There’s a lot more to Switzerland than just natural beauty; Lakes, snow-capped mountains, winding rivers, and panoramic train journeys have long enchanted visitors, but it is the distinctiveness of the food and drinks available, that further highlight the uniqueness of Switzerland, making it one of the most popular and preferred destinations in the world.
The worldwide food revolution that has happened over the last decade is responsible for turning almost every traveller into an amateur “foodie” and thus the growing popularity of “food-tours” and food events wherever one travels.
Food has become a matter of national pride and identity with many attractions centred around eating and drinking that showcase local products. These events are often used by tourism boards to provide visitors with a taste and an experience that is both adventurous and memorable.
Switzerland has long been accredited with producing a world-class cuisine and local ingredients that are used in the restaurant and home kitchens across the globe. The pride that the locals have in their products is evident from the fact that Switzerland also consumes a tremendous amount of what they produce.
During a summer in Switzerland, I was bombarded with fresh and natural products everywhere I looked. On the one hand, the conversion of ingredients into tasty and mouth-watering concoctions was astounding, but it was the simplicity with which the raw materials were often used that caught my fancy.
While there is a lot more that Switzerland has to offer, my short time there led me to appreciate and eat (and drink) in abundance these following, which you too should experience when in the country;
Gruyère Cheese – A visit to the cheese factory might prove to be more educational than activity based, but visiting the charming village with fantastic views, a castle, cobbled roads, and pretty buildings is a must.
Gruyère cheese, on top of all the charm of the region, is simply delicious. Perfect to nibble on, pairs wonderfully with Swiss wine, can be added to a salad, or to layer up your sandwich, the cheese from this famous region is exceptionally versatile and available in three “ages” of 4, 8, and 10 months; the latter being a favorite with my family because of its high saltiness.
Rösti – Shredded potatoes, pan-fried into a “disc” – almost like a flying saucer – crowned with additions like cheese, bacon, veggies, meats, and then finally topped with a nice fried egg (runny yolk of course).
Available in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, Rösti might sound plain, but as is the case with everything else in Switzerland, there’s a whole lot more than what meets the eye for the plate comes packed with a lot of flavours.
Rösti is hugely filling and provides you with a warm and wholesome meal that should be enjoyed slowly on a lazy evening by the lake or as was in my case, surrounded by the thundering sound of waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen.
Fondue – Or as I like to call it, FUNdue. You can go the chocolate way, but when in Switzerland, a Cheese Fondue is a must.
Most restaurants have a minimum two-person requirement when ordering Fondue and once again you can easily find a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian option of the same – the latter has a lot more possibilities though.
There’s something generically exciting and yummy about dipping food in melted cheese, and it’s no surprise that Switzerland and Fondue are synonymous around the world.
A word of precaution though, you might want to avoid plain cold water or drinks up to around 2 hours after eating fondue. Bubbly drinks (cold) or warm drinks are advisable as it allows the cheese to digest better and stops it from solidifying quickly.
Raclette – Who doesn’t like gooey melted cheese?
Wait what? You don’t?
Well then, I don’t know and/or like you anymore. Kapeesh!
For the other “normal” human beings, those who enjoy cheese in its beautifully melted form, Raclette is a Swiss must.
Half a wheel of cheese under a grill, a plate ready with boiled baby potatoes, pickled gherkins, maybe some meats, and then the drama of the wheel being brought to the table and the melting, gooey, yummy cheese being scrapped off it and onto your plate.
It’s beautiful and what food-heaven is all about.
Sausage – Germans might have a monopoly when it comes to sausages, and their bratwursts are famous the world over, but don’t let that deter you from trying a Swiss Sausage. Veal is one of the most common and favoured ingredients, but other options are often available.
The Swiss are generous with their helpings, as one sausage along with a side order of fries was more than enough to keep me full for half a day. A lovely glass of Swiss Pinot Noir complimented the sausage beautifully.
Cailler Chocolates – The Swiss are known for their chocolates and guess what, not only are they responsible for some of the best chocolates, they consume the most chocolates in the world as well. Available in various flavours and percentages of cocoa, Cailler caters to everyone, be it someone like me who has a super sweet tooth – I have a few cavities to prove that – or one who likes a little bitterness in their chocolate. Don’t be surprised if you find tourists packing bars and boxes of Cailler at their factory, department stores, or the airport, because Switzerland is where you’ll get the best deal on them and the most choice as well.
Farmer’s Market – Most villages/towns have farmer’s markets on a weekly basis, some even twice a week. Whether you plan on cooking food yourself during your vacation or not, this is the place to buy and/or taste the best of the local products.
From a dazzling variety of mushrooms to bright red tomatoes and lovely radishes to delicacies made with cheese, a farmer’s market is often the epicentre of all local activities on these days and the best way to understand and appreciate the local community for any traveller.
Swiss Wine – The most underrated wine if ever there was any. While smaller countries the world over are promoting their wines like crazy, Switzerland has a very humble approach to selling wine. Many regions produce just enough for local consumption, and others don’t have the type of budget like that of the neighbouring counties (France, Italy, and Germany). Missing out on Swiss wine, especially when in Switzerland, is the worst mistake you will ever make.
Rivella – A non-alcoholic drink made with whey and sometimes even called the “national drink of Switzerland”, Rivella has people divided. While some, like me, absolutely love it, others swear by only a particular flavour – Red is apparently the most popular. Red, Blue, Green or Rhubarb, when in Switzerland you have to give Rivella a go, and only then make up your mind about this flavorful drink.
Crêpes – Call it a French influence but when in the Swiss-French region alongside Lac Léman, you have got to get your craving for crêpes fulfilled. And yes, they are most likely available with your favourite filling (cheese, chocolate, ham being some of the most popular ones).
BONUS (because 11 doesn’t have the same ring to it as 10):
Water – Last, but not the least, drink a lot of water from the all the magnificent and artistic fountains across Switzerland.
Why? You ask.
Because, it’s fresh, crisp, and best of all, it’s FREE!
Switzerland, owing to its proximity with five different countries, has quite a lot to offer regarding food and drinks. Depending on where you are in the state, the menu changes almost dramatically, and that’s part of the fun of travelling in such a diverse region. However, some of the classics like Fondue and Raclette are served across all of Switzerland with minor differences.
My choices above are based primarily on what I tasted and enjoyed in the Swiss-French region as that is where I spent most of my vacation. A trip to the Italian or German neighboring areas is likely to bring even more recommendations as I have been reading about them and already craving some of their specialties. I also would point out that although I missed out on trying the local fish found in Lac Léman, Perch, it comes highly recommended. Add to that Soup, which the Swiss make with many ingredients and almost always to perfection is easily found and especially recommended during the colder months.
As it is with travel anywhere in the world, make sure you talk to the residents to discover local products as food and drink can help you understand life a lot better and in turn appreciate the people and country in a completely different way.
Furthermore, if budget is not an issue, Switzerland also comes loaded with some Michelin starred restaurants that celebrate local produce and are sure to perk up any and all food lovers.
Now GO! Be a little adventurous; Eat and drink local.