The recipes for kalajosh by Vartanoosh Onigian and Rose Terzian in the 1973 book Adventures in Armenian Cooking by St. Gregory’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, U.S.A. remain the default standards for this traditional dish in American-English.
In the years since the book went out of print and became available online, these versions have travelled through hyper-space onto recipe sites and personal blogs without acknowledgement to the original source.
This, sadly, has allowed those who sought and still seek to interpret the dish to get it wrong. When the people of St Gregory’s published their book they expected to sell it locally as a fundraiser. They did not expect it to become a best-seller, and that meant that the easier recipe, by Terzian, became more popular than the slightly complicated recipe by Onigian.
Terzian stated the obvious. ‘Saute meat and onion in a quarter of a cup of olive oil, add salt, pepper and garlic. Cook until tender. Add bread cubes, stirring lightly until browned. Spoon yogurt over meat when serving.’
It could not have been more simple, and with the ingredients easily available to north Americans the recipe by Terzian is now stuck in a default position.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Terzian recipe. But it does not explain the purpose of the dish or its place in the traditional cuisine of Armenia, whereas the recipe by Onigian contains hidden mysteries.
Lamb has always been a reliable source of protein for the peoples of eastern Anatolia and the trans-Caucasus. By combining the lamb with yoghurt, the Armenians were paying homage to one of their oldest culinary traditions. And by transforming their own sweet yoghurt (known as manzoon or macun) into a sauce to accompany the slow-cooked lamb they are acknowledging the role that traditional food plays in their culture, one of the oldest in the world.
Onigian suggests mixing manzoon or yoghurt with egg and water to make the sauce. Some cooks also add flour and use a thick home-made yoghurt (see recipe below).
Modern versions of kalajosh can be made with large pieces of lean lamb. Traditionally the lamb is cubed, in some recipes into small cubes that reduce further in size during cooking and resemble mince in the finished dish.
A meat stock instead of water is preferred to produce a richer flavour. Seasonings should be treated with respect. Too much salt will ruin this dish while black pepper and paprika will add an aromatic depth to contrast the sweetness of the manzoon sauce.
It is believed that kalajosh has a Persian origin. Armenians will probably argue that notion with you and insist that this rich traditional dish has nothing to do with the period when the Ottomans ruled the region, or with any other influence.
Professor Gürsoy, in his reflections on Armenian and Turkish culture, argues that both societies shared culinary traditions, and notes the historical influences of Arabia, Greece, Persia and Syria.
The professor refers to Adventures in Armenian Cooking as a common denominator between these cultures in north America. The book, the professor says, ‘includes information about Armenian food names, their ingredients and methods of cooking’.
‘Food … is a cultural category which defines societies, and common food is an important element which shows the interaction of the societies.
‘Armenians … from the population of the Ottoman Empire still carried on their food culture after migrating to the US.’
Professor Gürsoy identifies numerous dishes shared by the food cultures of the region. Not surprisingly, the professor asserts, there are many similarities between Anatolian, Turkish and Armenian dishes. Interestingly kalajosh is not one of them.
Here is the anomaly. Terzian’s recipe is very close to yogurtlu yahni, a Turkish dish (below) whereas Onigian’s recipe is faithful to Armenian traditions. Yet Terzian’s is regarded by Americans as genuinely Armenian, when it is clearly influenced by Turkish culture.
meat in yoghurt sauce
800 g lamb, boneless shoulder cut into small cubes less than 2 cm
600 ml meat stock
400 g onions, chopped small
100 g apricot, dried, sliced thin
45 ml olive oil
30 g paprika
10 g black pepper
Salt, large pinch
Gently warm the stock in a large pot.
Sauté a third of the cubed meat in a splash of olive oil over a medium heat in a heavy-based frying pan.
When the fat and juices separate from the meat, pour contents of the pan into the stock pot, deglaze pan with a little of the stock.
Repeat with the remaining oil and meat.
Add onions to the stock pot. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Cover and simmer for 60 minutes on a low heat.
Remove lid, simmer and reduce for a further 45 minutes.
500 g yoghurt, thick sweet
50 ml water, mineral
30 g semolina
Beat egg into yoghurt, loosen with the water.
Pour into a saucepan and bring slowly to a low boil.
3 two-day old dry pideh breads, cut into small pieces.
Mint, fresh, cut into strips
Place bread in soup bowls, spoon hot yoghurt on top followed by the meat and onion mixture. Leave to soak into the bread. Finish with a little more of each. Garnish with mint and serve with rice.
lamb in yoghurt
1 kg lamb, cut into 4 cm cubes, salted
250 ml yoghurt
200 g onions, small, quartered
75 ml water
15 g butter
15 g vegetable oil
10 g herbs (dill / mint / parsley or mixed), rough chopped
10 g salt
Water, for diluting yoghurt
Sauté lamb in butter and oil in a large wide frying pan over a low heat for 15 minutes.
Pour a third of the water into the pan, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Repeat every 15 minutes. Cook in total for 75 minutes, until the lamb in tender.
Stir the herbs into the meat.
Loosen yoghurt with a little water.
Put the meat in a large dish, the yoghurt in a jug and allow diners to help themselves. Serve with pide bread.
1 litre milk
250 ml double cream
80 g milk powder
60 ml manzoon / yoghurt
Bring milk to below boiling point in a large saucepan. Remove from heat, stir in milk powder and cream and cool to 45°C.
Preheat oven to 80°C.
Loosen the manzoon / yoghurt with a little of the warm milk.
Pour the warm milk into a large ovenproof bowl, stir in the manzoon / yoghurt.
Reduce oven heat to 45°C.
After four hours the new batch of manzoon/yoghurt should be thick and have a sour-sweet flavour.
From the attic window in the alpine chalet, a fine mist can be seen hovering over the valley in the pubescent dawn, the sun still to rise over the mountain peaks. Gradually, as the morning lengthens its shadows, the mist will dissipate, the valley light will shimmer in the promise of a clear day and the high mountains will be framed by a blue window.
This momentary vista is a mere glimpse of the absolute magic of the Rhône Valley, in high summer a sumptuous land full of growth, at summer’s end a mystical land like this morning. All the way from the expanse of the lake known as Léman where cormorants gaze into the water from the rocks at Château de Chillon to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier where chamois look askance at solitary hikers high above the longitudinal plain of the Rhône, Ursern and Upper Rhine, this Swiss valley canton offers something unique in the world.
