HOME > Chowhound > International Archive >


Non-perishable food that's hard to find in Switzerland

  • c

International Chowhounds, I need your expertise! My sister moved to Basel a while back and I want to send her a care package of things that are hard to find in Switzerland. (I live in NYC and so did she until recently.) So far my list includes nori seaweed, dried Thai noodles, adobo seasoning, vanilla essence (apparently it's mostly sold as beans in Basel), and peanut butter. Can you add anything to the list? Non-food suggestion are welcome, too.

Thank ye kindly.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Are you sure about peanut butter? I've certainly encountered it in neighbouring Germany and France.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lagatta

      Nope, not at all. I just thought my sister had mumbled something about its scarcity during a phone conversation once. I could be completely wrong.

      1. re: cimui

        it's not Jiffy, but we can get peanut butter here in Geneva -- it even says "made in the USA" on it, which amuses me highly.

    2. Does she have a set of non-metric measuring spoons/cups for all her old
      recipes? It can be a real drag converting for the first year or two.

      Vanilla extract is *the* important missing feature. Get her the biggest bottle you can.
      Normally it's sold as vanilla sugar over there which doesn't translate well into
      her old recipes.

      Peanut butter is easily available but a lot more expensive and somewhat of an
      oddity. Maybe filling the same niche over there that Nutella does here.

      A six-pack of Bud would go over *very* well. If not with your sister then with
      her friends. No, I'm serious.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

        B-b-but German beer is so much better! Bud? Seriously?! I plan to send three XXXtra large bottles of vanilla extract. =) Thanks!

        1. re: cimui

          Vanilla extract is finally available in most of the major grocery stores. I'd save your space for chocolate chips, which are hard to find (and expensive when you find them).

          1. re: mousecatfish

            Good to hear vanilla extract is finally making an appearance. Life should
            be much better over there now :) Lack of chocolate chips is somewhat
            easily remedied with a chocolate bar and a knife. Three "american" things
            I would routinely make for friends while living in southern Germany, which
            for the most part were otherwise very rare, were chocolate chip cookies
            (made with chopped chocolate bars), brownies, and pumpkin pie. The latter,
            from various sorts of squashes, never really came out as the standard
            cliche'd Can-o-Libby's Thankgiving Pie, but usually went over great. So
            maybe a can or two of pumpkin (unless that's available nowadays too?).

            And yes, I'm serious about the Bud. Not for the taste factor but for the
            novelty, side-by-side comparisons, and the like.

            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              not a single can of pumpkin in sight. very frustrating.

              1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                to avoid injuring myself, what would you suggest as the best way to take a knife to a chocolate bar?

              2. re: mousecatfish

                Can you tell me where you have seen vanilla extract in Basel? Here visiting my daughter and we're having brownie cravings. Thanks!

          2. I live in Geneva (not too far from Basel) and all of those things are available here. Peanut butter is especially easy (available in regular supermarkets). There is also a store called here American Market where she could stock up on root beer, Karo syrup, Jiffy Pop, graham crackers, marshmallow fluff etc. should she feel the urge. And there is an online grocery (www.leshop.ch) that delivers anywhere in Switz. and has some international items. So the care package is a nice idea but she can also pick up items on weekends in Geneva or online!

            1 Reply
            1. re: FrogsLegs

              I never thought of marshmallow fluff as being uniquely American. How embarrassing.

            2. I don't know how the customs work, but if your sister is a carnivore if you could smuggle in a vacuum packaged steak, it would be great. I have friends who live in Geneva, and they told me that meat there costs a fortune. They buy it in France, but still it is not as affordable as here.

              1 Reply
              1. re: welle

                Yeah, my sister's said the same, but honestly, meat's just something better bought locally. She claims the meat all tastes better there, anway, but I appreciate the suggestion.

              2. Ingredients for Mexican food are still pretty hard to get in Europe. I once took two packages of big flour tortillas to England for a burrito-craving ex-California girl.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Hmm, I like this idea. But do you think I could ship tortillas (corn in this case) in a box? Wonder how long it lasts unrefrigerated.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Seriously. I miss flour tortillas. and Cheddar cheese. And black beans -- I find it incomprehensible that I can't get black beans in Switzerland.

