy, cheesy sauce, served with fried onions and stewed apple. Best eaten in a mountain-top restaurant.

Red cabbage with chestnuts – nothing better on a cold autumn day.

Zibelechueche – an onion quiche, particularly good at Bern’s annual Onion Market in November.

Süssmost – fresh-pressed apple juice, still cloudy and so refreshing.

Pear bread – rather like a giant fig roll, but filled with pear purée. The perfect elevenses.

Rösti – you haven’t tasted real rösti (grated fried potatoes) until you’ve had it in an iron skillet with a fried egg on top. Almost better than mashed potato. Almost.

Birchermüesli – real Swiss muesli is nothing like Alpen. Soaked in milk, then mixed with yoghurt and fresh fruit, it may look like cold porridge but it’s the tastiest healthy breakfast. Ever.

Raclette – fondue is not the only way to eat cooked cheese. Try melting raclette cheese in a mini-grill then pouring it over boiled potatoes and gherkins. Dinner party fun for all the family.

Zopf – plaited bread made with milk so that it’s mega-moist. No Sunday brunch is complete without one.

You may have noticed the lack of anything meaty, which isn’t too surprising given that I don’t eat it, but I am led to believe that Swiss sausages are worth getting your mouth round. And of course there’s also the chocolate. As much as I try to convince myself that it is a ‘food’, I have to accept that it can’t be classed as a dish. So I just eat it whenever I fancy – and that’s pretty much anytime day or night since discovering Cailler, the brand of chocolate the Swiss try to keep to themselves. It’s heaven in a bar.

As for fondue, the Swiss like it so much, they have more than one type. Alongside the gloopy-cheesy one, you can also have fondue Chinoise (thinly-sliced beef dropped into hot broth to cook, then eaten with a variety of sauces) or fondue Bourguignon, which uses hot oil not broth to cook the meat. Too much dead cow for my liking. Personally the only one for me is chocolate fondue, the ultimate Swiss dessert.

So ‘En Guete!’ as the Swiss say. Or at least some of them. For the others, it’s ‘Bon appétit!’ and ‘Buon appetito!’. Just enjoy it, in any language.

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