10 Swiss Foods You Should Try (Other than Chocolate and Cheese)
What are your favorite Swiss foods? It’s a question that I’m always asking people. Quite often I hear “fondue” or “raclette” as the response, but at the same time, I’ll often discover a dish that I’ve never heard of before.
Switzerland has centuries of food traditions and what seems like endless regional specialties, so I have a hard time naming my favorites because there are just too many. Plus, my top picks are always changing.
You may have seen how others rank their favorite Swiss foods, such as BBC Good Food’s “Top 10 foods to try in Switzerland”. Another great list comes from Newly Swissed, “21 Swiss foods you need to try in your lifetime”. Everyone has their personal favorites.
Now, it’s my turn to weigh in… Of course, I could add many other Swiss foods to the list below, but instead, consider this my first attempt to combine some of my favorites all in one place. So, in no particular order, here they are — 10 foods I think you should try from Switzerland:
OK – let me start by saying that there are several regional versions of leckerli in Switzerland. The BBC Good Food list includes “Bern-style lekerlis biscuits with hazelnuts,” also known as Berner Haselnusslebkuchen (or Leckerli de Berne). While I enjoy Bern’s version of leckerli — soft, sweet biscuits with hazelnuts, candied citrus and honey — I actually prefer Basel’s version. The Basler Leckerli generally includes these same ingredients but also has flour, spices and kirsch. I find the texture to be different as well, particularly the Basler Läckerli — a manufactured biscuit that is dry, chewy, flavorful and absolutely delicious. I can eat them by the handful.
Another Swiss baked good with regional variations, Birnbrot or Birnenbrot (German) translates to “Pear bread.” The Swiss canton of Graubünden is often associated with this bread, but you can find similar bread in other parts of the country. I like the version with a bread dough surrounding the dried fruit filling, which also includes figs and sort of reminds me of a gigantic Fig Newton. I tried it for the first time at Bäckerei Fuchs in Zermatt, where it’s known as Zermatter Birnenbrot. This rich, substantial bread has a long shelf life — originally designed to last during the cold winter months in Switzerland’s alpine regions.
These little pastries caught my attention right away when we arrived in Switzerland five years ago. Topped with a vivid green icing and a dark chocolate spot in the middle, the Carac is one of my absolute favourite Swiss desserts. With a super-sweet taste and a dark chocolate filling, I recommend eating them with a strong cup of coffee or tea. According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, the Carac has been around since the 1920s, and you’ll find them throughout Switzerland.
Soupe de Chalet
I first had Soupe de Chalet (Chalet Soup) at the Maison du Gruyère Restaurant in Pringy-Gruyères. There are different ways to make it, but this comforting soup usually has Gruyère cheese and macaroni, along with some vegetables — like carrots, potatoes and spinach. It’s another hearty Swiss dish, appropriate for the winter months.
As I have mentioned before, the Swiss canton of Ticino is known for chestnuts, and you can try them in many different ways. For example, you can buy roasted chestnuts from outdoor stands during the winter time in most city centers. Throughout the year, but especially during the autumn season, you can also find vermicelles — delicately sweet chestnut noodles piled high and typically paired with some whipped cream. Chestnut cakes and bread are also common. And, in the Swiss cantons of Vaud and Valais, you can eat chestnuts as part of brisolée, where they are served with a platter of local cheeses, generally during the month of October.
Gâteau du Vully
During my first year in Switzerland, a friend recommended that I visit the town of Sugiez, at the base of Mont-Vully in the canton of Fribourg. In this town, the award-winning Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Guillaume is known for its Gâteau du Vully — a delicious yeasted cake featuring puits d’amour or “wells of love.” Before adding the toppings to this cake, you press your fingers into the dough to make evenly dispersed indentations. They help to hold all the cream that’s poured over the cake. The sweet version is simply sweetened with sugar, and the savoury version has smoked lardons and cumin seeds. I like them both!
Jambon cru du Valais
Switzerland has many different types of dried meats, and one of my favourites, which I find particularly versatile, is Jambon cru du Valais — an air-dried ham. Typically aged between 6 and 10 weeks, you can eat it plain, throw it on a sandwich, serve it with white asparagus (a classic pairing) or fry it crisp like bacon for a million other uses.
Meringues with double cream
When people think of meringues in Switzerland, they generally think of Meringue de la Gruyère served with double cream. Although, they may also think of Meiringen, the supposed birthplace of meringues — depending on who you ask! Either way — if you buy the pre-made ones, it is so easy to serve them up with double cream and fresh fruit… And, a scoop of ice cream. This is not a low-fat dessert!
Pretzels from Brezelkönig
In many of Switzerland’s larger train stations — particularly on the German side — you will find Brezelkönig. These little shops serve up freshly baked pretzels. You can get them covered in salt, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more. They also make them into sandwiches with viande séchée (air-dried beef), lots of butter or other fillings. My personal favourite these days is the raclette pretzel, covered in baked cheese. In my family, it’s hard to walk by a Brezelkönig without buying one of these delicious, soft and chewy pretzels. There are currently over 50 of these shops in Switzerland.
A perennial favourite in my household, we like Saucisson Neuchâtelois in all its many forms: sliced and served in crêpes, boiled over a bed of potatoes and leeks, or cooked in the ashes of a fire — the locals refer to this as Torrée Neuchâteloise, and it’s popular in the fall. This pork sausage can also be wrapped in a brioche dough and baked, a method which I have yet to try at home.
What Swiss foods would you add to my list? I’m always looking to discover new regional Swiss specialities. Please share a comment below or send me an email. Many thanks!
Join me on a Culinary Walking Tour of Neuchâtel’s City Center as part of Semaine du Goût on Thursday, September 14, 2017.
This article first appeared on Cuisine Helvetica.
Heddi Nieuwsma is an American living in Western Switzerland who enjoys learning about Swiss food. She shares recipes and info about regional foods, as well as culinary events and travel on her blog Cuisine Helvetica.