It is the first week of October. The grapes have been harvested, the chestnuts have been collected and apples, apricots and pears have been dried and pulped and fermented and left whole for those who like their fruit fresh. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef, cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics and delicately sliced, are also ready. Batches of rye bread have been baked. Finally the apples pies have been prepared … and baked. Everyone is ready!
The legs of local cattle breeds are cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics – curing and drying techniques first recorded in the 14th century in the Valley.
Hand-picking sweet chestnuts from the woods alongside the Rhône under the high peaks is an old tradition of the people. Traditionally the chestnuts were roasted over an open fire, taken inside and served with chunks of mature mountain cheese accompanied by fresh grapes, pieces of apple and pear, grape (must) juice or young wine to wash everything down. Nothing unusual there, just the typical country fare of the canton.
Except this is brisolée, the autumn harvest plate of the people who tend the land where the Rhône is joined by the Dranse at the acute turn eastwards into the valley below the Bernese Alps at Martigny. Here chestnuts abound between the river, the town of Martigny and the adjacent village of Fully, where the annual chestnut fair is more than a celebration, it is an event characterised by the traditional produce and artisanal products of the valley.
To fully appreciate this tradition the stranger must go native and go up.
There are several walks out of Martigny, all signposted in the familiar yellow well known to all hikers in Switzerland. We are starting at Martigny Croix where the railway line winds around the mountain into the adjacent Barnes valley. Beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse. With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux.
At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes. This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground. Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling hamlet of Chemin, a settlement 250 metres higher. Here we consult the map, because we are facing a set of choices. To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge.
At the splendid Col des Planches the path offers some respite, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Placard, a panoramic viewpoint. Also a crossroads. Five paths test our resolve. Three go down, two go up! Always a good time to stop and contemplate. Eat. And make the correct choice. It is too far early for lunch, so we snack on sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, apple juice and pear nectar. This raises our energy levels. Lunch is chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt flakes and mineral water. That can wait. Although we are still hungry we need to continue – up or down that is the question?
A meal not too dissimilar was found to have been eaten by a hunter on a different mission 5,300 years ago. Ötzi, a 45-year old, was found mummified by the ice in the borderland alps of Austria and Italy. His survival has become a revelation, because it has taught us that we face the same issues he did and we are not that much different, despite the generational gap.
Anyone walking today in the high mountains without high-energy provisions might not meet the same fate that Ötzi suffered, but they would find themselves wondering why they did not respect the wild, and that would make them exactly like the ancient iceman.
The most interesting path for us to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley. It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of dried meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow it to linger. This makes us wonder how they got back down. We look at the map again. And there it is, a steep path that drops down into Saxon on the valley flour. Anyway, before the descent, that lunch!
We are tired and decide to visit a hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia – air-dried meat, barley, flatbread, nuts, seeds. It is hearty and conducive to well-being, just what we need.
Sea and serendipity created the Ligurian street food known as la farinata. Once upon a time over seven centuries ago it had a different name, the consequence of a storm in the Bay of Biscay following the battle of Meloria between the republics of Genoa and Pisa.
Fed on chickpea gruel, the rowers of one ship cursed their luck when they realised their food supply of chickpea flour and olive oil had been contaminated with the salty water of the sea during the storm. Some hungry rowers ate the chickpea pulp, others could not stomach it and left it in their bowls.
The following day, tempted by their increasing hunger, some rowers noticed that the pulp had hardened in the sun and was more palatable. Back on dry land the Genoese experimented with the accidental combination, baked it to a crisp and named it the ‘gold’ of Pisa. Later it became la farinata or la farinata de ceci although some Genoese call it faina de ceixi, from the local dialect.
It is a fanciful story, given the long culinary history of the venerable chickpea, and we would not dare tell the Italians, especially the people of Genoa, that one of their legends is not based on reality.
Domesticated chickpeas were found at Abu Hureyra in northwest Syria and at Çatalhöyük in central Turkey, archaeological sites that are respectively 11,000 and 9,000 years old, and are celebrated as one of the original civilised crops. Cultivated from the wild variety, the chickpea called desi is a native of Anatolia. A small angular chickpea, it is now grown across the region. Introduced into the Indus Valley, it was developed into the round kabuli chickpea.
The ancient version of desi had to be eaten fresh within days of harvesting because it dried quickly into hard stone-like lentils. Humus or humous – blended chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, oil and sesame seed paste (tahini) – was the obvious solution and now chickpeas and sesame seeds are seen as an essential culinary marriage. Dishes made with the combination are associated with the Arab countries, the Caucasus, the Levant and the eastern Mediterranean.
Chickpeas gradually formed an integral aspect of the traditional food of the Mediterranean basin. The Phoenicians, being Levantine traders, probably brought them to Tunisia and to Spain, where they are now indigenous and an essential ingredient in traditional Spanish food.
Chickpeas and rice is a popular dish throughout the Mediterranean. Rice with chicken and chickpeas is a national dish of Spain. Chickpeas feature in soups and stews. Chickpea balls are a typical Greek snack. Egypt’s national dish kushari is made with chickpeas. In Cyprus they make a snack with mashed chickpeas. Armenia has a unique dish called topik, a chickpea and potato shell stuffed with a tahini mixture of currants, onions, olive oil, pine nuts and spices.
An ancient fermented bread made with chickpeas and white wheat flour has made a comeback in Turkey. Emir Ayşe Özer and his colleagues at the Cukurova University Department of Food Engineering in Sarıçam / Adana described the process.
‘It was prepared in two stages. In the first stage chickpeas were coarse ground in a mortar and pestle and subsequently soaked with boiling water and some salt in a glass jar. The jars were incubated at 37-40 °C for 16-18 hours. In the second stage flour was added to obtain a dough. The dough was leavened and then cooked. The bread had a typical odor and taste.’
And of course chickpea flour, called gram flour in Asian countries, is incredibly versatile. In the Indian sub-continent it is used to make a popular savoury confection called gathia.
That brings us back to the chickpea fritter.
Famous as street food in the shape of lozenges, rectangles and squares, these golden fritters are more than a snack, they are history and tradition. Called panelle in Palermo, calentita on the rock of Gibraltar and l‘oro di Pisa in Genoa, it is hard to believe that a mixture of four ingredients – chickpea flour, olive oil, salt and water – could be cooked differently to produce the same result.
In Palermo salted chickpea flour is mixed with sufficient water to make a thick batter, poured onto a flat surface to cool, cut into desired shapes and then fried in olive oil.
