Fresh cheese made in alpine dairies. Succulent chocolate that melts in the mouth. Potatoes fried like salty pancakes. Macaroni cooked with potatoes, cheese, and onions, then served with applesauce. All of these delights await anyone who ventures to the Alps and feasts on Swiss food.
Warning: Don’t read this blog post on an empty stomach.
Swiss food: German influence
German culture has exerted a huge influence on Switzerland for centuries. After all, most Swiss people speak German as a native language, and it’s easy to see similarities between the two countries’ architecture and religious practices. So it should come as no surprise to learn that German cuisine has profoundly impacted Swiss dishes.
Switzerland’s unofficial national dish, rösti, is the best-known food in the German-influenced category. To prepare rösti, the chef grates potatoes and fries them in a pan. The Swiss then serve this giant potato pancake by cutting it into wedges and eating it with eggs, cheese, bacon, onion, tomatoes, pickles, and/or apples. It doesn’t get more Swiss than that!
If rösti hasn’t already made your mouth water, maybe another famous Swiss food will. Nicknamed “herdsman’s macaroni,” alplermagronen combines pasta, potatoes, and cheese in one dish, and it’s also usually served with applesauce. Although some of these flavors might seem incongruous, they taste delicious together.
Finally, apfelstrudel — better known to English speakers as apple strudel — is the perfect dessert for any meal.
Swiss food: French influence
Throughout the world, foodies regale France as a prime destination for gourmet travel. French-speaking Switzerland doesn’t have quite the same reputation, even though it should!
Take raclette as an example. The canton of Valais has been producing raclette cheese for longer than Switzerland has been a country, and it wasn’t long before people began melting the cheese down. Most people serve raclette with potatoes, onions, meat, pickles, and bread.
If you’re wondering if there’s a difference between raclette and fondue, the answer is yes. And no. Both dishes rely on the same concept, but raclette uses a specific kind of cheese (appropriately called raclette). In traditional settings, the host serves this dish by holding a large wheel of cheese. (S)he only exposes one side of the wheel to the heat source, so only that part of the wheel melts. Then, the host scrapes the melted portion directly onto the plates. In fact, the root word for raclette actually means “to scrape,” so serving the cheese this way is crucial to making the experience authentic.
Of course, French-speaking Switzerland has also gifted the world with milk chocolate and Gruyère cheese, so it really is a foodie destination!
Swiss food: Italian influence
Of all the cantons in Switzerland, Ticino just might be the warmest and liveliest. After all, it shares a border with Italy, and most residents speak Italian as their first language.
But Ticino is also home to an exciting food scene. Here, you’ll find a unique type of restaurant, known as a grotto. In a nutshell, a grotto is an old wine cave that has been converted into a restaurant. Most grottoes serve traditional food in forested settings, and anyone visiting Italian-speaking Switzerland should make sure to eat in a grotto at least once.
What’s more, Lugano and Bellinzona both offer impressive markets that you won’t want to miss. Prepare to be blown away by the vendors’ wide variety of produce, staples, and preserves.
And as far as specific food items go, pasta, sausage, risotto, chestnuts, and gelato are popular dishes and ingredients in this region. So are polenta (boiled cornmeal) and panettone (sweet bread).
No matter what you like to eat, you can always find a tasty meal in Ticino!
Cover photo by Tom Dempsey