                    1. re: mousecatfish

                      Oh yeeeah, I forgot about the Cheddar. My sister's definitely missing that. I could send her cheddar cheese powder, but I'm not sure that's what she wants....

                      Black beans are easily transportable--thanks for this! Are you still in Switzerland? Want me to send you some, too?

                      1. re: cimui

                        i know you can get cheddar through customs when you travel, not sure what the rules are for shipments. i think you can get something similar to cheddar in some of the farmers markets or carrefour or whatever, but it's definitely not the same. and don't even get me started on monterey jack...

                        cheddar cheese powder like the stuff in the blue boxes of macaroni and cheese?

                        one thing about switzerland is they may have cup-a-noodles and some similar stuff, but they definitely don't generally go in for the "just add water" items...

                        yup, still living in Switzerland, land of chocolate (but not in chip form) and cheese (just not cheddar). with packages like you're assembling, it sounds like chrismukkah.

                      2. re: mousecatfish

                        no tortillas and cheddar cheese? seriously, my boyfriend and I are planning on moving out of the US after we get married. Switzerland is top on our list. What can we look forward to foodwise in Switzerland?

                        1. re: ceejoi

                          Switzerland is FAMOUS for cheese. Gruyère and Emmenthal (among others) can certainly substitute for cheddar cheese. They are not exactly the same, nor should they be.

                          Indeed I'd think Mexican and other Latin-American foods are relatively unknown. Tortilla chips are common everywhere, as are the crappy US-Americanised tortillas.

                          The really good cooking from the US, such as good Soutthern, Southwestern, or California cuisine, is hard to export, like all authentic cuisines, unless there is a sizeable emigrant community.

                    2. Corn tortillas get moldy pretty quickly. I missed Mexican food, too, during my four weeks in Switzertland, especially sour cream. But since you can't send that, maybe hot sauce or salsa--especially if you can find salsa in little pouches, otherwise the glass jars might be a problem.

                      Also, maybe those little jars of red or green curry paste. Is coconut milk avaliable there?

                      How about maple syrup? Or those maple sugar candies...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Glencora

                        No sour cream in Switzerland? That seems surprising. Maybe they have lots of creme fraiche and yogurt, which is similar. Salsa so much better made fresh, but I think I will send her some dried chiles of different kinds--thanks for a great idea! And maybe a bag of masa to maker her own tortillas.

                        1. re: cimui

                          The yogurt was great, and I ate much more of it than I do here. It didn't have a lot of additives and chemicals. As for creme fraiche, I honestly got sick of it. Sour cream is different.

                          Sending dried chiles is a very good idea. I craved spicy foods.

                      2. Here are things I miss/I would add to a care package for someone in Switzerland:
                        chocolate chips (or butterscotch chips or dark chocolate chips or anything like that. if she likes baking, she'd appreciate those)
                        Reeses peanut butter cups (we can get oreos and chips ahoy. and snickers and twix. but i have not seen any reeses)
                        I always bring over Trader Joe's instant chai latte mix... nothing like that here and not everyone wants to go to Starbucks all the time
                        lemonade (powder or otherwise)

                        in terms of liqueurs, you can't get Midori here and we've yet to find anything like Frangelico... but I'm not sure if you can ship alcohol from the states.

                        it really depends on what you think she might like. i could go on for days about things we don't have here...

                        if you want to check and see if something is available in Switzerland, I'd suggest checking out www.coopathome.ch, which is one of the major grocery stores.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mousecatfish

                          Perfect, mousecatfish. For this excellent info, I think I owe you a care package, too.

                          1. If she bakes, I'd send her some unsweetened chocolate -- not available in Europe, and difficult to sub.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: pikawicca

                              You can easily get unsweetened chocolate in Europe. There is also a good Migros in Loerrach (on the german side of the border) which has a unsweetened chocolate.

