Food Culture and Tradition

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Meals and Customs in Switzerland


Hotel administration schools and internationally famous chefs’ schools may teach sophisticated cuisine while Swiss restaurants may cater to every taste sensation, but in the Swiss home, light and simple meals are the rule.

Muesli and milchkaffee are a popular Swiss way to begin the day, but cafe complet or chocolate complet are still traditional. With either cafe au lait or hot chocolate as the mainstay, this simple breakfast revolves around an assortment of breads and rolls served with fresh butter and a variety of preserves.

The main meal of the day takes place at noon. Beginning with a hearty soup, dinner may go on to a main Swiss dish based on potatoes, cheese, fish or meat accompanied by a small salad and ending with fruit and cheese. The adults will usually have wine, cider or water and the children will sip only water with the dinner.

A late afternoon snack at about four o’clock called zvieri will consist of sausages or ham with pickles and bread together with a quenching drink of hard cider or perhaps beer. Children will snack on bread and butter, women sometimes on milchkaffee or one of many teas with simple cakes or buns.

The evening meal may be one of the lightest and simplest of the day, consisting of bread, cheese, and cafe au lait, or a simple casserole of potatoes and a side salad and bread.

If these typical meal patterns sound too simplistic, then the visitor is underestimating the quality of fresh foods and the consummate skill of preparation so typical of Swiss cuisine. Probably no meal can be simpler than the raclette. Here a wedge of fine mountain cheese is melted before a special heater or an open fire. Just at the right moment, the melted cheese is scraped onto a waiting hot platter and served at once accompanied with a crunchy sweet pickled gherkin and a few tartly sharp pickled onions. The final touch in both flavor and texture is a boiled mealy potato. Few dishes are simpler both in preparation and service and yet the contrasting tastes and textures are worthy of the most complex gastronomic masterpiece.

More widely known is the Swiss cheese fondue which is a Swiss dish consisting of melted cheese in wine or cider. There are many versions and variations but basically a shredded mixture of Swiss Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheeses are melted in simmering wine or cider then lightly touched with a sniff of garlic (often just rubbed in the caquelon) and a splash of kirsch. Diners spear chunks of crusty bread and dip into the melted cheese mixture, giving a stir and a swirl at the same time. At the end of the meal, a tasty crust will have formed at the bottom of the pot and this should be lifted and served to all. A small glass of kirsch is served in the middle of the eating, while hot tea is usually served to complete the fondue dinner. Sometimes servings of sausages and pickles with bread may be added to the meal.

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