Back to Switzerland
Quality of ingredients and simplicity in
preparation and serving of foods are typical of Swiss menus. There is
stress on the importance of soups and many dishes made from cheese. Much
bread is consumed and is a apart of all meals. Meats and fish are often
expensive so are purchased and cooked with care, often extended with
vegetables or cereal foods.
The recent food reform movement stressing
fresh vegetable salads and the use of wholegrain breads and cereals has
made a definite impression; there is an increase not only in the fresh
vegetables eaten and wholegrain bread preference, but also more concern
for the cooking of vegetables. Staple foods include bread, potatoes, and
cereals with a good consumption of milk and cheese. Favorite methods of
food preparation are soups, stews, and simple casserole dishes.
There is no shortage of quality dairy products in the Swiss diet. Fresh
milk is almost a staple food in the form of coffee and milk (cafe au lait
or milchkaffee) which is served so frequently that it is considered more
of a food than a mere beverage. Milk and cheese are almost daily a part of
soups or quick dishes that make up light meals, while the fondues and
raclettes of Switzerland are well known as a Swiss dish consisting
of melted cheese in wine or cider.
There is scarcely a canton in Switzerland without its own special version
of a cheese soup: thick, thin or baked with bread as a pudding or
casserole. Cheese is also an integral ingredient in soufflés, sauces,
dumplings, fritters, croquettes. and garnishes as well as pies and tarts.
One of the oldest traditional dishes is fanz, made like a thick white
sauce with flour, milk, and butter and then eaten with bread and cafe au lait.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Orchards abound in Switzerland, but when fresh fruits are scarce, much use
is made of canned or dried fruits. Fruits are served fresh in season,
stewed, or made into puddings or tarts. Apples and cherries are special
favorites and these are made into fritters (fnutli, Basel apple fritters,
or chriesitutschli, fresh cherry bunches clipped in batter and delicately
fried), puddings or fruit soups. A bowl of stewed fruit accompanied with
cafe an lait is a popular finish to a meal. More recently fruit and yogurt
combinations have been gaining in popularity.
Green beans, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips,
leeks, asparagus, cabbage, squash, and many other vegetables are available
in profusion but none can reach the popularity or versatility of the
potato. Potato soups, dumplings, baked puddings, pancakes, fritters,
cheese and potato casseroles - the number and variety of potato dishes is
But one potato dish is supreme: kartoffelrosti. This dish is so popular it
is known everywhere as simply rosti. Mealy parboiled potatoes are coarsely
shredded, then are packed into a large hot skillet sputtering with butter.
When the bottom is crisply browned the whole cake is inverted (easy if
inverted on a platter held over the pan, then slid carefully back) to
brown the second side. Served in wedges, the crisply browned rosti
accompanies almost any meat, fish, or even cheese dish and often stands
alone as a light supper.
MEATS AND ALTERNATES
Meat, fish, and game are expensive in Switzerland and are purchased,
cooked, and eaten with care and respect. The amount consumed depends very
much on the family income, but traditional frugality usually results in
every part of the meat being carefully used. Fats will be rendered, bones
and trimmings will make soups, and meat will be generously accompanied
with vegetables or cereals such as rice, cornmeal, or pasta to extend the
In many areas, meat is for Sundays only, while the poor may taste it only
once in a year. Only recently have rotisseurs (restaurants specializing in
expensive broiled or roasted meats) become popular. Part of the reason may
be that Swiss cattle are raised mainly as milk cows and work animals with
the result that their flesh is too often tough and stringy and best suited
to soup-making and the long simmering of stews or the well-seasoned
mixtures that make sausages. Swiss sausages are so varied and so popular
that they probably represent the favored form of meat, and there is a type
of sausage for every taste and use from mild to spicy, whether for
snacking, picnicking, leisurely dining or light suppers. Meats used
include veal and beef, pork, venison and kid. Chickens, affectionately
called guggeli or mistkratzerli (manure-scratchers) in German-speaking
Switzerland, form the base of many a soup or stew.
