I went to Zürich that rich culinary centre of Switzerland to find out how they present themselves in what is the worlds fastest growing arena, street food. The Zürich Street Food Festival is an excuse for the whole city to up its game in gastronomic terms. As well as the vast site of hundreds of stalls serving delicious food many of the restaurants get involved too.
It’s no surprise that a place like Zürich is the perfect choice for such an event. After all is has over 50 museums, a 100 galleries, superb shopping, a vibrant nightlife, lakes and riverside lidos are right in the centre of the city. This is a cultured place and where there’s culture there are cultured people – who travel and enjoy food adventures.
As well as being masters of the dark art of chocolate making it is a little known fact (outside Switzerland that is) that some of the world’s finest wines are produced here. It is little known because they tend to produce small amounts and yes, you guessed it they drink it themselves. If you have a chance to try some you should, it’s a revelation.
My first look at the Swiss food scene was strangely underground. Candrian are one of Switzerland’s largest catering operations. They provide the food for 27 restaurants in Zürich alone. Their main kitchens are underneath the train station. With outlets to hotels and restaurants popping up all over the place. It’s like a rabbit warren with corridors and kitchens everywhere. Some 700 people work there in this troglodyte existence producing everything from high-end top hotel nine course tasting-menus to fast take away food for the traveller.
As I mentioned the restaurants all get in on the festival scene and I was lucky enough to be at The Widder Hotel where they were holding a pop up sushi and sashimi night. The building or should I say buildings are a combination of nine structures, some old, some new woven together in a skillful architects dream. So the gilthead and sea bream with Granny Smith, soy and radish were all washed down with and accompanied by matched glasses of sake. A remarkable experience, afterwards we hit the Widder bar, home to 1500 types of whisky and cognac and had a glance at the penthouse that Pierce Brosnan stayed in for a month. You could too is you have a spare CHF4000.
It’s worth taking a wander around Zürich’s old town. The winding alleys and mainly car free areas offer the visitor a chance to see the real town. Lots of independent shops, the expensive property on Ban Hoff Strasse and the Romanesque train station (with all those kitchen workers underneath) was built in 1871 and is quite beautiful.
Zürich started out as a small customs port in the Roman era but commerce has always prevailed here. Just off Linden Hof, a small park with shady trees and views over the city you can see the last remains of a Roman tombstone. They brought chess, bridges, wine and of course grapes to this part of the world. James Joyce lived and died here. A museum in St. Peterhof Statt dedicated to him.
Dadaism was founded here at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 as an absurdist protest to the First World War. There is much hidden history here if you look for it as well as some free stuff (extremely unusual for Switzerland). The largest clock face in Europe on a watchtower is here as well a superb Saturday vegetable market (try the mountain strawberries). Next to the market once a month they have a recycling event where people donate usable items they don’t want and you can take what you want but you best be quick as if its left too long or it will be fed to the hungry garbage truck that stands by waiting for scraps. I picked a charming enamel milk jug, gratis.
Following the streets downhill will lead you to Lake Zürich. As part of an Art Fair they had erected a pontoon cinema made of wood on the lake. As odd as that sounds it was quite relaxing and revealed another surprise when I went on board. In the centre was a small pool with steps leading to the water. So on a sunny day you could be watching an art house movie in your swimwear in the lake. Cool. The most unexpected for me was that as you sat (I didn’t go in the water but used the dry seat option) and watched the screen the very gentle ‘bobbing’ of the pontoon induced a relaxed mood I had not anticipated. So subtle it was almost undetectable but nonetheless rather fun and calming.
The open food market is best enjoyed at night when it really comes alive. It’s like a circus has come to town but instead of clowns and acrobatics you have every conceivable type of food in one place with bright lights and music pushing the evening along. With the expected Swiss efficiency I didn’t have to wait more that a minute or two for any of the food on offer. From Wagyu burgers to stir fry to Vietnamese Pho (very good) and the most fantastic skewers of varying origins in Asia I was spoilt for choice. There were some great cocktails too as well as ‘time out’ options such as giant Jenga that some people were taking extremely seriously!
The smells alone are worth visiting for. Pulled pork burgers jostling for position with real taco filled with ground beef and chilli (lovely but very hot). It’s all about casual modern food available to all. The restaurants do put on a good show and some have pop ups at the fair too. The standard is incredibly high. Nothing beats wandering around the food fair and seeing and smelling before you buy. Perfect.
Before I left there was an area I wanted to have a wander around. Not unlike Shoreditch in London the ‘Viaduct’ is not surprisingly centered on a train viaduct that has 32 shops and cafes and restaurants within it. Others are popping up around it and give it a few years and it will be heaving with start-ups and creatives. There are some really great independent designers and food outlets. I had my last meal in the eponymous Viaduct. A casual eatery with a mezzanine level and seating outside facing a park it proved a good choice. Packed with locals and young trendsetters this place was hip. The menu is small so I went for a set choice of three courses.
It started with a superb oriental spicy broth then a green leaf salad with a good dressing and plenty of fresh bread. All served by Lorissa who had worked there a while and couldn’t praise the food highly enough. The main was a roast rib eye with perfectly roasted veg. This was one tasty plate of food that by Swiss standards was a good deal at CHF28.
I really enjoyed the food festival with the added bonus of it being held in Zürich. It is such a pretty city and very easy to navigate. The architecture and calmness of the locals is relaxing enough but when you throw in all the art and culture topped with street food to die for it’s a no brainer. Get yourself to Switzerland and stray off the beaten tracks and try out the Viaduct area. You’ll be hearing more about it that’s for sure.
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call our Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information email@example.com; for packages, trains and air tickets firstname.lastname@example.org.
Swiss International Air Lines
UK & Ireland to Switzerland
SWISS operates more than 170 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin from as little as £55 one-way* (Economy Light fare only includes hand luggage). The all-inclusive fares start from £71 one-way*, including all airport taxes, one piece hold luggage and hand luggage, meals and drinks. Sport equipment and bikes can travel at attractive prices with the all-inclusive fares.
(*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and may not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply.) For reservations call 0845 6010956 or visit: www.swiss.com.
The ZürichCARD is the ideal ticket for culture lovers and urban explorers who would like to transform their short stay into a journey of discovery at a minimum of cost.
The ZürichCARD offers the following benefits over a period of 24 or 72 hours:
- Unlimited 2nd class travel on all forms of public transportation in the city of Zurich and surrounding region
- Free or reduced admission to the majority of Zurich’s museums
- 10 to 20% discount in various local stores
- Culinary surprise in selected restaurants
- 50% discount on public city tours organized by Zurich Tourism
- Many more discounts on a variety of cultural and leisure activities
Adults 24 hours CHF 24 (USD 25 / GBP 17.50)
Adults 72 hours CHF 48 (USD 50 / GBP 35)