In Gibraltar two methods are employed. Some cooks use less water and put much more olive oil in the baking tray. Other cooks use a ratio of four parts water to one part flour (1 litre to 250 g) but finish the cooking under a grill to enhance the colour. The calentita are cut into squares, sprinkled with cumin seeds and served with harissa.
In Genoa the method is more precise, with roughly one third chickpea flour to water (for example, 900 ml water to 250 g / 300 g chickpea flour), left to soak for 12 hours, then seasoned with black pepper, salt and sesame oil. The mixture is poured onto a tray covered with a heavy layer of olive oil and baked in a hot oven for 50 minutes, until the edges take on a golden red colour.
The Vallorcine train waits, like a bridesmaid without a bride. Fresh snow clings to the lower slopes of the forested mountains. Ice rivers flow from crystal peaks. The air is cold. The train is warm. We are waiting for the driver. Suddenly there is movement. Into the white. Past the river. Along the valley. Rising, slowly. The glint of a glacier in the distance. Townlands appear out of nowhere. Wooden chalets. A village on the hill. Above, the peaks are sharp against the sky. Ski resorts. Viaducts. Twisting roads. Fallen trees. Boulders. These are exciting moments. This is the start of a long journey through the expanse of the Alps on short trains built for their endurance and strength. Into lands where the dialects change with the landscape and the cultures and traditions are etched into daily rites of passage.
On the faces of the people, with their colourful clothes, their irresistible homes and solid buildings, with cuisine that is as diverse as the products of the landscape, listening to those rustic dialects, warming to their genuine hospitality, people who know mountain and valley life. This is the way into the winter wonderland that is alpine Europe. Only the mountain goats know where the ancient paths go. Here there is beauty and diversity, nature unfolding through large windows in full colour. And it is never still. You can never describe these high mountain peaks, divided valleys and sloping meadows because nothing remains the same. This is what makes this journey a fabulous adventure. A slight change of perspective, a different view and the experience itself changes.
We are in the Trient Valley, crossing from France into Switzerland by the backdoor. Travelling through alpine Switzerland is nothing less than a remarkable journey that pays homage to past and present engineering feats, celebrates the dilemma of a modern utilitarian country and reveals beautiful ways of escape. So we are going to get out at Salvan, have some lunch and then make our way down to Martigny by foot. So, a reminder of the fondue they make in Haute Savoy, if only to acknowledge that this very Swiss dish comes from across the border, in Alpine France.
Travelling in the Alps by rail and road, on mountain and valley trains and buses, is an educational experience. The culture is rooted to the landscape. There is a strong feeling for place and a sense of belonging. The routes are ancient. When the railways arrived, new routes were carved out of the rock, tunnels were bored and platforms were raised to shorten the distance between alpine villages. When skiing became a leisure (and sporting) activity, the carriers offered their services. Buses and trains were adapted to carry ski equipment, and so it has continued into the 21st century. After a while, the frequent alpine traveller notices that the names of the most famous towns and villages are synonymous with skiing, particularly alpine world cup events organised by the international skiing federation.
Skiing is a tough sport, so it is no great surprise that the Alpine countries win more races than anyone else. Virtually every village on the upper slopes has a ski resort. Children learn early and are quick learners. By the time they reach their mid-20s they are ready to win races. Traditional culture in the Alps is centred on food but it is also concerned with well-being, and skiing down steep slopes is more than just a sport, it is a way of life, etched into the faces of the people. When you are young you ski, when you are old you hike.
Welcome to Europe’s pleasure dome.
High above Martigny where the Rhône valley turns eastwards, the picturesque town of Salvan is an alpine vision of perfection. Here the restaurants serve a special fondue made from mountain pasture cheese, in the tradition of their forebearers. The Savoy Alps and the Jura range are believed to be the birthplace of this comforting winter dish and there is ample evidence to suggest that fondue is a product of the dairy farmers who have tended cattle for centuries in these mountains.
Emmental, gruyère and vacherin, cheeses that form the basis for fondue, only tell part of the story. The vacherin cheese of Fribourg is preferred by fondue aficionados because it adds full flavour to the mildness of the emmental and the piquancy of the gruyère – the combination for the classic neuchâteloise. Neuchâteloise, moitié moitié (half gruyère, half vacherin) and the fondue served in Salvan restaurants and along the valley canton are among the most popular with Swiss people. But if you want to know which cheeses go into which fondues served in the Alps you will have to ask. It is in these mountains that fondue makes its reputation, as chefs compete with each other to produce the ’perfect’ fondue. And they are not going to give away their trade secrets. Of course the popularity of this amazing cheese dish may also have something to do with the tradition that demands punishment when a diner loses their bread in the fondue pot. A man must buy a bottle of wine or a round of drinks. A woman must kiss all the men in the company. commune.
There are several walks out of Salvan, all signposted in the familiar yellow well known to all hikers in Switzerland. The easiest path follows the river Trient down to Vernayaz on the Rhône valley floor. We are taking the challenging path up past the hamlet of Gueurox to the edge of the Mont d’Ottan ridge, overlooking the scary expanse of the flood plain, where the river Dranse flows into the mighty Rhône amidst the cultivated fruit trees and chestnut groves. Here at the ridge, no matter the season, the wind is lethal. Caution is obligatory. Then it is a gradual climb toward the peak of Roc Blanc at 1704 metres. We skirt this majestic mountain, and descend quickly, across the steep road that goesthat goes to Le Châtelard-Frontière and the alpine border with France. Dropping down, several paths cross the rows of vines above Martigny Croix.
At Martigny Croix beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse. With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux. At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes. This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground. Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling chalet of Chemin, a settlement 250 metres higher.
Here we consult the map, because we are facing a set of choices. To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge. At the splendid Col des Planches the path offers some respite, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Planard, a panoramic viewpoint. Also a crossroads. Five paths test our resolve. Three go down, two go up! Always a good time to stop and contemplate. Eat. And make the correct choice. It is too far early for lunch, so we snack on sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, apple juice and pear nectar. This raises our energy levels. Lunch is chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt flakes and mineral water. That can wait. Although we are still hungry we need to continue – up or down?
The most interesting path for us to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley. It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow to linger. This makes us wonder how they got back down. We look at the map again. And there it is, a steep path that drops down into Saxon on the valley flour. Anyway, before the descent, that lunch! Terra firma. We are tired and decide to visit a hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia. It is hearty and conducive to well-being, just what we need. That hike was hard.
