My husband had a business meeting in Switzerland the week before Thanksgiving and I decided to go along since I had the chance. The picture above shows a unit at the Palafitte Hotel on Lake Neuchatel (literally ON Lake Neuchatel) where we stayed. It was like being on a luxury cruise without the rocking.
Switzerland is known for watches, knives, chocolate, banking, and because it is a mountainous country better suited for grazing cows than farming, it is also famous for its marvelous cheese and butter. Writer, Alexandre Dumas, said that Neuchatel looked like a city that was “carved out of butter” because of the soft, yellow limestone used for its buildings. Below is a picture that shows how well his description fits.
It is only 12 miles from the French border so most of the people speak French and the cuisine reflects the French influence. Every meal was phenomenal.
Two other wives came along on the trip and the three of us were free to explore while our spouses attended meetings. We were lucky to have Sophie Baudrin-Alogogiannis, who lives in Neuchatel, to act as our guide for a tour of Neuchatel and Bern, a short train ride away. The picture below shows my new freinds, Teresa, Sophie, and Kay in Bern.
We spent the day sightseeing and shopping and had lunch in a quaint cafe in Bern, then we took the train back to Neuchatel for dinner at a restaurant that specialized in regional dishes. I ordered trout with butter and almonds while Sophie explained to the waiter that I wanted vegetables instead of the potatoes listed on the menu. They brought me the most amazing plate; a fish fillet in butter sauce surrounded by an array of roasted vegetables and purees, including celery root, artichokes, bok choy, beets, celery, fennel, leeks, mushrooms, and several others that I didn’t even recognize. All were much more interesting and delicious than the fries they replaced.
On our last night in Neuchatel, we were treated to dinner at La Maison du Prussien, ranked as one of the top four restaurants in the city. We arrived at 7:30 and left after midnight! The extensive menu was in French; the waiter said they had tried to translate it but that there were no equivalents for too many words, so our host had the daunting task of repeating the waiter’s descriptions in English. We all decided on one of several set menus as a way to simplify the choices. D and I chose a menu with a wild game theme. Everyone else in our party picked one that featured truffles in every dish (even the dessert).
I lost track of the number of courses we had; I think it was at least ten, each one an exquisite work of art and an experience in culinary innovation in the modern style called molecular gastronomy. I would love to have photographed every plate, but didn’t want them to think I was trying to steal their ideas. I will try to describe a couple of the courses to give you an idea of what they were like:
An oblong plate had a tiny, stemmed glass in the middle that contained crunchy black currents in jelly. The waiter topped the jelly with a pink foam from an aerator. Four spoon-sized scoops of ice cream fanned out like petals on one side of the glass, but this was not a dessert. Each one was a slightly different color and made with a different kind of mushroom. One was porcini and one was chanterelle, but I couldn’t identify the other two.
The dessert was especially entertaining. The waiter set a rectangular plate in front of each of us. On one end there was a small, round dish with a domed lid. Swirls and puddles of various sauces decorated the plate and a single dot of chocolate perched on the lip of the dish. On the other end of the plate was a spoon containing an oval scoop of rose-flavored ice cream garnished with a crystallized rose petal. The waiter lifted the lid off the tiny pot to reveal cubes of stewed quince. “This is a puzzle,” he said. “You must find the chocolate.” D found it first. He picked up the lid that the waiter had set aside and looked underneath. It was filled with chocolate mousse, held in place by a layer of hardened chocolate poured over it.
At the other extreme of the food spectrum, street vendors and fast food shops in the pristine cities and rail stations sold sandwiches, pizza, pastries, and pretzels, which the pedestrians ate out of hand. The restaurants served rosti (hash browns) or fries as a side with most of the main dishes and yet the Swiss, like most Europeans, are as slim and healthy as we were 30 years ago. As we were sitting on the train waiting to depart for the return trip to Zurich, I decided to do a random survey of the people who passed by my window. Out of 53 passers by, only one was overweight and one more was slightly pudgy. (Five were smoking.) It has to be the butter.
There is an old joke about national stereotypes that goes like this:
Heaven is where the French are the cooks, the English are the police, the Germans are the mechanics, the Italians are the lovers, and the Swiss organize everything.
Hell is where the English are the cooks, the Germans are the police, the French are the mechanics, the Swiss are the lovers, and the Italians organize everything.
In my opinion, the Swiss excel at all of the above, certainly cooking, and from the number of kanoodling young people we saw, I’ll bet they are no slackers in that department either.
Note: A 10-year study done by the World Health Organization called, Multinational Monitoring of Trends in the determinants in Cardiovascular Disease (MONICA), last updated in 2005, found that the Swiss have the highest average levels of cholesterol of any population or country in the world, yet their heart disease rate is 1/3 that of the United Kingdom (http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=i8SSCNaaDcE). Astonishingly, every single country in the top eight of saturated fat consumption had a lower rate of heart disease than every single country in the bottom eight of saturated fat consumption.
© 2010, Judy Barnes Baker; Carb Wars; Sugar is the New Fat