With 20 Michelin-starred restaurants, the city of Zurich has surely become a culinary hotbed, defined by a combination of modern cuisine and old world charm. While a modernist style of cooking may have recently taken root, the city’s culinary allure began hundreds of years ago.
A stroll in Zurich mirrors the evolution of cuisine in town with the main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, splitting old and new. Zurich’s old town is clad with cobblestone, church spires and coat of arms belonging to some of the trade guilds. Crossing over the street-car tracks, you’ll find yourself in the bustling shopping center of Zurich, with upscale chocolate shops and clothing boutiques. Out even further is the trendy industrial area, turned hipster neighborhood, known as Zurich West. My culinary journey starts in the Old Town, heads across the street and eventually into ultra-modern Zurich West.
Culinary history can be traced back as far as 1487, when the Zeughauskeller, or armory, was constructed. Albeit the building was not used as a restaurant until 1926, the history is very much infused in the food. On the surface, the large dining room is reminiscent of a traditional beer hall, but taking a closer look at the weaponry adorning the walls and the signs cautioning of live ammunition screams armory.
The restaurant serves traditional Zurich cuisine, including classic sausage dishes, but the locals swear by the Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (sliced veal). Now if you thought it was a stretch to say the city’s cuisine dates back to the 15th century, try the 14th century! This dish, although most likely nowhere near its current form, was served in some of the guild houses, which got their start in 1336. Organized by profession or trade, these groups governed Zurich for over 400 years until the French invasion. It was in these very houses that Zurich cuisine developed, and several are now restaurants themselves.
Though it sounds simple, the dish certainly is not (neither is the pronunciation). The veal is sliced, slow-cooked to soft perfection with mushrooms in white wine and cream. Perhaps heavy-handed for some, this traditional comfort food is complemented by a Swiss Rosti, which is grated pan-fried potato patty. This silky, buttery side is just the thing needed to soak up the excess sauce from the veal.
Don’t be alarmed by the line out the door, the dining room seats 200, so guests are in and out constantly.
In the early 1900′s, Zeughauskeller already had some pretty steep competition from the world’s first vegetarian restaurant Hiltl, which opened in 1898. Who knew no-meat diets dated back that far? This establishment does not have quite the same rustic interior, in fact the place feels like a nightclub — maybe because the first floor turns into one after 10 p.m.
Despite the lack of meat, Americans will feel right at home with the buffet, which offers hundreds of options. Although the buffet is not all-you-can-eat, it’s by weight, so mind your portions. I never imagined myself describing a vegetarian dish as hearty, but many of the choices were just that. To my surprise, and delight, the spread had several Indian-inspired stews and options with an Italian flair.
Tables flank the three-story immaculate show-kitchen, providing a first-hand look at the fresh produce.
Moving forward in time, the Zurich West neighborhood, set among the relics of by-gone industry like train tracks and warehouses, is home to some of the trendiest restaurants in town. It seems as though every old factory or silo has been converted to either a boutique, restaurant or marketplace. Even the old storage containers have been transformed into the chic Freitag store.
The area started to transform about 10 years ago when the Schiffbau was transformed into a performing arts center — and a restaurant of course. La Salle, encased in a glass compartment off the main entrance to the theater serves French and Italian-inspired cuisine with a focus on seafood.
How about dinner with a view? Zurich’s tallest skyscraper has a restaurant, Clouds, on the top floor. The floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the dining room offer an unparalleled panorama of the city.
For something a little more casual head to the Markethalle restaurant in the Viadukt. Simple preparations, but bold flavors, are served family-style in this establishment located beneath a century-old railway bridge.
In a city, perhaps not known for its cuisine like say Paris, Zurich surely holds its own offering cuisine from the traditional to the ultra-modern. It’s not all about chocolate anymore, although Switzerland is home to best I’ve ever tasted.
Thanks again to airberlin for indulging my hunger for the best cuisine Zurich has to offer.