Traditional Swiss Food
Due to the fact that growing wheat becomes increasingly difficult to impossible at higher altitudes, Swiss farmers have always been specializing in milk and dairy products, especially cheese. For centuries they have been selling cheese on markets in northern Italy. In return they got products they could not (or not easily) grow themselves like rice or pasta. Though potatoes where brought to Europe by the Spanish expeditions to Southern America already in the 15th century, they had a hard time to become popular - until a series of famine years with relatively cold and wet weather in the 18th century showed the advantages of not relying on growing grains alone.
Rösti [roasted (potatoes)] is the Swiss variant of mashed potatoes, but the consistency is quite different. Rösti is best when made from potatoes that have been steamed in advance. But in any case, real rösti must have a golden to brown, crispy surface. You can get Zürigeschnetzeltes [chips of veal] with Rösti both in frugal and in distinguished restaurants. Simple variants are rösti with a sausage or with fried eggs.
Rösti is one of the things that divide German and French speaking Swiss. So in political analysis and comments one can often hear and read the expression Röstigraben [rösti trench] for political and cultural differences between the two regions. And they do not even share this term: the French speaking Romands imagine that there a is wall of rösti rather than a trench.
Älplermagronen [alpine herdsman's maccaroni] is a frugal all-in-one dish making use of the ingredients the herdsmen had at hand in their alpine cottages: Maccaroni imported from Italy in exchange to cheese, potatoes, onions, small pieces of bacon and, of course, melted cheese. Traditionally Älplermagronen are served with apple-sauce instead of vegetables or salad.
Fondue and Raclette
There are many ways to eat cheese, but for those who would like to taste Swiss specialities, fondue and raclette are a must.
Raclette is just pure melted cheese, usually poured in small portions over steamed potatoes and spiced with black and red pepper. Most Swiss families have a little electrically heated oven with six little 2 x 2 inch sized pans to be put in, so that a portion (one slice of cheese) can be melted at a time.
The traditional way to prepare Raclette is based on the whole raclette cheese (one foot diameter), however. The cheese is cut in two, put in a metal frame and the surface of cut is exposed to an open fire. Individual portions of melted cheese are scraped off with a special knife. This method of preparing Raclette is still being applied when larger groups meet for a frugal party.
A warning: Fondue is heavy stuff even for Swiss stomachs used to digest it from time to time. Some restaurants therefore do serve Fondue light to tourists. Fondue light contains less cheese, which is compensated for with more wine and corn powder. In any case it is strongly recommended to help yourself extensively with the traditional side-dishes containing natural acids like small onions and pickled cucumbers. They help a lot to digest the heavy portion of cheese. Usually the Swiss drink a glass or two of white wine with fondue, children get some tea.
The Swiss do not have fondue or raclette every day, of course. Both fondue and raclette are popular dishes when they invite good friends. It is not unusual to eat fondue and raclette in summer, but cold winter nights add to the athmosphere associated with eating fondue or raclette. Teams of people working together, sports or music associations etc. spending an evening together in a cottage out in the forest (10 minutes from the city) - will most probably have a grill party in summer, but in autumn and winter they might prefer fondue.
Short quotations allowed but with precise declaration of origin (Link).
Reproduction of substantial parts and pictures in printed or electronic form only with explicit written consent by the editor.