With a few notable exceptions, the traditional recipes of most Swiss regions are borrowed from the adjoining countries of which they are linguistically linked, which makes for very distinctive local cuisines.
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Best Swiss Dishes in Switzerland
While Swiss classics such as rosti and fondue are bound to make an appearance at dinner, after eating your way through Switzerland you’ll feel as though you’ve enjoyed a culinary tour of neighbouring countries as you gobble up French croissant, Italian risotto, and plump German sausages.
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Switzerland is most famous for its dairy cows, which are best spotted when riding on a train as heaps of them graze throughout the countryside. Visit a local grocery store and stroll over to the yogurt aisle and your jaw will drop. The Swiss selection is over twice the size of a typical Canadian yogurt offering, featuring products that go beyond the healthy snacks we had in our lunch bags as children. Here you’ll find a celebration of full fat, delicious yogurt cups clocking in at 10% milk fat featuring rich dark chocolate and sweet pear.
Switzerland is also renowned for its cheese, which range in taste from mild and nutty to rich and spicy. Half of Switzerland’s milk yield goes into cheese production, and as one of the country’s greatest exports, the likes of Gruyere and Emmental are an important part of the Swiss economy.
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Swiss Cheese Fondue
Switzerland’s most famous culinary tradition is Swiss Fondue, a fun way to get social at the table with friends and family. The bubbling pot arrives at the table, an addictive sauce of Emmental, Gruyere and white wine, which is enjoyed with cubes of bread, steamed potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions.
Another popular cheese-centric dish is Raclette, popular in the French speaking part of the country. Raclette cheese is melted by the fire or under a grill, then scraped onto boiled potatoes and served with pickled onions, gherkins and curried pumpkin.
I’m a huge cider fan and like to sample the fermented apple beverage wherever I travel. While cider continues to be a booming market in North America it seems that folks in Switzerland prefer to stick to locally produced craft beer or wine.
Ramseier Cider is the only cider producer in Switzerland. Soon after arriving it became clear that getting a hold of a bottle would be a hilarious ordeal. Cider fans keen to sample should pop by a liquor store to pick up a bottle as every restaurant, bar and hotel I requested cider simply responded with a shrug.
After knocking back a bottle in Zermatt my tireless efforts did not go unrewarded: the sparkling juice pours a cloudy straw yellow, and is brewed in the traditional style offering all the funky flavours you could ask for.
Swiss wines are almost unknown outside the country as they are rarely exported, which means you should take advantage of all the fine wine you can while on vacation (and perhaps buy a bottle or two to treat your friends to when you get home). Although vineyards are found throughout Switzerland, the most highly regarded are those in Valais and Vaud, particularly on the sheltered hillsides around Lake Geneva.
Swiss Craft Beer
Switzerland has over 650 registered breweries, which between them produce dark beers, light ales and lagers, mostly for domestic consumption. The country doesn’t really have a signature national beer (like Holland’s Heineken, Germany’s Krombacher, or Italy’s Peroni) which is a testament to the nation’s celebration of local producers. It’s a great spot for beer lovers to travel as every village you visit will have a new frothy brew ready for sampling.
Switzerland isn’t huge on spirit production (a few luxury hotel bars offer locally made gin and vodka but tend to muddle cocktails with well known international brands) with the exception of Etter Williams. This eau de vie is made from Swiss Williams Pears in small copper pot stills, with over 19 pounds of fruit used in the production of each bottle. If you’re lucky you’ll be offered the famous schnapps when dining at a traditional Swiss restaurant during the dessert course. Servers pour the schnapps as live theatre, from a massive glass bottle which they dramatically swirl around the room.
Rosti is a flat, hot cake made of grated, potatoes and fried in hot butter. The dish is bound by nothing apart from the starch contained in the potatoes and is ideally enjoyed with grilled sausage and slathered in rich onion gravy.
Chocolate came to Europe in the 16th century, but it was in the second half of the 19th century when Swiss chocolate gained a revered reputation abroad. The invention of milk chocolate by Daniel Peter as well as the development of conching (fondant chocolate) by Rodolphe Lindt were closely connected with the rise of Swiss chocolate’s fame. Every city in Switzerland has a handful of local chocolate boutiques, all which offer stellar truffles, pralines and bars.
There’s not better way to truly appreciate Switzerland’s unique shared French, German and Italian roots than by oogling at a luxury hotel’s dessert cart. Many of the top restaurants in Switzerland still hold the tradition of wheeling around a decadent sweet trolly so guests in the dining room can enjoy a sweet smelling parade. You’ll find French classics like tart citron and freshly whipped mousse sitting beside Italian tiramisu and Germany dark chocolate tort. The hardest part is sticking to just one slice.
Swiss comfort food is best expressed via steaming bowl of alplermagronen. Switzerland’s jazzed up mac and cheese offers a muddling of all my favourite things: macaroni tossed in a creamy gruyere sauce, sautéed potatoes, crispy bacon, roasted onions, and a side dish filled with sweet apple sauce.
Zurcher Geschnetzelte is one of Switzerland’s most famous dishes, a creamy veal ragout from Zurich featuring freshly plucked forest mushrooms. The decadent dish is typically served over crispy potato rosti.
Walliserteller is a typical platter served in Valais. Locals who love to ski tell me its a popular shared snack after spending a day on the slope with friends. The board arrives with thin curls of Swiss cheese and a selection of locally dried meats (ham, bacon, sausage), alongside hearty bread, pickled onions and gherkins. Best washed down with a pint of beer!
Bergfuhrerbrot (mountain guide bread) is sold in petite cafes and bakeries all over Zermatt, a popular loaf that hikers pack to enjoy while hiking the alps. The sweet bread is as heavy as a brick when you lift it, filled with fresh apples, figs, nuts, cinnamon, and cocoa.
No trip to Switzerland is complete without a boom of the alphorn and chirp of an enthusiastic yodel choir. Ricola is the country’s iconic cough trop and breath mint, prepared with natural herbal ingredients, exclusively cultivated on Swiss soil.
I learned that when you show your foreign passport to attendants on the train they often drop the wrapped candy into your hand (followed by a friendly wink). Move the candy around your mouth and you’ll find hints of peppermint, thyme, sage, elder, cowslip and horehound).
Developed around 1900 by the Swiss doctor Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Brenner, Birchermüesli is a popular breakfast bowl which contains oat flakes, lemon juice, condensed milk, grated apples, hazelnuts and almonds.
Flammekueche is an addictive dish that hails from the German region of France (also known as an Alsatian pizza), and when prepared in Switzerland appears as a thin crust flatbread topped with caramelized onions, bacon, and caved aged Swiss cheese.
Swiss Onion Soup
Urner Chassuppa is Switzerland’s heartwarming soup recipe. Reminiscent of French Onion Soup, a cube of bread is placed in a bowl and topped with shredded Swiss cheese then covered in a hearty beef and onion broth.
During the Fall and Winter months sweet chestnuts can be found roasting on Swiss streets. The warm treats are also transformed into a dessert called vermicelli which you can find at traditional bakeries and restaurants. Cooked chestnuts are mixed with sugar and then forced through a press to create a spaghetti effect and served with freshly whipped cream and crunchy meringue.
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