Foodie experiences for budget traveler in Zurich
Looking for suggestions of not to be missed foodie experiences in Zurich in early December (my first trip to Europe!). Restaurant recommendations wouldn't hurt, but as we are NYers who love to walk and explore I would especially love ideas about street foods to try, markets to visit, treats to bring home, as well as the best bakeries, cafes or bars to stop at. Thanks!
If you're looking for a quick economical bite, the department stores Migros and Coop In Zurich and throughout Switzerland have decent offerings, and the food quality is quite good. Usually there is a snack bar, as well as a slightly more formal restaurant. I'm not into hot dogs, but an acquaintance was wowed by the hot dogs that fit in tubular buns at the Migros, IIRC.
I usually visit the Migros and the Coop before coming home, to see if there are any spices or prepared foods that I can get past customs (without a problem). Both grocery stores have a good selection of mainstream chocolates, and it seems the prices are identical for chocolate, wherever you shop. I'm not sure if Switzerland has some sort of MSRP rules, but everywhere I went, the prices seemed identical.
Also, in the Hauptbahnhof in Switzerland, there is a Nordsee location- it's a chain offering decent quality seafood. They have various openfaced sandwiches as well as salads and fried fish, and the prices are reasonable.
I ate at Le Dezaulay on my last trip, and I thought it was reasonably priced for fondue (they also have raclette). Definitely much cheaper than any fondues at ski resorts in Austria, Switzerland or the Rockies!
Since it's the holiday season, I think you'll find some of the bakeries are making seasonal treats, stollen, leckerli, etc. If you do stop at a bar, you might want to try Gluhwein- it's mulled red wine, with spices and brandy added. Very popular this time of year. Not sure if they also serve Jaegertee (Hunter's Tea, but it is alcoholic and I'm not sure it contains tea), but that's also quite popular in the Alpine resorts.
For breakfast, a lot of bakeries have take-out sandwiches and pastries, as well as coffee, and people stand at high tables having a quick bite.
IIRC, there was a crepe stand set up in one part of the old town (near some bars and restaurants- don't remember the exact street), not sure if it still exists. Apart from the crepe stand, I don't remember seeing much street food.
I actually found the food in Zurich to be reasonably priced, similar to what I pay in Toronto, Paris or Berlin. If you're coming from NYC, the prices shouldn't seem too bad.
Switzerland doesn't have to be expensive. Nobody thinks New York is a budget location either, but you don't have to spend a lot to eat nicely. When I was there I subsisted on Spaghetti Bolognese eaten at the local train station restaurant. It came with a salad and was quite filling.
You should also try the soda, Rivella. My wife doesn't like it at all, but I do. It is a local product made from lactic acid.
I don't know if they have them in Zuerich, but I always liked Wurstwegen, which are a sausage baked in dough (sort of a large, Swiss pigs in a blanket). What about bringing maple syrup? What about New York wine?
Mexican spice packets and other south of the border food products are welcome - this is still a new taste in Switzerland. Several restaurants do exist now, but do think these flavors are still a novelty. Little packets of cocktail napkins of particularly lovely or significant design always get used.
One unusual gift can be American measuring cups and spoons, in case someone gets US style recipes and does not want to translate them into metric. Or include some of your favorite recipes along with the spoons and cups.
Be sure to pick up some Aromat for yourself before you leave Switzerland - yum, it makes everything taste wonderful - it adds umami I do believe.
A dozen bagels? A piece of smoked bluefish or sable? The latter would need to be well-packed in ice, and would not react well to any delays. Diamonds kosher salt? Sort of heavy, but useful to fans of a number of different cookbooks. US measuring cups is a good idea, too.
Aromat? That stuff is ok if you like it, but it's just tarted-up MSG.
I'm in Zurich right now and have been living here for the past month. Beware, food is very expensive here. I suggest trying Zeughauskellar at Paradeplatz off of Banhofstrasse. It has excellent traditional Swiss food and it is always packed, which speaks volumes for the quality of the food. We go there about 2 times a week because we love it. It is also on the less expensive side, shockingly. As for "street food", stop at the brat stand near the UBS bank on theatrestrasse just across from the Bellevue tram stop. Warning, the mustard is super spicy! The brats come wrapped up in paper with a roll on the side. Very, very good. There are pretzel stands everywhere. At any of the Coop or Migros stores on Banhofstrasse, you can pick one up or go to Bretzel Konig at the Stadelhoffen station. You'll also find guys roasting chestnuts everywhere. Pick up a bag for a snack. Go to Sprungli on Banhofstrasse and have some desert and coffee while people watching. Also, try the filled macaroons at any of the pastry shops. They come in all sorts of flavors and look like mini hamburgers. Take home lots and lots of swiss chocolate for your family. It is incredible! If you want to try Fondue or Raclette, go to Walliserkeller on Zahringerstrasse on the east side of the river. There's also a fondue tram (no, really) which you can take around the city and eat fondue. It's 89CHF a person and you need a reservation. We decided to pass on it, but it looks fun. I hope this helps! Have a great time in Zurich.