Fish is not a staple, but is considered a delicacy. It is cooked with
simplicity: usually simply baked or poached and served with butter or
lemon. Trout, salmon, perch, and pike as well as eels and scampi are
available, but largely only in the cities.
Eggs and legumes are seldom eaten as individual dishes; mostly they are
consumed as ingredients. Eggs are a part of most cheese and milk baked
casseroles as well as soufflés, omelets and pancakes. Dried peas and beans
are used in lesser quantities in soups.
BREADS AND GRAINS
It is almost an impossibility to think of a Swiss table set for a meal
without bread. Breads and rolls are often the main part of breakfast, they
accompany soups, they crumble or cube into casseroles and puddings with
cheese or fruits or even vegetables, they are squeezed with water or milk
to form stuffing. dumplings, fritters, and chunks of bread are clunked
into cheese fondues, and even mop up creamy sauces and gravies.
Cereals have been a Swiss food staple from earliest times. Gruels,
porridges, and soups made from grains and flour are seldom used anymore
except for the one traditional dish that has survived: fanz. Now popular
mostly with shepherds, it is a thick white sauce made with milk, flour,
and butter and served with bread and milchkaffee and is considered a
Noodles and many pasta forms are served in the Italian way and also in
typically Swiss style: cooked noodles tossed with butter-browned onions
and sprinkled with cheese. Pasta is also a frequent ingredient in soups
and a popular means of stretching meat dishes. In the area of Ticino
(close to Italy), cooked cornmeal or polenta is frequently served as a
bread, side dish, or as part of a baked dish with cheese. Rice is gaining
in popularity and used as an emergency staple because of its versatility
and excellent keeping qualities.
Not to be overlooked is the increasing use of whole grains in breads,
rolls, and especially in the popular breakfast dish of toasted oats,
shredded dried fruit, and nuts served with milk or yogurt called muesli.
Considerable fats are consumed in the form of cream and of course in the
many varieties of cheese. Butter is favored for baking and cooking because
of its flavor and abundant good quality, but the efficient homemaker makes
good use of all fats whether beef drippings, chicken fat, lard or bacon
fat. Oils are not widely used for cooking but are a salad dressing
SWEETS AND SNACKS
Confiseries, those exquisite pastry shops, are located frequently enough
in the cities to defy any resistance. A definite Swiss sweet tooth does
exist, but it is more often assuaged by bread and butter with jam, or a
"sweet supper" (pancakes or dumplings with sweet sauce) than with ornate
rich pastries. Chocolate, however, to the Swiss mind is more food than
treat and will often be a part of a child's lunch or a hikers pack for
Depending on the area and the predominating influence, the spice shelf in
the Swiss kitchen may look more familiar to a German, French, or Italian
cook. Dill, caraway, garlic, tarragon, white wine or tomatoes, garlic,
basil, oregano or even a melange of all may be used in the Swiss kitchen.
Overall, Swiss foods are well cooked and not strongly flavored. Much use
is made of Maggi, a seasoning sauce similar in taste and color to soy
sauce, and Aromat or Fondor – popular trade names for monosodium
glutamate, all of which are used frequently and sometimes overdone. But
the array of bottles, jars, and tubes of condiments, spices, and herbs
makes cooking in any language possible and probable in Switzerland.
The most popular beverage is strong coffee mixed with hot milk called cafe
au lait or milchkaffee. It may be served at any meal, to all ages, and
fresh cafe au lait will always be prepared for guests. Hot chocolate is
also a popular drink, mostly for breakfast. Teas of all types including
herbal brews are also popular, especially after the evening meal.
Switzerland's famed cheese fondue may be accompanied with a single small
glass of kirsch and followed by hot tea, never with cold drinks of any
type as is so often the custom elsewhere. Areas influenced by the French
or Italian drink wines, German-speaking areas favor beer. An overall sense
of moderation in drinking alcoholic beverages predominates.