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Food Shopping in Switzerland

Pauline Kenny

One of the best things about staying in a vacation rental is having a kitchen so you can prepare some meals. For this you need to go food shopping. Don't view this as a chore, but rather as another excuse for a fun walk through your town. The small food shops are pleasant to shop in and will have most food items that you want. Many stock vegetarian and organic items. In the larger shops, you will find Mexican food and Asian food sections.

Photos - Food stores in Grindelwald: A photo essay showing example food stores in a small Swiss mountain town. 

Small Food Shops

Most towns have several small specialty food shops that sell cheese, meats, fruits, and vegetables. These shops are an alternative to the larger supermarkets and offer good quality food items. Be aware that in some of these smaller shops, they do not want you to touch the fruit and vegetables. There will be a sign posted. They will select it for you and price it. When you are checking out, unlike in the larger supermarkets, your groceries are usually bagged by the cashier.

Bakeries (Backerei)

Every town has one or two bakeries. They have a variety of styles of bread (brot). What they call a black bread, we would call whole wheat. "Ruggen Brot" translates as rye bread, generally a very nice whole wheat/rye, not a heavy rye taste as one might expect.

Bakeries also sell pastries and chocolates to take away. Kuchen is a fruit tart and is very good.

Bread and croissants from a local bakery.

Supermarkets

There are two major supermarket chains in Switzerland: Coop and Migros. Most towns have one or the other, sometimes both. These are both good sized supermarkets with everything you need. We even found sections with Thai food (Thai Kitchen brand) and Mexican food (El Paso brand). They have large produce areas. Most stores offer organic products also (see below for more about this).

Shopping Carts: Shopping carts are usually kept outside, near the entrance. To use a grocery cart, put a CHF 1 (one Swiss franc) coin in the locking mechanism to release the cart. The coin is returned to you when you return the cart. See our How to Unlock the Shopping Cart photo essay for the Italy section.

If you are not doing a big shopping, look for a stack of hand baskets just inside the door. You can use these without a coin deposit.

Fruits and Vegetables: You will find a good selection of fresh vegetables in shops in Switzerland. In the Coop and Migros stores you must weigh and price your fruit and vegetables. Put the produce in a plastic bag, note the code number displayed with the product and go to the weigh scale. Put the produce on the scale and press the number and a sticky tag is printed. Put this on the bag.

In some small stores, they do not want you to touch the fruit and vegetables. Look for signs warning you not to touch the produce.

Fruits and vegetables, with bags and weighing scale to the left.

The Wall of Chocolate: As you might have guessed, the Swiss love their chocolate and so do the tourists. Every grocery store has a large chocolate section with every type of chocolate bar you can imagine. One type that we cannot easily get in the US, is chocolate filled with liquor. They have several different kinds: cognac, kirsch, etc.

The wall of chocolate.

Grocery Bags: You are expected to bring grocery bags with you, but you can buy large plastic carrier bags at the store. Some places have them under the counter where you load your groceries. Take one and put it with your groceries. In many stores, they have a roll of smaller plastic bags at the packing area that you can take for free. It is a good idea to purchase a large plastic carrier bag on your first grocery stop and then reuse it for the trip.

Packing your Groceries: You must pack your own groceries. As they are rung up, they are slid down to a holding area where you can pack your bags. They section the areas off so that your groceries do not get mixed up with the person before, or after, you.

Shop Opening Hours

Most shops close at midday, but only for an hour or two (noon to 1:30 or 2:00). Many shops are closed on Sunday, but in tourist towns you may find some of them open. Note that some shops will close earlier on Saturdays.

Supermarket Opening Hours

This sign from a supermarket in Engelberg shows the store is open:
Monday to Friday - 8:00am - 12:15pm and 2:00pm - 6:30pm
Saturday all day - 8:00am - 5:00pm
Closed Sunday
This sign from a pharmacy in Grindelwald shows the store is open as follows:
Monday to Friday - 8:00am - noon and 2:00pm - 6:30pm
Saturday -  8:00am - noon and 1:30pm - 5:30pm
Closed Sunday

Buying from Farms

In the mountains farms around Engelberg, we found home made cheese for sale at several places. In August 2002, we purchased half a round at the farm at Blackenalp, after hiking from the Furenalp gondola. It was very good - mild and creamy - and cost CHF 15 for 1 kg, a small round.

Some farms also sell produce and homemade schnapps. You will see signs offering items for sale.

Organic and Natural Foods

A vegetarian has no problem food shopping in Switzerland. You will find organic and natural foods products in most towns. They are sold in most supermarkets and in some pharmacies. Some towns will have a natural foods store. Look for a "Reform Haus" sign; this means natural foods.

Supermarkets

Organic products are called "bio" and are available in supermarkets. The Coop stores have a small selection of organic or "bio" products (called their "Natura Plan"). Migros also offers bio products. These include some vegetables and fruits, eggs and butter, grains, noodles, and beans. You will find the bio products grouped together in each section.

Sometimes frozen vegetarian foods are available: organic, vegetarian Rosti (potatoes, but be careful because some Rosti is made with animal oil), organic peas, veggie schnitzel. I have seen Tofu and other soy products in the deli section, but not seitan products (gluten).

Natural Food Stores (Reform Haus)

If a  pharmacy has a sign saying "Reform Haus" or "Reform", they will have a small natural foods section. Any food products by "Demeter" are produced following Rudolph Steiner's agricultural methods and are organic quality. (There is a large Steiner movement in Switzerland. The center of the Anthroposophical society, dedicated to teaching Rudolph Steiner's philosophy and methods, is housed in the "Goetheanum" - a building designed for this purpose by Steiner, himself - in Dornach, Switzerland.) For skin care products, the Weleda line, which is also available in the US, can be found in most stores. Weleda products include high quality shampoos, soaps, and face cleansers, all made with natural products and no chemical fragrances.

Food Notes

Coffee: The best coffee that we have found is Movenpick Cafe Premium. It is ground for use in a coffee machine and vacuum sealed.

Vegetarian Deli Items: On our September 2003 trip, we found veggie burgers ("Bio Burger Vegetal") and veggie schnitzels ("Vegetal Escalopes") in the deli section of the Coop (refrigerated, not frozen).

Food Translations

A few translations:

apple(s) - Apfel(n)
bread - Brot
cheese - Kse
(fried) egg - Spiegelei
meat - Fleisch
oatmeal - Haferflocken
onion(s) - Zwiebel(n)
potato(es) - Kartoffel(n)
salmon - Lachs
water, mineral water - Wasser, Mineralwasser
wine, red wine, white wine - Wein, Rotwein, Weisswein

Resources

www.slowtrav.com/photos/showgallery.php?cat=528: Photos - Food stores in Grindelwald, a mountain town in the Berner Oberland

www.slowtrav.com/photos/showgallery.php?cat=554: Photos - How to unlock the shopping cart

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