Progressive dining in Switzerland

On a platter: The Alpine town of Engelberg is famous for a monastery that produces, among other things, cream cheese in the shape of a bell. Image credit: www.facebook.com/schaukaesereikolsterengelberg   -  www.facebook.com/schaukaesereikolsterengelberg

What it’s like to indulge in a course by course meal — spread over a week and several towns

I distinctly remember my first encounter with the term “progressive dining”. It was a decade ago — after traipsing around Bangkok malls on a sweltering April day — that my local friends suggested an encore. But there was a foodie twist. What they proposed was a jaunt across the bustling megalopolis where we’d have drinks at one place, appetisers at another, mains at a Michelin-starred restaurant on the other side of the Chao Phraya River and a dessert feast at an ice-cream truck in the backpacker haven of Khao San Road.

Born in the US of the late ’80s — as a sort of hybrid of the pot luck dinner — a progressive dinner originally involved successive courses prepared and eaten at the residences of different hosts in the same area. And while my 2009 version had ‘progressed’ to involve different neighbourhoods in the same city, it’s safe to say that my recent 2019 Swiss iteration of the concept involved something different. I went course by course — but not in a single day.

Wine with chips, perhaps?

With a legacy that goes back to the 14th century, Domaine Zweifel is a winery that’s unlike any other I have visited. For one, it is located in the Limmat Valley, just outside Zurich in Zurich-Höngg, a 15-minute bus ride from the city’s main train station. It is almost unfathomable to have a full-fledged vineyard so close to the city centre. The family-run firm not only makes some truly fine-tasting wines such as the smoky Räuschling and the light Pinot Gris but is also the producer of Zweifel, Switzerland’s number one brand of potato chips. The slightly spicy paprika-flavoured one makes for the perfect amuse-bouche when paired with their crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Starters and mains: Mockingly real

I lost my mock meat virginity at what is claimed to be the world’s first veggie butcher aka the Hiltl Shop along Zurich’s St Annagasse Street. The display on the shop window — which looks like one in a meat deli — was hard to ignore. I chomped down a piece of ‘bacon’ made from tempeh, which is mock meat made with fermented soy bean, and melba toast topped with the hazelnut substitute for the goose-liver foie gras. Both imposters seemed authentic.

An all-vegetarian meal of cumin-dusted roasted cauliflower soup and saffron gnocchi waited for me next door to the ‘butcher shop’ — Haus Hiltl on Sihlstrasse street. It is believed to be the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, having opened its doors in 1898. And while I was told that it welcomes all sorts of diners — including carnivores — it banishes those with a propensity for wearing fur.

Chocolate overdose

Imagine a place that is just like Willy Wonka’s magical factory, but one where Willy Wonka and his posse of Oompa Loompas all fuse into a single person. For dessert of all things chocolate, I headed down to Zurich’s Überlandstrasse street for the one-man show that is Taucherli Chocolate.

Bittersweet Taucherli Chocolate in Zurich is a one-man enterprise   -  Taucherli Chocolate

 

Be it the chief chocolate maker, innovator, packer, marketeer, or supplier, Kay Keusen is all that at this artisanal chocolaterie. With a tasting of everything from the brand’s roasted rapeseed and spicy Christmas special chocolate bars to the deliciously dark 77 per cent chocolate lollies made from Colombian cocoa nibs, Taucherli Chocolate reinforced my belief that dessert is truly the best part of the meal.

Cheeseboard

For my cheese course, I went to the beautiful winter paradise of Engelberg, a two-hour train ride away from Zurich via Lucerne. Just like its name — Engelberg (“angel mountain” in German) — almost everything in this Alpine town revolves around an angel who was said to have appeared in the dream of Duke Conrad von Sellenbüren in 1120, directing him to build a monastery in the village. Today, nestled in the shadow of the Titlis mountain, it is the attached cheese factory that draws in aficionados by the droves. It is a rather unique one, a Swiss cheese factory located in a monastery and the only one that produces the Engelberger Klosterglocke soft cream cheese that takes its shape from the monastery’s bell.

Green cuppa

While Switzerland might seem like the unlikeliest of places to have its own tea plantation, Monte Verità that looms above Ascona, a town in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, has its own story to tell. Once the spot where revolutionists, artists and philosophers used to experiment with new ways of life, Monte Verità or the Mountain of Truth also has mainland Europe’s only tea plantation. I got my cup of refreshing sen-cha green at a quaint little Japanese hut here. The traditional tea ceremony made me think, only temporarily, of Sapporo more than Switzerland.

Raul Dias is a food and travel writer based in Mumbai

Published on August 02, 2019

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