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FOOD & DRINK

You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Switzerland is not exactly known for innovative cuisine but for hearty and, some say, uninspiring food. But can some of the country’s dishes be qualified as ‘weird’?

You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods
What's that on your plate? Weird vs conventional food, what's your choice? Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Unlike its neighbours France and Italy, Switzerland’s culinary tradition is relatively plain.

After all, how many foreigners would actually say “I am going to Switzerland for the food”?

Still, don’t rule out some surprises on the culinary front. Whether you consider these dishes as ‘weird’ or just very unappetising depends mostly on how adventurous you are and how solid your stomach is.

So let’s begin.

The Berner Zungenwurst (Bernese tongue sausage)

Some of the wackiest foods have a regional flavour — literally and figuratively.

One of them is a traditional “tongue sausage” from Bern.

A cookbook from 1835 states that two or three pig tongues should be used as ingredients, along with meat and blood from pork and beef. What’s not to like?

These days, however, the tongue has been phased out, but the name remains. Contemporary cookbooks call for Zungenwurst to be made from pork and beef meat, along with crackling and spices. 

In 2019, Zugenwurst achieves EU protected status, which prevents imitators from reproducing the sausage, unless they do so under a different name.

If you can get over its appearance, you might actually enjoy it.

Photo: Photo: Tamorlan, CC BY-SA 2.5/.

READ MORE: Three things to know about Switzerland’s protected ‘blood tongue sausage’

Saucisse de choux

West of Bern, in Vaud, another sausage reigns: the so-called “cabbage sausage”.

No tongue or blood here; this traditional smoked sausage is made from white cabbage, pork and bacon, and eaten boiled with potatoes and leeks — another typical Vaud dish called “papet”.

According to legend, the origin of this sausage dates back to the year 879, when the family of the Emperor of Germany stayed in the Vaud town of Orbe for several weeks.

As the meat ran out, locals mixed cabbage with the sausage meat to fill the stuffing. The smoking stage appeared in the Middle Ages, when it was realised that by smoking the meat, it could be kept longer.

Cenovis

Unless you grew up eating Marmite in the UK or Vegemite in Australia, it may take you a whIle to develop your taste buds to accept, and actually like, Cenovis —  the dark brown paste made from yeast extract.

This very salty paste is spread on a slice of buttered bread.

READ MORE: Six common myths about Swiss food you need to stop believing

How did this idea originate in the first place?

According to the company website, “it was in the mind of a visionary brewer from the Rheinfelden region in the canton of Basel-Country that the idea of using the precious yeasts from the production of beer germinated”.

Spiny thistle

If you think this plant is unfit for human consumption, Genevans will disagree with you.

That’s because cardon épineux genevois is not only a local specialty, but it is also  the first vegetable to be included in the official Swiss registry of origin.

It can be eaten, for example, as a gratin — grilled with (Swiss) cheese on top — to accompany meat or fish.

First consumed around Europe in the 16th century where it was widely cultivated, these days canton of Geneva is the only place that still produces thorned thistle.

Genevans make a dish out of this plant. Photo by Pixabay

READ MORE: Ten varieties of cheese you should be able to identify if you live in Switzerland

Rivella

That Switzerland has its own beverage is not in itself unusual (and certainly not weird) — after all, it does have plenty of cheese and chocolate of its own.

What is slightly odd, however, is that this carbonated drink is made from milk whey.

Perhaps it is because Swiss cows produce too much milk and this surplus had to be used somehow — we don’t know. What we do know is that in 1950 two men, Roberth Barth and the biologist Hans Süsli, got together in Zurich and used a recipe initially conceived to produce a whey beer to create a soft drink that tastes a bit like a mixture of ginger ale and bubble tea.

As is the case with Cenovis, you probably have to train your taste buds (or trick them) to like it.

Chestnut paste tarts

To the untrained eye, these little tarts, called vemicelles, look like worms piled on top.

In fact, in Latin “vermiculi” actually means “worms”. But if you can get past the appearance and the name, these pastries are actually quite delicious.

And making them from scratch (rather than buying them ready made) is almost an art form: traditional recipe calls for about half a kilo of chestnuts.

An incision has to be made in each chestnut before boiling. Then, chestnuts should be shelled, simmered with milk and sugar before being pressed through a special machine to create the long “worms” of chestnut paste.

Photo by Robert Patti on Unsplash

Last but not least…cholera!

OK, what is actually weird about this dish is not its content  but the truly off-putting name.

There is a reason for that: this dish was invented during the cholera outbreak in the 1830s when people were scared to leave their homes and made a pie with whatever leftovers they had on hand: potatoes, onion, apples, bacon, leek and cheese.

As far as we know, this is the only food still in existence that was created out of necessity during a health crisis. To this day, there is no dish called Covid (although all of you budding chefs out there may see that as a challenge). 

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FOOD & DRINK

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

If you thought Swiss food is just about cheese and chocolate, think again: rösti is no small potatoes.

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

You can’t live in Switzerland for more than five minutes without realising what an important role rösti potatoes play not only in the country’s culinary traditions, but also in its culture in general.

It is such an integral part of local customs that the Swiss Farmers’ Association has set a new world record when its members prepared a giant rösti in front of the parliament building in Bern on Monday.

The approximately 1,300 kg of potatoes were used for the event, where potatoes were fried in a 13.7-square metre pan shaped like a Swiss cross.

This year’s record beat the previous one from 1994 by three square metres.

And it was no small feat, given the logistics involved in the project. “The potatoes needed for this had grown over the summer in all the cantons before being brought to Bern for this culinary event”, the Association said in a press release. “In a solemn ceremony opened by bell ringers from the region and alphorn players, 27 delegations from all the cantons as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein handed over the potatoes in wicker baskets”.

This event was held to celebrate the association’s 125th anniversary, which is very fitting since in centuries past the stir-fried potatoes served as inexpensive, simple dish for farmers working in the fields.

Recipe:

The main appeal of rösti in those days was that potatoes were plentiful in rural areas and the dish itself required only a very basic mastery:

  • Peel and grate the raw potatoes using a standard grater. You can grate them lengthwise if you like long strands.
  • Add salt and pepper into the mixture — season lightly or a lot, depending on your taste.
  • Melt butter (rather than oil or margarine) in a frying pot.
  • When hot, pour the potato mixture and stir-fry for around 10 to 12 minutes on each side. The end product should be crispy and golden-brown, never soggy.

With time, the dish has evolved somewhat, but not too much; as many foreign residents have observed, the Swiss like their food plain and made from locally sourced ingredients.

While various ingredients like ham, bacon, and cheese can be added to the mixture, and a fried egg sometimes tops it, the recipe is still true to its origins.

READ MORE: You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Cultural impact

Whether in its original or ‘modernised’ form, rösti can hardly be called trendy.

Yet, for such a simple dish, rösti has made quite a cultural impact in Switzerland.

While it is more associated with the German-speaking part, where it originated, it is sometimes served in other regions as well, mostly as accompaniment to meat or sausages.

But beyond the mere food, this potato dish came to represent the cultural (rather than geographical) divide between the German and French-speaking regions, called the Röstigraben

In German, “Graben” means border, gap or rift – and therefore Röstigraben symbolises the cultural rift between the two largest linguistic groups in Switzerland. 

Whether such a rift actually exists in reality or just in people’s imagination is another matter. Much of this idea has to do with stereotypes of each linguistic group, but beyond the language and local customs, they are all…Swiss.

And it is not excluded that they sometimes cross the invisible Graben to share a meal of rösti together.

READ MORE: Röstigraben: The invisible barrier separating Switzerland

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