Before we continue, we must have a little discussion about Switzerland’s modern travel system, particularly its integrated timetables and elaborate pricing. On December 6, 1987 the Swiss voted and approved the multi-billion franc Bahn 2000, a strategy to overhaul their train network and travel system. New tracks, with new trains – including double-deckers and fast tilting trains – would reduce travel times, all travel connections would be within minutes of each other, and an upgraded infrastructure would facilitate an integrated timetable. Fast forward to 2017 and this is exactly what travellers can expect when they board their regular mode of transport. Rarely in the history of travel has a system been clock-worked to perfection. But the downside, partly caused by the devaluation of the Swiss franc, has been felt by tourists and travellers in the country. Yes, you can set your watch by the time of the black and red clock on the station platform and the times of the trains, but you can also pay the price if you don’t know how to get lower fares. The Swiss system includes hundreds of travel elements – boat, bus and rail – and serves two million, largely indigenous, people who hold passes, but it seems that the Swiss want tourists and travellers to pay the price for this wonderful achievement! On the positive side, travel arrivals and departures remain constant throughout the year, and are rarely tweaked. We feature them in this book as a guide, check the timetable.
On August 7, 1953 apricot growers and their supporters besieged the small town of Saxon in the Swiss Valais canton to protest about the huge amount of Italian imports they claimed inhibited the sale of their produce. Freight trains carrying the Italian imports were looted and burned. The railway line and main road through the Rhône valley were blocked for several days. Consequently an agreement was made to restrict the foreign imports to aid the sale of the domestic produce. Eight years later the growers faced another challenge when hazardous emissions from a factory in Martigny began to damage their crops. An eighteen year campaign finally brought sanctions against the factory owners and in 1982 the Swiss Federal Court issued an order for compensation to be paid to the growers. Of the 176 apricot growers in the Valais today most develop the luizet variety, supplying two-thirds of the one million kilos needed to make approximately 120,000 bottles of 70 cl abricotine at the distillery in Martigny. Two hundreds years after they were first cultivated in the Rhône valley, apricots (and apricot brandy) are now established in the food culture of the region, the warm, dry Valais climate perfect for the sensitive luizet. Planted on the south-facing embankments of the valley, apricot trees thrive in the alluvial soil.
A winemaker called Leon is held responsible for the invention of the melting cheese, now known as raclette, when he accidentally let a half-wheel melt by the fire. It is a good story but the origins of cheese-making in the hidden valleys of the Rhône river valley go back thousands of years before the Romans occupied the region. For centuries cheese was used as currency among the people and with visiting traders. Geographically and historically linked to the area that now defines the canton, specifically the valleys of Bagnes and Goms, raclette du Valais is a semi-hard cheese associated with the lively hérens cows. As much a part of Swiss alpine scenery as the chalet and cable car, these cows graze the fragrant flora of sloping meadows along with the black-dotted cows of picture postcard Switzerland. The people of the Rhône valley regard their raclette as the true melting cheese despite its wider production in other parts of Switzerland and especially on the other side of the Alps in Savoy.
Martin, an elderly chef who works in a family restaurant in Naters, across the bridge from Brig, insists that the unique sense of place Swiss people share with their mountains and valleys is dying out, destroyed by modernity and technology. However another Martin, one of the young project managers who worked at the construction of the 34.6 kilometre railway tunnel through the base of the Alps between Raron in the Rhône valley and Frutigen in the Kander valley, takes a sense of pride in the creation of this human-built artefact.
Functionality is a byword of modern Switzerland. It defines the daily activity of a country that runs to precise timetables and delivers its workers and visitors to their destinations on time, whether by bus, train, funicular, cable car, boat or airplane. The workers then deliver a commerce that the people expect, in their offices, schools, factories, farms, shops, restaurants and construction sites.
’Switzerland,’ says Benedikt Loderer, ’is fully utilised.’ The relationship between the human built world and natural world is the theme of Switzerland: an Overview by Emil Zopfi, et al, a collection of five essays, which look at these two Switzerlands – Beautiful Switzerland and Utility Switzerland. What makes the book breathtaking along with its literary scope are the majestic aerial photographs, which accompany the essays, placing them in a context that cannot refute the perspectives of the essayists. Loderer is the most persuasive with his argument that Switzerland no longer exists.
’The beautiful Switzerland you see is the pre-industrial one,’ he says. ’Within two generations we have consumed too much of Switzerland. [It] is fully utilised. We know precisely what every bit of it can be used for, whether it’s a lake, a glacier, a cliff, arable or maintained land. This also means that it’s already been decided what the land may not be used for. The main difference is that of construction zones and non-construction zones.’
The Valais / Wallis canton is precisely that. The human-built construction zone at the Raron end of the Lötschberg base tunnel contrasts starkly with the natural mountain peaks above, and the creation of an artificial mound containing the tunnel deposits at the southern edge of the Rhone valley flood plain. The relocation – on the orders of the federal government, who commissioned the tunnel – of wildlife disturbed by the construction reveals the sensitive nature of ’nachhaltig’ (sustainable development) in Switzerland. This is also Loderer’s argument.
’Beauty Switzerland is a recompense for Utility Switzerland,’ he says. ’There are two conditions left in the country; the city and the mountains. We’ve become tourists in our own country. We commute from Utility to Beauty Switzerland in order to consolidate our identity there. Being convinced of the beauty of the country in our innermost being, we must get out of the agglomeration from time to time and refresh ourselves with a landscape and a picturesque settlement. There are two directions: into the old inner cities or into the mountains. It depends on the type of nourishment we lack. In the old inner city there is more cultural enjoyment; in the mountains, it’s more the enjoyment of Nature. And there is a sufficient number of rewarding destinations for both directions. This book proves it.
Loderer apologises for his cynicism. And he must. This book is an honest appraisal of modern Switzerland and the pictures do prove that Switzerland is still beautiful and rewarding, one of the most attractive countries in Europe. The Switzerland of pristine alpine and lakeside resorts, modern funparks and elaborate transport systems offers as much to the visitor as the Switzerland of precipitous mountain paths, old restaurants and traditional festivals. The photographs – from the ’photoswissair’ collection of the Luftbild Schweiz Foundation, started by Walter Mittelholzer, the Swiss pioneer aviator and photographer who began taking aerial pictures in 1918 – show both Switzerlands. They reveal, in glimpses, the Switzerland of the pre-industrial era and the modern Switzerland that contradicts its romantic caricature.
Unlike Italy, which is suffocating under the weight of expectation, Switzerland has been allowed to reinvent itself, for good or bad. More than Frenchman Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s stunning aerial pictures of human settlements in every region of the Earth, the Luftbild Schweiz photographs reveal an intimacy that only those who live in Switzerland and know every centimetre will fully appreciate. As an overview of a country this book is a perfect portal. From the pictures of the Matterhorn, as if civilisation never existed, to the pictures of the Rhône glacier, where civilisation in the form of a switchback road and a hotel creeps up to the edge of the ice, Switzerland is at once untamed and tamed.
Iso Camartin agrees. ’It is not even the boldness with which human beings have made changes in the landscape, opposing the natural growth and nature-given beauty with another one: that of beautiful design and daring construction.’ Martin, when he was in his tunnel, would agree that daring construction now defines Switzerland. Martin, in his kitchen, would not. For him Switzerland is and always will be the mountains. Camartin, however, knows the real truth. ’What are we complaining about?’ he says. ’It’s great to live here.’
Winter has fallen on Brig. The smell of roasted chestnuts wafts up from the railway station, where heavily clothed snow revellers carrying skis and snowboards pour onto the cold dry streets. This Swiss-German-speaking town sits under the high Alps at the south-east end of the canton astride the Rhône River. On the southern side of the mountains lies lake Maggiore, the sweep of the Po Valley and the Italian cities of Turin, Milan and Genoa. To get there travellers go over the Simplon Pass by road or take the train through the 100-year-old Simplon railway tunnel. It is the way it has always been. Brig is a crossroads.
At the Hotel Ambassador, Zürich-born Stefan Welschen is content. He has a regular clientele who eat regularly in his Cheminots restaurant, and many of those who arrive at the stone steps of number three Saflischstrasse to stay are familiar with the hotel. ’Don’t be slow coming back,’ he says. ’I will always be here.’ So has Brig. The town’s name comes from the Latin Briva for bridge. ’Brig is an historic town,’ he says in an accent that has lost some of its Zürich roots. ’Since the Romans came, they stay in Brig because they can cross the mountains in one day. They rested here. Napoleon was here with his troops. Five battalions stayed here first, then crossed the Simplon Pass.’
Today it is possible to trace the footsteps of the Roman and Napoleonic soldiers. There is a hiking trail that follows an old path used for centuries by merchants and their mules. The trail begins in Brig at the 17th century Stockalper Palace. It was Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper, a Brig merchant, who developed the trail. Once, the merchants would have halted in an inn at the Simplon Pass. These days, the curious can learn the history of the trail by stopping at the old inn, now a museum. For most though it is the railway and the road that brings them to Brig. ’When the Simplon tunnel was built,’ says Stefan, ’the train system started getting faster, but people still stayed here overnight because when they came from England to Naples they needed a break here. ‘When cars started, even then they stopped here, to cool down the cars because they could not get all the way from Germany to Italy.’
Brig is a crossroads.
We are taking the slow stopping train from the plaza in front of Brig main station. This is the hourly train to Fiesch, the seventh stop along the line that carries the Glazier Express into the east of Switzerland. We have been told there is a bakery on Hejistrasse, the road that parallels the river at the western side of the town. Imwinkelried bakery (and cafe) is one of 60 establishments in the Valais / Wallis that makes the traditional rye bread of the region, (roggenbrot in German, pains de seigle in French). And we are excited. Rye bread, once a stable of the canton’s traditional food, is back in the ascendancy. Imwinkelried bake it plain, and with hazelnuts and with the fruit of the canton. They also make the local pastries made with carnival dough, known as chräpfli. If you decide to visit this wonderful bakery to sample their traditional breads and pastries, walk back along the platform in the direction the train has come from. In front of you, past a house, a narrow path winds down onto Hejistrasse. The bakery is immediately across the road, the cafe above.
Our next train, the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (the one you see at the top of the page and again below), is also a slow, stopping train. We are going all the way from Fiesch to the terminus at Göschenen, a journey of ascents and descents in just over 100 minutes. If you are alert, when the train leaves Andermatt – the penultimate stop 14 minutes from Göschenen – you will see the sign of the devil on the wall of the rock face above the ravine below.
We are walking up from Göschenen back to Andermatt. It is a very tough walk, as anyone who has done it will tell you, hard on the calf muscles, so we are taking it very slow. Our penultimate stop before Andermatt is the high ravine where the river Reuss has been forded for millennia. Our attention is the location of an old bridge, now gone, known as teufelsbrücke (devil’s bridge). It is celebrated for many reasons, not least an event recorded by Tadhg Ó Cianáin, who kept a diary of the journey undertaken by Irish Earls and their followers through Europe 400 years ago.
’The country of the Swiss is well fortified, uneven, mountainous, extensive, having bad roads, and no supremacy, rule or claim to submission by any king or prince in the world over the inhabitants. In themselves they form a strange, remarkable, peculiar state. It is said of the people of this country that they are the most just, honest, and untreacherous in the world, and the most faithful to their promises. They allow no robbery or murder to be done in their country without punishing it at once. Because of their perfect honour they alone are guards to the kings and princes of Christendom.’
When they reached the devil’s bridge, tired and weary from the hard walk from Göschenen in the valley below, calamity struck. The story is told from the perspective of the man who was blamed.
Beyond Andermatt on the ancient trail is a little stone chapel. Blessed by Archbishop Galdinus of Milan in the 12th century it is a timeless artefact. Finding faith in the heavenly heights of the mountains kept walkers going, especially when there was a place nearby to rest the head and ease weary limbs. It is also a reminder that for tens of thousands of years the only way to travel was by foot. We would take you there, even take you south, following Irish ghosts wondering about lost gold, but we need to go east and we are going to rest our weary limbs in the comfort of the Glacier Express.
For us the Glacier Express will always be a train for winter and since the Furka Tunnel opened in 1982 it has run from Zermatt to St Moritz unimpeded, revealing the enchanting white wonderland of the Swiss Alps. The story of this train is not revealed in the impressive tourist figures (’oh you must do the Glacier Express’). It is something much deeper, and alluded to by Iso Camartin in the wonderful 2005 large format production (with fantastic photos by Robert Bösch), The World of the Glacier Express, published by AS Verlag of Zürich.
’To this day, the technical structures designed for this line by the early pioneers of railway engineering still amaze admirers from near and far,’ writes Camartin, a native of canton Grabünden. ’The Glacier Express connects three Swiss cantons, different linguistic and cultural landscapes, each with their own building styles and forms of habitation. ‘The journey provides views spectacular as well as unpretentious, wild and dangerous as well as idyllic. Throughout the year, the Glacier Express offers new glimpses of the daring solutions devised by the engineers and constructors to overcome the hindrances and secure the connections between landscapes and people.’
