culinaria eugenius in zurich: gothic swiss

Here at Culinaria Eugenius, we believe in bringing you foods from the darker side of eating.  That doesn’t necessarily mean cooking with relish the inner organs of foul beasts, but the thought does cross our mind, when pondering a Swiss garden snail, that whomever invented escargot must not have gazed upon the French variety first to stimulate his appetite.

But no, I meant foods that are generally odd, or out of place, or bathetic, or wistful, or mean, or eyebrow-raising.  I’m now in London, and after a week of musing on Victorian food adulteration and colonial food distribution networks, I feared I wouldn’t be able to eat a thing.  But one scrumptious tarragon chicken pie and a rousing round of “Worst Pies in London” later, I was feeling rather peckish again.

So I thought I’d bring you some of the more gothic Zurich food finds.  Sure, I could rhapsodize about the delicious cheeses or the spirits or the chocolate or the bread (o dear lord, the bread!), but that would be no fun.  Instead, I’ll show you what I found morbidly delicious in this hybrid German-Italia-French land with precision clock innards.

The Blindekuh (Blind Cow) restaurant, just around the corner from the wonderful flat where I stayed, raises awareness for the bourgeoisie of the experiences of non-sighted people.  The restaurant is staffed by blind or otherwise disabled folks who serve meals to patrons completely in the dark.  The cow outside is the only one who can see. I remember when these restaurants became a fad in New York — maybe 10 years ago? — and wanted to try them out.  But oddly, the menu at Blindekuh didn’t excite me that much, and it was as pricey as any Zurich restaurant, with entrées around 30-40 dollars apiece.  Plus, the thought of eating blind AND alone didn’t seem all that great.  Sorry, cow.

I did partake in the tartare specialties at a lovely restaurant called Mère Catherine in the Niederhof district of Old Town.  We tried some unusual ones — vegetable and salmon with blini — and a more standard raw beef preparation, below.  This one was seared on both sides, lending a nice contrast in texture.  Sorry, cow.

Tartare wasn’t the only hamburger-shaped specialty of the city.  I found the jewel box of Confiserie Sprüngli a bit of a zoo with all the tourists, but who can’t fail to love the tiny hamburgerli macaroons called Luxemburgerli?  They come in a variety of flavors, including raspberry, salted caramel, champagne, you name it.  The Swiss sometimes gild the lily by serving them with a scoop of whipped cream.  I didn’t see any French fries, though.

All right, back to the meat.  Meat in Zurich is excellent.  Any place with a tradition of sausage AND thinly sliced cured meats is the place for me.  The Swiss seem to favor beef and veal over pig, but that’s ok.  I took advantage of holiday sales at the Migros supermarket to buy my very own pack of mixed meats for breakfast.  The one in the middle was particularly good — a smoked, cured, deep red beef that was better than the most delicious bresaola ever.  Sorry, cow!

That’s not to say eggs weren’t represented in our flesh eating.  Also part of the national holiday celebration, cute little red hard-boiled eggs sported a Swiss cross.

I had to share the American tradition of forcing high school students to “parent” eggs for a week as a part of an anti-teen-pregnancy campaign.  This, of course, raised all kinds of jokes about eating one’s young.  Sorry, Heidi.

And if you aren’t queasy enough yet, the Swiss egg babies, plus a passage in Ulysses about preserved Chinese eggs, inspired the purchase of said eggs by our Taiwanese participant.  I promised you a longer post about Joycean conference joys, so I’ll just show you the preparation.

The eggs look blue in certain light, and amber-clear in others.  They were actually quite good finely chopped with tofu, sprinked with soy sauce.  We ate them mixed by the deft hand of Yvonne, here pictured by the grave of James Joyce, our patron…um, saint?

And surely he would have approved, with his interest in fermented and preserved foods.

I think he would have liked the story I heard last week, as well, about another grave in Zurich.  One of our local Oregon farmers told me that his Swiss father would visit the family grave site each year in spring, and prepare a “salat du grave” from the dandelion greens growing there.  I think this is as fine a tradition as any.

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