                              1. re: honkman

                                Basel is so close to both France and Germany that I really wouldn't bother shipping anything that is readily available in those neighouring countries (I have friends in Basl, but they are (he) Swiss and (she) Austrian, and though they like foods from all continents, are not interested in North American - or European - junk food.

                                Indeed I'd think Latin American ingredients would be among the hardest things to find there.

                                1. re: lagatta

                                  Living in Basel is very nice because you can buy food easily in three countries (Swiss, German, French) and it just takes 15 minutes from one country to the next. Cheese in France, bread in Germany, Yoghurt in Switzerland etc.

                            2. When I lived in Europe baking powder and soda were hard to come by, not sure if this is still so.
                              The thing I missed most? Hellman's mayonaise - European stuff is probably better, but that was lost on me as a teenager.

                              1. Thanks a bunch for all your suggestions. This is going in the care package in addition to the aforementioned nori seaweed, dried Thai noodles, adobo seasoning, and vanilla essence:

                                lots and lots of chocolate chips (guittard semi sweet b/c it has a higher melting point)
                                dried black beans
                                tortilla chips
                                dried red chile peppers
                                Famous Amos vanilla sandwich cookies (gross--but they're sorta her thing)
                                rice vermicelli
                                jamaican hot sauce

                                That's it for the first shipment, but I'm thinking about enrolling her in the package of the month club. For all you other Swiss-dwelling folk who answered, I'm seriously quite happy to send you your reasonably priced, non-perishable craving in return for your help. Email requests to cimui@hotmail.com with SWISS CRAVING in the subject line so it doesn't get filtered out as that other delicious American invention: spam.

                                Thank you for playing!

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: cimui

                                  I'd love to hear what's in the package she sends back to you. :)

                                  1. re: cimui

                                    Don't forget to include a printout of this thread so she knows where to shop for some of the things not included ;). Here's my take, as a newcomer to Basel from Boston trying to overcome similar food frustrations:

                                    chocolate chips: handy, but as mentioned earlier, can be subbed by chopped chocolate bars, of which there's an abundance. butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, toffee chunks, however, are a complete no go here

                                    mexican food: most grocery stores have a tiny section of "mexican" products. it's always the same hokey sounding brand, and always the same terrible selection and quality: flour tortillas, canned refried pinto beans, crispy taco bell style corn tortillas, some bottled salsas. black beans are not in any grocery stores, but there's a shop (to all appearances from the front, a doo-dad and gift shop) on nadelberg which curiously has a small store of better mexican ingredients in back (dried black beans, corn tortillas, i think also some chiles). i've heard there's also a specialty mexican food shop near the dreispitz tram stop. masa flour is curiously somewhat more widely available, at globus and maybe some other grocery stores. tortilla chips are available in a couple brands, but absurdly expensive, and not very good.

                                    mayonnaise: is widely available, but not the same. a jar of hellman's would probably be appreciated.

                                    cheddar: is nowhere to be found! globus has exactly two (not very tasty) varieties available, and that's it for all of Basel as far as I can tell. same goes for jack. while i miss aged, sharper cheddars as well, what i really crave is any good, medium to sharp melting cheese. cheddar, jack, whatever. closest i can find is the pre-grated "pizza cheese" at migros (and co-op) i think.

                                    mild cow's milk feta: also hard to find. coop seems to be the sole carrier.

                                    unsweetened chocolate: i'm sure i've seen it, if not in the grocery stores, then in the specialty chocolate shops (e.g. Chocolatl).

                                    canned pumpkin: globus sells the libby's canned pie mix, but not the plain pumpkin (which is necessary if you have a preferred recipe/spice mix for your pumpkin pie).

                                    beer: maybe bud is good for novelty, but there are plenty of crappy beers here. if anything, i miss the variety of good micro-brews and places to drink them that there is back in the states.

                                    in general: favortie junk foods, bottled sauces, condiments, etc. almost always, the brand of choice won't be available here.

                                    i tried hard to keep this from degenerating into a rant and reminiscence post...