This is the true story behind this train, the cultural connections that link the people and places of the Valais with their counterparts in Uri and Grabünden. From the Matterhorn, above the ski resort of Zermatt, to the Galenstock, above the Furka Pass, and Piz Bernina and Piz Palü at the border with Italy, the people live with these imposing peaks, forever in their debt. Camartin, a Rhateo-Romansh scholar, knew the implicit reasoning behind these cultural connections, but it was German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who understood what it meant. ’This is a metaphysical landscape,’ he said, a place that is never the same.
The railway presented challenges to the people of the Alps, and now that several generations only know the railway age it is important that tourists and travellers experience that culture, especially their food culture (the whole purpose of this little tome). Those who want the full Glacier Express experience should devote two or three weeks to the trip, and get off at each stop where accommodation is offered, and walk alongside the lakes and rivers. We recommend Brig, Fiesch, Oberwald or Realp, Andermatt, Disentis / Mustér, Thusis, Filisur, Bergün / Bravuogn and Samedan.
It is all very well to travel on this train but it is still a very good idea to get off, find a suitable vantage point and marvel at the exquisite bridges, spiral tunnels and towering viaducts on the route. You are spoilt for choice. The train crosses 291 bridges and viaducts, and enters 91 tunnels. And of course the train also gives majestic views of the landscape that cannot be seen from footpaths. To appreciate them you need to be in the panoramic carriage. The GEX leaves Zermatt at 8:52 in winter, and at 7:52, 8:52 and 9:52 in summer. It can be met at Visp, Brig, Andermatt (as we have done on this journey – coming up from Göschenen), at Chur and Filisur (with a change for Davos). We are getting off at Thusis.
The Schöllenen is one of the four ancient trade routes through the Swiss Alps. The others are the Saint Bernard, the Simplon and the Splügen! If the Schöllenen has the abysmal path, the Splügen has the bad path – viamala in Graubünden Romansh, the Roman dialect that continues to thrive in this scenic region of Switzerland, sharing an expansive culture with the Swiss-German speaking and Italic peoples at both ends of the Splügen Pass.
This ancient route, a mule trial for countless centuries, links Thusis with Chiavenna in Italy. Legend dictates that the viamalaschlucht was worse than the schöllenenschlucht, so we are going to find out for ourselves. It is a testament to the Swiss sense of place that the path in this steep-sided rocky gorge has remained accessible, but there is one major reason for that. The viamala is a magnet. It attracts hikers because it is challenging. It attracts tourists because it is dramatic, one of the great scenic trials in Europe. We are following the sight and sound of the hinterrhein (the upper Rhine) as far as Andeer – a four hour walk at a leisurely pace. As the sun is shining we are stopping for a picnic – alpkäse with weggli (cheese and bread) chocolate, with apple juice and pear nectar. The viamalaschlucht, like all gorges, comes alive when the melt water crashes down from the heights, the light dancing like fairies on cool, clear crystal waters.
Another panoramic train ride, on this occasion through the heart of the Alps on Rhaetian Railways’ Bernina Express and down into the plain of the Po Valley. One word. Spectacular!
Roberto Trentini is a food grocer with a small shop in the streets behind Via Saragozza in Bologna, Italy. Despite the presence of a nearby mini Carrefour, he gets his fair share of custom and has his regulars who come to him for their basics and the pick of his range of fresh produce, fruit and vegetables at the front of the shop, cheese, cured meats and delicatessen items in the cold units at the counter where he spends his day.
Bottled and canned foods fill the shelves, bags of legumes and nuts sit near the front door. Those who are familiar with Roberto‘s style of shop-keeping know where he keeps the items they desire. You only have to ask him for something special that you need and it will be ordered and presented as soon as he can have it delivered.
There is no mystery. Small shops like Roberto‘s proliferate throughout Italy. In Bologna, where all the food of Emila-Romagna and beyond is collected for distribution, these shops are still integral to community because every type of traditional product is available. It is hard to compete with tradition, so Roberto and his like survive and even thrive if they are able to offer specialist produce, which are wont to do.
The people of Bologna know this better than anyone, which is why they are celebrating their food culture with the FICO project – a meeting place for those who love traditional food!
The commercialisation of this sauce has taken the shine away from the original, as popular as ever in Bologna where the homemade version is still revered. This is one such version, courtesy of Roberto Trentini‘s mother in Bologna.
Roberto’s Mother’s Ragú
The commercialisation of this sauce has taken the shine away from the original, as popular as ever in Bologna where the homemade version is still revered. This is one such version, courtesy of Roberto Trentini‘s mother in Bologna.
1 litre white wine 500 g beef, minced 400 ml passata (sieved tomatoes) 250 g carrots, chopped 250 g celery, chopped 250 g onions, chopped 100 g pancetta / bacon 1 beef / vegetable stock cube 15 ml olive oil Salt, pinch Water, for loosening the sauce
In a deep, wide frying pan sauté onions and pancetta in the oil over a low heat, about 15 minutes. Add carrots and celery, sauté for five minutes. Turn up heat, put in meat, add wine a little at a time until the meat softens. Add passata, a little water, a stock cube and salt, cook covered over a low heat for an hour.
Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian bread with regional variations. Imeruli khachapuri from Imeretian in western Georgia is the common variation, with a vein of cheese through the middle of a flatbread. Acharuli or Adjaruli from Adjarian is a boat-shaped bread. Other shapes and sizes include Achma khachapuri from Abkhazian, Guruli from Gurian, Megruli from Mingrelian, Ossuri from Ossetian, and Penovani, Rachuli and Svanuri for a total of 53 varieties.
In her book The Georgian Feast, American academic Darra Goldstein described the bread. ‘Khachapuri is found throughout Georgia in many guises – round, rectangular and boat-shaped. The dough can be yeasty with a thick crust, many-layered and flaky, or tender and cake-like. The bread is usually filled with a fresh, slightly sour cheese like imeruli or suluguni, but salty cheeses like bryndza may also be used … even the smallest towns have hole-in-the-wall cafés where piping hot khachapuri may be consumed on the spot or taken out.’
In 2018 Levan Qoqiashvili discovered 83 versions (53 varieties and 30 fillings). These include beans, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, and this revelation crushed the purist attitude that khachapuri is a ‘cheese bread’ and only authentic with a cheese filling.
