When I decided to attend university abroad, I knew that there were undoubtedly comforts that I had grown accustomed to in the states that wouldn’t be readily available across the pond. There were obvious physical examples like the language barrier, and different electrical outlets. And then there were new cultural standards like greeting people by kissing on the cheek, and learning to expect any group dinner to last at three hours. Speaking of dinner, I think the change that I underestimated the most was the food.
I attend an American university located in southern Switzerland, meaning that although my school is in Europe, all of the classes are taught in English, and my credits can easily transfer to other colleges back in the US. When most Americans think of college cuisine, pizza, burgers, and other various bar foods often come to mind. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that although those foods do exist in Switzerland, they are by no means the norm.
I think that all of us have a glorified image of Swiss people huddled around a fondue pot in a ski chalet, but in reality that image isn’t too far from the truth. Through my two short years in Switzerland thus far, I can definitively identify a few culinary Swiss staples that will be impossible to avoid in tourist hot-spots, and a shame not to try.
1. Fondue: Easily the most recognized Swiss food, fondue is actually a fairly simple dish. You really only need five things: a pot, a fire, cheese, forks, and bread. From there it’s pretty self-explanatory. You melt the cheese in a pot, and take turns dipping bread or potatoes into the gooey goodness. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about fondue is that it’s a very communal feast. It brings people together and cultivates not only conversation, but also a necessary closeness that’s required by the nature of the dish.
2. Rösti: Yes, upon first glace it appears to look exactly like hash-browns, but take it from me who learned by experience– never say that to a Swiss person. Rösti is made with shredded potatoes, but the real difference comes in the preparation and presentation. Rösti is fried in a pan, and cooked basically as if it were a giant potato pancake. Depending on the region of Switzerland you’re in, the fritter may also have bacon, onion, cheese, or even apple added to it.
3. Raclette: Not surprisingly, just like fondue this staple also centers around cheese. Raclette is giant wheel of cheese that is heated on one side. The melted part is then scrapped out and plopped onto a plate over a bed of fingerling potatoes– and that’s really all there is to it! After all, the term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning "to scrape", a reference to the fact that the melted cheese must be scraped from the un-melted part of the cheese and then onto the plate.
4. Chocolate: The Swiss don’t mess around when it comes to chocolate, but you probably already know that! Many popular Swiss-based chocolate companies are very well-known in the states. If you’re a fan of Lindt, Toblerone, or Callier– you’ve already had Swiss chocolate! That being said, there are numerous small, family-run chocolate shops in nearly every Swiss town, and although not as renowned as their international counterparts, they are definitely worth trying.
I still have two more years in Switzerland until I graduate, and I couldn’t be more excited to spend them tasting and trying even more Swiss foods. I hope that you’ve learned something, and maybe even felt inspired to try making one of these dishes at home! If not, by typing any of these foods into google you’re sure to find a local Swiss hot-pot restaurant near you.
Bonus food: One of the most amusing things I discovered at my nearest grocery store was the different names they have for Dorito flavors there. This one is my personal favorite: