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Looking beyond fondue and raclette in Switzerland

There is more to Swiss food than you might expect, from hearty meat dishes to delectable desserts

Lozärner Chügelipastete a dome-shaped pie filled with veal ragout, mushrooms and raisins in a white sauce is a real treat.

By Nivedita Jayaram Pawar

LAST PUBLISHED 18.04.2024  |  09:04 AM IST

There’s something rather comforting about dipping pieces of bread in hot bubbling cheese, or tucking into a crispy, hot rösti while gazing at the snowy vistas all around. However, there’s a lot more to Swiss food than just cheese and potatoes. In fact, eating in this country feels like being on a culinary tour of its neighbours as well, easy as it is to find French croissants, Italian risotto and plump German sausages. Swiss cuisine is not just influenced by these countries, but also shaped by four distinct cultural regions within Switzerland itself. Naturally there are plenty of local delicacies.

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Pasta is hugely popular throughout Switzerland, especially Älplermagronen, the Swiss version of mac and cheese. In it, macaroni and cubed potatoes come together with a decadent cheese sauce, before being topped with caramelised onions and crispy bacon, and served with a side of applesauce. I had my first taste of this hearty Swiss comfort food at Flühmatt, a typical alpine restaurant housed inside a 300-year-old home in Engelberg. The combination of pasta and applesauce sounds bizarre but the delightful play of textures and flavours really works. At Flühmatt, the dish is served in a big wooden bowl—a vegetarian version without the bacon is also available.

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Another dish that stands out is the Lozärner Chügelipastete. This dome-shaped pie, filled with meat, mushrooms and raisins cooked in a white sauce, is a popular dish in Lucerne. Wirtshaus Galliker a 150-year-old tavern in Lucerne, is where the Swiss go to eat Lozärner Chügelipastete and other traditional Swiss delicacies. But nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot Basler Mehlsuppe, a soup made with browned flour, stock, onions and sometimes red wine.

While this shares some ingredients with the French onion soup, the approach and outcome are distinct. Here, the flour takes centre stage, creating a luxuriously thick base. The final flourish of grated Gruyère cheese propels the soup to another level of flavour.

A winter delicacy in Switzerland is the marroni (sweet chestnut), which is either served roasted at the roadside or as vermicelli in a dessert. The nuts are also used to make a whole range of products, including bread, pasta, praline chocolates and spreads.

Saffron risotto, a culinary gem hailing from Ticino, encapsulates the fusion of Italian rustic flavours with Swiss refinement. Known as Risotto alla Milanese in Italy, the Swiss adaptation involves a generous showering of parmesan cheese, which adds a savoury intensity, or at times a knob of butter for extra richness. The result is a symphony of textures: creamy yet al dente rice, infused with the warmth of saffron and a satisfying depth of flavour.

Saffron risotto, a culinary gem from the Swiss canton of Ticino, brilliantly encapsulates the fusion of Italian influence with Swiss refinement.

Sausages, in general, are very popular in Switzerland thanks to German influences. St. Gallen’s OLMA Bratwurst, named after the city’s agricultural fair (OLMA), is a standard Swiss snack at any festival—grilled and served with a hunk of bread. Traditionally, people from east Switzerland enjoy it without mustard to appreciate the full depth of the meat’s flavour. People, who are fond of bratwurst, recommend picking the sausage up by hand, rather than using a knife and fork. At times, the bratwurst is even fried with rösti in a pan to create the onion sauce version. A glass of Rivella, a popular Swiss soda made from milk serum, completes the experience.

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But my favourite thing to eat in Switzerland is air-dried meat, also known as Bündnerfleisch. Before drying for 10 to 15 weeks in the clear Alpine air, the meat is treated with white wine and seasonings such as salt, onion and assorted herbs. Bündnerfleisch is generally served with bread or as part of the traditional dish raclette. But I prefer to munch on it without the frills.

Desserts hold an important place in Swiss people’s hearts. This may come as a surprise to most, but the most famous desserts in Switzerland don’t actually have chocolate in them. They are mostly made of hazelnuts, chestnuts, apples and Kirsch (cherry liqueur).

If you are in the cantons of Appenzell, don’t miss the Biberli—two slices of sweet gingerbread held together with a sticky honey-almond filling. They make for a perfect snack on a hike when you need to recharge your batteries.

Then there’s Basler Läckerli, a type of dense and chewy biscuit made with almonds, honey and spices. ‘Lecker’ means delicious in German, and ‘Basler’ stands for Basel, where the biscuits are originally from. Those with an artificial dental crown, or a wobbly tooth, should stay away from this extremely hard spice biscuit.

One dessert that you absolutely can’t miss while in Switzerland is the sumptuous Bündner Nusstorte. At the heart of the buttery shortcrust pastry is generous amounts of chopped walnuts dressed in a coat of rich, sticky and sweet caramel. Flaky, gooey and crunchy, it serves as the perfect after-meal treat or with a cup of hot tea after a day of skiing in the Alps. The hardest part is sticking to just one slice.

Bündner Nusstorte is a buttery shortcrust pastry.

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