When it comes to Swiss food and cuisine, most people just think of cheese and chocolate. And who can blame them? After all, the Swiss have been producing these for so long, that they are now famous for them both.
However, if you are on a trip to Switzerland and want to get a taste of the “real Swiss food” that the locals eat every day, then there are a few other dishes you will want to try. Starting with breakfast and ending with some sweets to go with your coffee, there are more options than you might have heard about.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some authentic Swiss food. While the country might be, there is absolutely nothing neutral about Swiss cooking.
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Let’s start with breakfast. After all, they say it is the most important meal of the day. And what better way to get your day off to a great start than with a bowl of healthy Swiss Birchermuesli.
You have probably heard of Muesli, and that is a traditional Swiss food too, but Birchermuesli is a special concoction that was created more than a century ago in Switzerland. And when you look at the name, it’s no surprise that the creator of this breakfast masterpiece was a physician named Maximilian Bircher-Benner!
Birchermuesli comes in all sorts of shapes and forms, but the “standard” is to soak oats in yoghurt overnight and then add fruit to the mix. Of course, there are no strict rules when it comes to what you put it in, so go nuts! Even literally, any type of nuts makes a great addition to any flavor of Birchermuesli.
Birchermuesli can be found at many takeaways around Switzerland, as well as on the breakfast buffet in hotels. If you are unsure what you are looking for, just ask!
Like most European nations, the Swiss love their bread. And they have a huge variety of regional specialties and options available. In fact, if you want to see the numbers: there are over 200 varieties, with 22 regional specialties. Now that is a bread loving nation!
But one bread stands out on the breakfast table all over Switzerland, and it is absolutely loved by all who encounter it: Zopf.
This typical Swiss dish is a super-fluffy white bread that is tied into a knot before baking and comes out of the oven looking like some kind of Gordian Knot. Most people eat it with local jams or even Nutella, but you can even have it with just butter. Yes, it’s that good, you will want to eat it ’til the cows come home!
If you want to sample some epic Zopf while you are in the country, you can just pop down to the local bakery, or even the most popular supermarkets. They all have it because it is such classic Swiss food, and the locals would be horrified if it was not available on their Swiss menu.
The last very broad subject I want to touch upon in terms of breakfast is cheese. You see, unlike most of us English speakers, Northern Europeans love having a little cheese for breakfast. Whether it be with those tasty breads I mentioned above, or just on its own, cheese is one Swiss food they are very fond of.
And of course, you probably already know and love Swiss cheese. But the cheese you know is actually called Emmental. It is the “holey” cheese labeled as Swiss by foreigners; however most Swiss never eat the stuff. They have so many other exceptional cheeses to choose from that are even tastier. From the hard and tasty, to the soft and stinky, cheese is something of a national pastime in Swiss cuisine, and you shouldn’t miss it if you are in the neighborhood. Even if you just have a chunk of Gruyere, which you can also get in most delis overseas, you are going to think twice about the good ol’ Swiss cheese you used to eat.
My personal recommendation for sampling Swiss cheese is two-fold. First, head to the cheese section of one of the big supermarkets (Coop or Migros) and just take 50 or 100g of whatever strikes your fancy. From soft to hard cheese, or even goat’s cheese, they have a massive selection of them all, as they are a significant part of Swiss cooking.
Then, if you are in the mountains, be on the lookout for “alpkäse”, being sold by local farms. Nothing is quite like buying and eating fresh local cheese from a Swiss farmer.
Swiss Cheese Fondue
And while we are on the topic of cheese, let’s explore some meals the Swiss absolutely love having in the colder months. Cheese Fondue!
If you have never heard of it, then you are in for a treat. Fondue is basically melted cheese in a big pot that is shared by a bunch of people. The cheese is eaten by taking a small chunk of cheese, bread, or fruit on a long fork and then dipping/swirling it into the bubbling cheese. The cheese is kept hot and melted by a small flame burner underneath the fondue pot.
It’s a great way to while away an evening after hitting the slopes skiing or over Christmas time when it’s dark and cold outside. However, even if you are in Switzerland in summer, you will still find it on the menu, and some places specialize in this authentic Swiss dish.
Yes, the Swiss have come up with a myriad of different ways to eat cheese. Especially hot melted cheese. This time, they have a very specific type of cheese that originally comes from the Wallis region called Raclette. It comes in blocks but is also sold in many shops in conveniently sliced pieces, for easy use with your Raclette machine.
What is a Raclette machine, you ask? Well, normally it is a circular metal machine with an element on the top, and then a gap where you slide your Raclette holder underneath. The cheese is then slowly, but surely, melted until it starts bubbling on your tray. You then remove it and (usually) pour it over some pre-boiled potatoes that you pulled out of their warming bag.