‘I often thought, which Georgian dish is worthy of national dish status? We interviewed about 500 people and almost all of them named khachapuri. Then I shared my idea to start exploring the dish with my friend, writer Diana Amphiamid. The first questions that popped into our minds was when was the first khachapuri prepared and which utensil was used for its preparation? In order to find it out, we teamed up with a historian and an archaeologist. We also had other questions during research, for example, approximately when Georgians started cultivating wheat and which are Georgian wheat species.’
Georgians insist that the dough is the secret to a successful khachapuri, not the shape and not the filling, and each home baker has their own secret recipe for the dough. Generally the dough is made with matzoni (the Caucasian fermented milk), although kefir or yoghurt are appropriate substitutes. Milk is preferred in some recipes. The ratio between dough and filling varies from region to region, and from baker to baker.
500 ml milk 15 ml matsoni / sour cream (for the first batch)
Heat milk, pour into a bowl or pot, leave to cool, add matsoni or sour cream, stir. Cover the bowl or pot, wrap it in a warm towel for three hours, refrigerate.
1 kg white wheat flour, t500 400 ml matzoni / kefir / yoghurt 1 egg 50 g butter, melted 20 g yeast, dissolved in 30 ml warm milk 5 g salt
1 kg white wheat flour, t500 20 g yeast, dissolved in 500 ml warm milk or water 150 g butter 15 g sugar 5 g salt
900 g white wheat flour, t500 400 g butter 300 ml water, warmed 1 egg 3 tbsp oil 3 tbsp vinegar
Filling for doughs 1 and 2
1 kg Suluguni cheese / Mozzarella cheese, grated 2 eggs 100 g butter Salt, large pinch
Filling for dough 3
1.2 kg curd cheese / soft cheese 3 eggs
Finish for dough 2 and 3
2 eggs, whipped Oil, for hands
For doughs one and two combine wet and dry ingredients. Knead into a smooth dough, rest for 4 hours. Divide into four pieces. With oiled hands shape into rectangles or rounds, roll out 1 cm thick and spread each piece with an equal amount of cheese mixture. Alternatively place cheese mixture on each piece, collect edges and bring them into the middle to form an envelope, then roll out 1 cm thick and egg wash. Place on oiled trays, leave to rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 300ºC for 10 minutes.
For dough three combine flour, warm water, egg, oil and vinegar to form a smooth dough. Divide butter into three parts. Roll out the dough, 2 cm thick smear surface with one third of the butter, fold into an envelope. Place in refrigerator for an hour. Take the cold dough and roll it out again, smear second third of butter over the surface, fold into an envelope and refrigerate for an hour. Repeat this process with the final third of butter. Oil a tray and preheat oven to 240ºC. Divide the dough into two pieces, roll out the first dough to the size of the tray. Place it on the tray. Whip eggs into the cheese, pour onto the layer of dough in the tray. Roll out the second dough to the size of the tray, place on top of the cheese-egg mixture. Wash surface with egg. Bake for ten minutes.
1 kg beans 200 g butter 20 g green peppercorns, ground 20 g salt
1.2 kg cheese 4 eggs 30 g butter 20 g green peppercorns, ground
900 g onions 120 g red pepper paste 75 ml sunflower oil 60 ml pomegranate molasses 10 g salt
1.2 kg potatoes, cooked, mashed 200 g butter 30 g salt 20 g green peppercorns, ground
In the Auld Dubliner, where they served coddle and colcannon at half twelve on the dot and not a second before, the women got ready in the serving area, a room to the right of the side door at Fleet Street. The quiet one was long in the tooth, a culinary veteran of the Liberties’ traditional food. The noisy one was much younger, much to learn but keen to learn, that was obvious. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘We’re right so.’
We gradually moved into the room and hovered. Six water-heated containers confronted us, held in a long basin resting on two oblong tables pushed together. The younger woman lifted the lid of the first three containers for our convenience, saying nothing, leaving the explanation to my friend Seán Dove, for it was sure that she had knowledge of him, at least that is what I saw when I watched them exchange eyes.
‘Coddle,’ Dove said, ‘sausage, bacon, onion, potato, like a stew,’ leaning over to sniff the aromatic steam that lingered.
‘This one?’ I asked, pointing to the middle container.
‘Cabbage and mash and scallions,’ he said, looking into the container. ‘Should be made from curly kale, that is summer cabbage there.’ He winked at the woman.
I didn’t need to ask what was in the third last container. Steaming in the container were about six pig trotters covered in parsley, sage and thyme, smelling of stewed carrot and onion. Dove looked hard at the young woman. She had long auburn hair tied up in a bun under a yellow head scarf. Her bosom was flattened under a tight-fitting apron. If he had bothered to make small talk with her, and it appeared that he did, being attracted by her rustic appearance, he would have discovered he knew her. When she wasn’t working in the kitchen of the Auld Dubliner making coddle, colcannon and cruibíns from her mother’s recipes, she was a cleaner in the college where he taught food anthropology. The words he would normally have used in the seduction of a young girl were beyond the capacity of his brain in that moment. All he could do was stare at her. Food was his only priority. In a sudden upward movement of her long neck she eye-balled him. ‘What are ye staring at?’ she said in an abrupt tone. ‘Have I got horns or what?’
‘Yes,’ he stuttered. ‘No, I mean, no, sorry, I didn’t mean to stare at you.’ He cleared his throat, coughing gently. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he said in a nervous tentative voice.
‘I will have some cabbage mash with a pig’s … ah … foot please,’ I said. ‘And some of the stew … the coddle.’
‘Are you not eating?’ I asked him.
‘I can’t decide,’ he replied.
‘We’re closing the kitchen at one,’ the woman said, pulling a face at him. He missed the wit behind the irony. ‘This is the only serving. When it’s gone, it’s gone.’
‘Right,’ said Dove. ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’
Out of nowhere, silence hovered in the space between them.
The habit butchers had of over salting their pork sausages used to work in favour of this traditional stew, which relied on a stock made from the hock and root vegetables and all the flavour you could get out of the bacon, gammon and sausages.
Sadly no longer an essential aspect of Dublin life, its revival as a tasty lunchtime pub snack in the 1980s at the Auld Dubliner was short-lived. Few cafes, pubs and restaurants bothered with it in those and none bother with it now.
In the Liberties in Dublin’s south inner-city, fish and chips gradually usurped coddle for Saturday night supper. Butchers stopped featuring the ingredients on their counters, knowing the demand was gone.
The earliest coddles were flavoured with bacon bones and leeks, thickened with barley or oatmeal and served with various types of sausage.
