To this day I can still vividly recall the stages I went through in an attempt to adapt to the "brave new world" of the Swiss eating culture. Breaking old habits and trying out something new is always going to be a challenge. If you find yourself swimming in the deep end and slightly out of your comfort zone, there's really no other alternative than to adopt an open and embracing attitude, knuckle down and find out what works for you. In general the Swiss are extremely health conscious, in a kind of carpe diem almost contagious way. It's hard not to want to give it a go yourself. Being used to leisurely weekend lie-ins, fry-ups or visits to the pub for Sunday lunch, I couldn't quite envision myself getting up at first light and heading out for a sergeant majorlike hike in the hills and mountains in full hiking attire.
All I kept on thinking of was John Cleese in Monty Python and his Ministry of Silly Walks. I obviously still had to master the concept of getting a head start to the day. However, being in my teens at the time, fanatic, early morning mountain walks was something I felt I would save for later on in life.
Whilst on one of these hikes, the Swiss are partial to one of their national dishes for lunch — the fitness teller (German for fitness plate). This is a dish you'll find in most restaurants in the German speaking part of the country. For those of you that haven't yet become acquainted with this dish, it's best described as a fancy and lean looking fillet of meat or steak on an even fancier looking bed of salad. Put in simple terms, it is steak and salad but more importantly, this is a plate of food that is completely void of anything remotely unhealthy (excluding the herb butter). As the name implies, it will make you burn ‘carbs' just by looking at it — so in the name of fitness it's definitely worth trying!
The famous fitness plate
Admittedly, for a short period of time, I did find myself swaying towards this newly discovered lifestyle of self-discipline and excessively healthy eating, as if I had stumbled across a new form of religious belief. In an attempt to keep up with the Müllers and Meiers, and to attain the optimal level of fitness I saw peers and others striving for all around me, I went from eating all and sundry to omitting bread and other carbohydrates from my diet. At the time, I resolved that this was the way to a happier, healthier me. Some time later, I had to conclude: healthier, yes but happier, no.
As far as table manners are concerned, I soon became mercilessly embroiled in the rules of Swiss table etiquette. I distinctly recall being criticised for having the audacity to eat the entirety of my lunch off one plate instead of sticking to the strict demarcation of a main and side dish. I had to live with sniggers and smirks and the occasional remark: "Oh she can't help it, that's just how they eat over on the island."
The joys of Swiss cervelat sausage
Thinking about it now makes me realise they probably had a point, considering how English cuisine is more commonly known for its ‘practical kitchen,' with traditional dishes such as shepherd's pie best made following the stringent recipe of using up all the leftovers you have in your larder and then adding mash on top. Ironically, after observing my Swiss peers at lunchtime, I had to conclude that their table etiquette was by no means flawless. Their main penchant being the infrequent use of knives, which I could only fathom as being some people's preference for chasing food around their plates, armed with nothing but a fork and a great deal of perseverance.
All that said, it wasn't long before I took up a multitude of new hobbies — snowboarding, Pilates and inline-skating, just to name a few. Occasional mountain hikes also found their way onto the agenda. There's nothing like retreat into a hillside barbeque spot and grilling cervelat (pork sausage) whilst letting the day go by, table manners go out of the window and the Alpine scenery take your breath away.
Check out some innovative receipes at http://www.helloswitzerland.ch/-/a-twist-on-the-swiss-kitchen
Photos: © Benis Arapovic/Dollar Photo Club; © Kaspars Grinvalds/Dollar Photo Club; © Darius Dzinnik/ Dollar Photo Club