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FOOD & DRINK

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

If you thought Swiss food was just about cheese and chocolate, think again: rösti is no small potato.

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?
Chefs cook during a record attempt of the world's largest rösti during an event marking the 125th anniversary of the Swiss Farmers' Union in Swiss capital Bern, on September 19, 2022. - Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

You can’t live in Switzerland for more than five minutes without realising what an important role rösti potatoes play not only in the country’s culinary traditions, but also in its culture in general.

It is such an integral part of local customs that the Swiss Farmers’ Association set a new world record when its members prepared a giant rösti in front of the parliament building in Bern in September 2022. 

The approximately 1,300 kg of potatoes were used for the event, where potatoes were fried in a 13.7-square metre pan shaped like a Swiss cross.

That year’s record beat the previous one from 1994 by three square metres.

And it was no small feat, given the logistics involved in the project.

“The potatoes needed for this had grown over the summer in all the cantons before being brought to Bern for this culinary event”, the Association said in a press release.

“In a solemn ceremony opened by bell ringers from the region and alphorn players, 27 delegations from all the cantons as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein handed over the potatoes in wicker baskets”.

This event was held to celebrate the association’s 125th anniversary, which is very fitting since in centuries past the stir-fried potatoes served as inexpensive, simple dish for farmers working in the fields.

The main appeal of rösti in those days was that potatoes were plentiful in rural areas and the dish itself required only a very basic mastery:

  • Peel and grate the raw potatoes using a standard grater. You can grate them lengthwise if you like long strands.
  • Add salt and pepper into the mixture — season lightly or a lot, depending on your taste.
  • Melt butter (rather than oil or margarine) in a frying pot.
  • When hot, pour the potato mixture and stir-fry for around 10 to 12 minutes on each side. The end product should be crispy and golden-brown, never soggy.

With time, the dish has evolved somewhat, but not too much; as many foreign residents have observed, the Swiss like their food plain and made from locally sourced ingredients.

While various ingredients like ham, bacon, and cheese can be added to the mixture, and a fried egg sometimes tops it, the recipe is still true to its origins.

READ MORE: You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Cultural impact

Whether in its original or ‘modernised’ form, rösti can hardly be called trendy.

Yet, for such a simple dish, rösti has made quite a cultural impact in Switzerland.

While it is more associated with the German-speaking part, where it originated, it is sometimes served in other regions as well, mostly as accompaniment to meat or sausages.

But beyond the mere food, this potato dish came to represent the cultural (rather than geographical) divide between the German and French-speaking regions, called the Röstigraben

In German, “Graben” means border, gap or rift – and therefore Röstigraben symbolises the cultural rift between the two largest linguistic groups in Switzerland. 

Whether such a rift actually exists in reality or just in people’s imagination is another matter. Much of this idea has to do with stereotypes of each linguistic group, but beyond the language and local customs, they are all…Swiss.

And it is not excluded that they sometimes cross the invisible Graben to share a meal of rösti together.

READ MORE: Röstigraben: The invisible barrier separating Switzerland

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FOOD & DRINK

How can we explain the Swiss obsession with the drink Rivella?

It is easy to fall in love with chocolate and cheese, but loving another Swiss favourite — Rivella — may take some time.

How can we explain the Swiss obsession with the drink Rivella?

What, you have never heard of Rivella, the fizzy drink made from milk whey?

Although far lesser known abroad than in Switzerland, and therefore not as generally associated with  “Swissness” as, say, Toblerone chocolate or Gruyère cheese, Rivella is nevertheless a Swiss invention.

It is very popular, even though, unbeknownst to most people, it was actually concocted in a bathroom (spoiler alert: it wasn’t as bad as it sounds — see below).

The Swiss have been drinking this carbonated beverage since 1952, when Robert Barth, a law student from Zurich, finally fine-tuned his recipe for a new soda. He had experimented with various ingredients in the bathroom of his home, before finally getting just the right proportion of milk serum, herb extracts, water, caramelised sugar, and various minerals.

But is Rivella — so named after the town of Riva San Vitale in Ticino and the Italian name for revelation (rivelazione) — really a quintessential Swiss drink?

It is.

Not only was it invented in Switzerland by a Swiss, but it also contains about 35 percent of milk whey, so we can only assume that (Swiss) cows were also involved in its production.

What does Rivella taste like?

The taste of original beverage (the one sold in red bottles) has been described as “gingery,” “candy-like”, and “fruity.”
It definitely doesn’t taste like milk, though.

This video shows how Americans react to Rivella.

How many flavours of Rivella are there?

Besides the original red-label (“gingery”) one, there’s also Blue (with fewer calories), as well as Green Tea, Mango and Rhubarb.

Thankfully, they are no longer produced in Barth’s bathroom but in a factory in Rothrist, canton Aargau.

How does one drink Rivella in Switzerland?

Pretty much the same way as other sodas like Coca-Cola or fizzy mineral water — warm.
In general, the Swiss are not fond of ice or very cold drinks, claiming it causes sore throats.

Where can Rivella be purchased?

Literally everywhere where food and beverages are sold.

However, this drink is very difficult — if not impossible — to find outside of Switzerland.

In 2005, Rivella exported a limited number of bottles to the United States, where it was marketed as a niche health product.

However, even though the US is a huge soda market, the experiment …fizzled out within a year, and the bottles were withdrawn from the shelves.

The reason for the flat sales was that “Rivella was completely unknown in the US,” company spokesperson Monika Christener said at the time.
“Swiss people, on the other hand, grow up with Rivella; they are almost as familiar with it as breast milk.”

And here’s another typical food that mostly likely only the Swiss like:
 
What is Aromat and why are the Swiss so obsessed with it?
 
 

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