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.
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.
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.
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.