It's not that I mean to discourage you, but I've lived in Zurich for years, and I don't think much of the food here. I don't think that there are any places that are 'not to be missed.' That said, what can you look forward to?
glbtrtr mentions Burli and ChewFun mentions Bratwurst. The two are usually served together. One of the best places to experience them used to be the Wurst (sausage) stand at the Bellevue tram stop (ask at your hotel). It is not on the island where the trams stop, but on the side of the street where the pharmacy and the jewelery store are.
glbtrtr also mentions Raclette. Raclette is only available at specialty restaurants (ask at your hotel). It looks cheap, because they give you the price of a single portion on the menu. However, you are expected to eat 3-4 portions, and if you have an anywhere normal appetite, you will need 3-4 portions, so plan accordingly.
As to street food in general, there are pretzels, also served as sandwiches with various fillings, doener kepaps, and various Chinese/Thai style offerings. Unfortunately, most of this stuff is not made by some ancient grandmother and a few aunts who are reproducing their heritage, it comes from central suppliers in Germany, is fully standardized in taste and is full of MSG. If you like MSG and transfats, you'll be in seventh heaven.
On the plus side, there is a Dim Sum shop on Walche Bruecke (ask at your hotel) very near the Hauptbahnhof (central train station). I haven't been there, but I have read good things about it. Another area with a lot of street-type food is Langstrasse (ask at your hotel). I don't know about the quality of these places, but some are surely better than others.
Another thing. You are New Yorkers, used to smoke-free restaurants and bars. A couple of months ago a no-smoking in restaurants initiative was voted on in the Canton of Zurich. The initiative was opposed by the restaurant owners, the politicians, and the moneyed classes. The initiative passed by a large margin. What does this mean? The iniative provided that smoking would be prohibited in restaurants and bars unless a contained area for smokers was provided. The city fathers, in their wisdom, have decreed that restaurants and bars must have enough time to make the necessary architectural changes. So the earliest that the anti-smoking initiative will come into effect is the first of January 2010. Be prepared.
If you want restaurant recommendations, write again.
You should try a St. Galler bratwurst from a street stand. If you can find them in the Zuerich region (I mostly know Aargau), you should try a Schmelzbroetli (a lemony, buttery muffin). Migros is a huge chain of Swiss supermarkets that also have budget restaurants. It's a great chain. The bread is quite good. I especially like the Weggli (rolls that kind of look like a but) and Buurezopf (similar to Challah). You should try Swiss wine, which is hard to get in the U.S.
When I was there, I was on a pretty basic budget, so my standard food was Spaghetti Bolognese, which would come with a salad. There are probably more than 1 kind of Swiss salad dressing, but I never ever had or saw a different one. Swiss salad dressing is sort of a cremey, oily concoction. I grew to like it a lot. Oh, also try a Cervalat. It's a kind of sausage that is a local favorite.
Sorry, can't help with specifics but Swiss breads are often very under-appreciated as to quality and variety. So pick any wonderful looking bakery and try as many different types with sweet butter as you can. Each city will have some regional specialties and I know in Basel both the "silserli" and the "brulibrot" look unlikely but were the best things I had ever tasted.
Esp the burlibrot because it looked like a hard burned black ball with a bunch of white power smeared all over it, but it crackled with the best crust imaginable and inside was this stretchy sweetish stringy bread that balanced the slight burned bitterness of the crust ...... all tempered and exquisitely brought together with the sweet butter. But I looked at these things for months in restaurant bread baskets and bakeries thinking they were mistakes until someone finally convinced me to taste one.
Now this was Basel and don't know if Zurich also has an equivalent, but the point here is to keep trying things you see here regardless of what they first look like. Swiss food is often uniformly good. And if you are there in midwinter, by all means try the melted cheese dish called raclette if you don't already know and love this stuff. Again, a totally off-putting smell when this cheese is melted but it has an ambroisal taste that transcends mightily how it smells, I have never understood how this happens, but it is sooooo good it becomes an addiction.
Switzlerland does have seasonal specialites and holiday breads and wild specialties - you will most likely have very good dining experiences no matter where you go and the supermarkets are wonderful delis with lots of prepared foods for take away as well.
One dines well in Switzerland and it is worth the price to get a copy of the current Red Michelin for Switzerland and remember everything is just a short distance away by the more remarkable train system on this planet. Hey, I love Switzerland.