                                    1. re: joshlh

                                      joshlh, thanks for a wonderful post. i'm planning on heading over to zabars, today, to see if they think there's a varietal of cheddar that'll stand up to 10 days of unrefrigerated shipping.

                                      1. re: cimui

                                        cimui, if you are planning on doing this quite often, maybe you should get yourself a FoodSaver - the vacuum packing machine. or send cheese separately via airmail - I recently sent an airmail package to Germany and it was fast - dropped at the post office Friday night and it got there next Tuesday morning!

                                        1. re: welle

                                          The supply will depend on the demand in this case, welle. I appreciate the suggestion!

                                      2. re: joshlh

                                        You get Cheddar (british one which is better than the US stuff) at the Migros in Loerrach

                                        1. re: joshlh

                                          You should certainly be able to find Fontina, which is incredibly good and melty on pizza.

                                      3. I'm kinda an expert on the topic, being an American living in Switzerland. Some news: Reeses, which I really do crave, have been available for about a year at selected shops. I crave for Almond Joys, Bits of Honey and Pay Day bars. I also wouldn't at all mind a Hostess cherry fruit pie, some Funny Bones and Twinkies.

                                        Tortilla chips are easy to get, what you can't get though are Fritos, my favorite variety. Peanut butter is everywhere but I don't like it, it's usually some Dutch brand, Jif or Skippy can't be found. I'd ask for grape jelly to go with the peanut butter.

                                        Drinks. You can get Dr. Pepper, Root beer but no Hawaiian Fruit Punch or Welch's Grape soda. Switzerland's large supermarket chain Migros started carrying Mountain Dew about a year ago, what a joy, but they dropped it after less than a month, I guess I was the only person there buying the stuff. How about some Koolaid?

                                        Sour cream, black beans, chilis, vanilla extract, rice vermicelli ... all no problem.

                                        Good, plain barbeque sauce is hard to find. Cheddar is available everywhere but it's British and actually a very good cheese but it's not the bright orange processed stuff. Cheeze Whiz also can't be found, I wouldn't be surprise if there was some law against that here. Finally, english muffins are available at COOP.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Snahlami

                                          re: Almond Joys, don't they have Bounty though? No almonds, but it's pretty similar. I like Bounty better though esp. dark chocolate variety.

                                        2. Frankly, most of the things mentioned are findable one place or the other, or easily substituted for. The one thing missing from my rounds in Zürich and Zentralschweiz? Triscuits.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mikeyutah

                                            Interesting. And for some reason, I do think hearty wheat biscuit when I think of Switzerland. It just seems like something you'd eat in a snow-covered, mountainous land--though possibly that's just because I enjoy my Triscuits with Swiss cheese as a carry-along ski snack. Thanks, Mikeyutah.

                                          2. If she's a baker, baking powder and baking soda are hard to find in Europe -- I always take some to my sister in Holland when I go over. Also aluminum foil (heavy but those big American rolls are appreciated!)

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: countrycook

                                              Aluminium foil ? There is tons of aluminium foil at every Migros

                                              1. re: countrycook

                                                The only thing I would add to all the excellent ideas here (though I'm not sure how beer will make it in the mail) is Ziploc bags... especially the heavy duty freezer variety. I don't know if they have them in Switzerland, but they aren't popular here in Germany. I can only imagine that it stems from a minimal-waste society and throwing a storage container out after just one use seems outrageous, but if you grew up with them they are hard to get used to living without.

                                                I hope she is sending you some chocolate in return! Lindt sells a raspberry cream filled chocolate bar that is incredibly good. Unfortunately, the only places I have been able to find it are Switzerland and Austria (though I check my local store every time I go in, hoping that someday the bar will travel north).

                                              2. In Holland, at least, the only aluminium foil available is in little 8" or 9" squares -- no 25' or 75' rolls. Depends on what you need it for, but it's the one thing I'm always asked to bring -- they've got ziplocs in Holland recently although I don't think they're as thick as the Ziploc brand freezer bags here in the States.