This is yet another one of those eating events that is best done in groups in the cold of winter! Even if you are not in Switzerland. The challenge is just finding the right cheese outside the country.
Americans and Canadians are going to love this one. Alplermagronen is more or less the typical Swiss food version of Mac and Cheese, albeit it with a little twist.
This traditional Swiss dish is a combination of macaroni pasta, potatoes, cheese (there it is again) and onions. Some people throw in other ingredients like bacon, and various herbs and spices too. And to top it all off, an apple puree is usually spooned on top!
You have to try it to believe and truly enjoy it, like most unusual foreign foods, I guess.
Pronounced “Rir-stee” by the Swiss, and Rosti by everyone else, this is something you may have already tried. It is actually very much a part of Swiss cuisine, but some of you may have tried hash browns, which are very similar in many ways.
I learned to make this over a decade ago at a local cooking school, and I must say I have never looked back. It’s a classic!
Basically, you grate a whole bunch of parboiled potatoes (fully boiled doesn’t work) and leave them to sit overnight. Then when you are ready to create your newfound Swiss meal, you take a hot, deep-sided pan and throw in enough to make a very thick pancake. You fry it slowly, but surely, continuously adding butter as you go. Then, when one side is done, you flip it and do it again.
The result is an insanely tasty potato treat that the Swiss will add anything to a fried egg, melted cheese (there it is again), bacon, and lots more. Truly a classic Swiss food for any meal.
If you cross the Alps and land in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, then I have no doubt that you will get to enjoy the traditional Swiss-Italian meal – polenta.
It is a fine grain that reminds me of couscous, but is so varied in how it is used, presented and cooked that it’s hard to nail down a definition of “typical”. Typically, Swiss cuisine features it as a puree but it can also be served fried.
Needless to say, it’s more of an accompaniment and you will find it all over the place in Tessin. It may not sound appealing from my description, but it can be very tasty indeed. If it is prepared by a pro!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Swiss chocolate in this article. After all, it is one of the main things the Swiss are famous for.
You have probably heard of Toblerone, which famously mimics the shape of Switzerland’s most iconic peak: the Matterhorn. And of course, you may have tried their most popular chocolate, their delicious truffles, from Lindt.
But Swiss chocolate is far more than just their most popular exports. Their chocolate is one of the most authentic foods from Switzerland, and certainly one of the most memorable Swiss sweets. There are more local brands if you head to the supermarket, like Frey, Callier and several more generic brands. And if you head to the streets of any capital city, you will be bound to see Läderach or Sprüngli, who will serve you up pralines or chunks of chocolate you will never forget!
However, if you dive a little deeper, there are also specialty stores in every big city like Du Rhône Chocolatier in Geneva, and Max Chocolatier in Lucerne and Zurich. And there are lots of fun chocolate experiences you can have with the manufacturers like Lindt and Läderach if you are in the Zurich area. Chocolate is Swiss food at its best.
The challenge with Swiss cuisine is that there are very few specific dishes that they are known for. One of the reasons is that Switzerland is made up of so many different cultures, regions, and languages.
Nusstorte is actually a regional cake, which, although you will now find it everywhere, actually comes from Graubunden (Grisons) in the southeast. So, if you are anywhere near there, you will usually find it in hotels, shops, and ski resorts. It’s a super-popular snack.
It’s hard to describe to the uninitiated, but it’s fundamentally a cross between a cake and a cookie, using shortcrust pastry with crushed nuts and sugar inside. Don’t pass it up if you come across this Swiss treat; they are worth trying, especially after a hard day in the mountains!
While I am on the subject of tasty Swiss regional desserts, or sweets, you have to try Basler Leckerli if you are in the northern border city. They are small gingerbread sweets covered in icing that go down like a treat with an espresso coffee. And after a big and savory Swiss meal, of course.
They are hard to find outside of Basel, so don’t be disappointed if you ask around. But if you are around the region, be on the lookout. It’s worth your time!
A very similar kind of gingerbread that I have eaten more times than I can count is Biberli. It is a specialty of the Appenzell region in the northeast of Switzerland. It often comes pre-wrapped in different shapes and is far larger than the Basler Leckerli above.
If you are hiking around the Santis area of Switzerland, which I wholeheartedly recommend, you are bound to come across them everywhere!
The Best Swiss Food
No matter where you are when visiting Switzerland, there are some absolute musts you should sample. From Birchermuesli for breakfast to cheese treats for lunch, you certainly won’t go hungry. These items not only represent the best Swiss foods, in total, but they are also excellent illustrations of the cuisine of Switzerland.
And be sure to hunt down some of the best chocolate in whichever area you are in, because you may only get one chance to sample the “real Swiss chocolate”!
Which of these traditional Swiss dishes do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.