Sampling local food is an important aspect of any travel journey especially when it comes to exploring local cultures. Food is that essential link that helps us understand the place we are in better and bond with the locals. However traveling as an Indian vegetarian can be quite challenging in many countries. But on my recent trip to Switzerland I got a chance to sample numerous local dishes that were vegetarian. As one of our guides explained to us, Switzerland was traditionally a country of farmers and hence they ate what they grew or made. Thus potatoes, milk and cheese were and still are an important part of their cuisine. Also geographical proximity to Germany, France and Italy have also lent their character and flavor to Swiss food. The resulting cuisine is a vegetarians delight with a beautiful combination of local produce, flavors and traditions.
And based on my own experiences, please find below 5 local Swiss dishes that should definitely be on the must try list for every vegetarian visiting this country –
1. Fondue – I know this may sound like a no brainer or cliched but sampling a fondue in one of the local Swiss restaurants is a must. Invented by the Swiss centuries ago, it was their way of eating bread and cheese during the cold winter months. And today it has a come a long way, with a huge global following of its own. Still there is something about eating this dish in a country where it was actually born. And a chance to dunk those bread pieces and fresh vegetables in glorious molten cheese and then eating it – well I am definitely not complaining :)
2. Rosti – This is another iconic or rather a classic dish of Switzerland. Originally served as a breakfast food item, it is now served across meal times and in many versions. It is basically thinly grated potatoes, pan-fried until golden and served with a variety of toppings or gravy. Many areas also serve their own local versions of a Rosti. But beware this can be a pretty heavy meal by itself.
3. Local Cheese Slices & Steamed Vegetables – Switzerland is known for its cheese particularly, Emmental, Gruyere, Vacherin and Appenzellar. These cheeses, unlike their Greek and Italian counterparts, are pretty strong and have a distinct flavor of their own. Hence sampling some of these local cheeses is a must. Additionally, in many places along with cheese slices they serve boiled vegetables as a side dish. I had ordered this once and especially loved the cooked chestnuts and their version of potatoes.
4. Raclette – This is one meal that has come to be synonymous for me with eating great raclette cheese that has been melting in a Raclette machine and spending hours chatting away with friends (while that cheese melting happens). Raclette is a local hard cheese that is customarily grilled slowly over a fire (now also portable machines), with boiled potatoes, pickles and onions. And it has also come to be one of my favourite cheeses. Though this can be had at restaurants, I recommend try this with a local family where everyone sits around the table with a machine in the centre that grills the cheese. Till the cheese is getting ready you enjoy the very many side dishes and company of some amazing people.
5. The Swiss Pastas – Switzerland’s proximity to Italy has created some unique pasta dishes here – kind of Swiss Italian pastas. Borrowing flavors from both Swiss and Italian kitchens and some different cheeses, the pastas here are a definite must try. I had pasta in each region that I visited and have one favourite in each place. :)
Hence the next time you find yourself in Switzerland, please do leave that hunt for an Indian restaurant and try a hand at this amazing local cuisine :) Being a vegetarian is definitely not a problem nor an excuse here :)
Tips for the trip –
1. The Swiss food portions are normally huge, hence order accordingly.
2. The cheese is here is not soft and light (like the Greek and Italian Cheeses) that we are normally accustomed to back at home in India. The cheeses here are strong, hard with a distinct smell. Hence do be prepared.
3. In Swiss restaurants, service charge is normally included in the bills. In case it is, you don’t need to leave any additional tip. In case it is not, then you have a choice of leaving a tip. It’s ok if you don’t want to and if you do want to then you can round it off to the nearest multiple of 5.