Onions and potatoes changed the nature of coddle, transforming it into an iconic Dublin dish of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The classic coddle contained bacon, sausage, onion, potatoes and parsley in a flavoured soup.
These days coddle can be anything from a plate of bacon bits, grilled sausages and cubed potatoes in a thin seasoned soup to an elaborate vegetable stew made with bacon and sausage pieces in a herb-cider stock.
A genuine coddle should have Irish ingredients – bacon, gammon, onions, potatoes and sausages with more meat than fat and minimal salt.
On no account boil the bacon and sausages to extract a stock, use a stock cube or a teaspoon of bouillon if you haven’t time to make a stock from ham bones, herbs and vegetables.
This is a modern interpretation.
Ham Hock, boiled for stock with 2 bay leaves, 2 carrots chopped, a quarter of a whole celeriac root sliced, 2 kale leaves cut into thin strips, 2 onions chopped, seasoned with ground black pepper, one tablespoon of chopped lovage and one teaspoon of vegetable bouillion
750 onions, sliced
750 potatoes waxy, sliced thinly
650 g (4) large pork sausages, each cut into thick pieces
350 g gammon, cut into 8 slices
200 g kale, coarsely cut, steamed
60 g black pudding, cubed (optional)
15 g black peppercorns
30 g parsley, chopped
4 slices streaky bacon, grilled until crispy, crushed
Layer the base of an ovenproof dish with onions and peppercorns, arrange the gammon, sausages and sprinkle with herbs of your choice. If using add the black pudding at this stage. Finish with overlapped rows of the sliced potatoes. Pour in the stock until it covers the potatoes.
Wrap foil over the dish, put on the lid and bake slowly in a 180°C oven.
Test the potatoes after an hour. If still uncooked bake uncovered until they brown at the edges.
Garnish each serving with parsley and crushed bacon. Serve with steamed kale.
Sumptuous breakfast lovers of the kind that comes stacked on a plate or stuffed into a bap, baguette, bun, huffa, muffin or roll should probably skip this opening bit, because it is not going to be complimentary and it might even be objectionable. Those of you, whoever you are, who love to tuck into a calorie-rich breakfast that consists of carbohydrates, fats and proteins and then go on to spend your working day sitting on your arse should stop and wonder. If someone set in front of you a plate containing a combination of all or some of the following – steak sausages, pork sausages, rashers of bacon, slices of black pudding, slices of white pudding, fried eggs, fried soda bread, fried potatoes, wheaten bread, white toast, potato cakes, tomatoes, white mushrooms and baked beans – you would, if you weren’t young and healthy with energy to burn, be looking at a heart attack on a plate.
This was the reaction of a French anthropologist when he first encountered the Irish breakfast. ‘The shock of eating this salty fat food was very real. At 8 o’clock in the morning having to eat an egg, two slices of bacon, two spicy sausages, a fried tomato, white beans served in a curious sweet tomato sauce and slices of a fried dark thing called pudding, was truly at the limits of the possible.’
In recent decades that plate has beome mobile and while the bacon, egg and sausage is now contained in a bun or a farl, it remains a lesser necessary evil.
Across the diverse culinary landscape of Europe, breakfast is a fast and furious affair for workers. A coffee will suffice until the mid-morning snack for some. For others it is a bread roll filled with a variety of items. Or it might be a hot drink with a cake or a pastry. A cold drink with an energy bar. Rarely will it be a hot plate. More often than not it will be a cold plate. Mostly it is a little something just to get going for the day, and that is no bad thing. Some bit of breakfast in the stomach is better than none at all.
On the street, by road sides and in motorway stopping places, fast food outlets will offer a combination of breads and pastries including bagels, baguettes, croissants, muffins and rolls filled with a variety of foods, cheese and ham prominent. In cafés and hotels the breakfast menu may include the ubiquitous cold plate and the pragmatic hot plate, of which fish in its different disguises will feature in both. In the home cereal is a fast food and in the form of müesli a slow food, made with cow’s milk or soy milk. Pancakes of different shapes and sizes offer the opportunity to indulge with honey or jam. Toast has become an elaboration with an array of toppings. Fruit on its own or with yoghurt is a popular breakfast food. Coffee is universal yet fruit juice, fruit nectar, black tea and herb tea cling to the periphery.
What is obvious is the symmetry. Breakfast is a choice of staple foods that define the particular and peculiar culture, like the Irish breakfast, which appears to have all of them on one plate, so let’s take a closer look at these staples. First the raw produce.
THE INGREDIENTS OF BREAKFAST
Cereal — For those who like to think about the exact purpose of breakfast food, that it must provide for the body and the brain, müesli – mixed cereals, dried fruit, seeds and nuts – drowned in milk of one kind or another is a genuine breakfast dish. A tough choice for the energetic, carnivorous youth but one that can become regular for those prepared to seek sustenance in a different form.
Coffee — Italians who start their day early are content with a double espresso. If they have time they will take a cappucino. Elsewhere across Europe coffee black, coffee concentrated, coffee frothed and coffee white are the order of breakfast.
Corn — Squares of cooked potenta topped with a range of items or slices of polenta in the Romanian fashion (made with cheese and cream) are a breakfast food for those who follow the tradition, largely in central Italy and across the Adriatic region into the Balkans and the east.
Egg — Breakfast eggs are baked, boiled (hard and soft), fried, poached, scrambled and mixed with cheese and cream, and served in a variety of styles.
Fish — Pan-fried fish was once a breakfast food of the Atlantic fringe and of all the coastal regions (the Aegean, the Adriatic) where fish such as the capricous mackerel were caught early in the day. Herring was rolled and pickled and became a breakfast favourite of the Baltic countries, of the Dutch and the Germans. Haddock was smoked to become an iconic breakfast product, whereas in Norway everything from eel to herring to saithe and salmon was smoked. Squid was battered and became an essential ingredient in the mid-morning fried fish snack of the Mediterranean countries.
Fruit — Fruit of all kinds can be found on the breakfast table. More often or not that is in the form of compotes, jams, preserves and marmalades.
Honey — A breakfast favourite in the countries where honey is revered and celebrated, used in all kinds of preparations from pancakes to syrups. Used to sweeten black tea.
Kefir and Yoghurt — Kefir is the essential ingredient in the Russian pancake, unlike its French counterpart a breakfast food that contained every kind of filling you can think of. Yoghurt is now an essential breakfast food, either on its own or mixed with puréed fruit or with müesli.
Mushroom — Freshly foraged mushrooms once epitomised the breakfast tables whereas nowadays it is the cultivated white mushroom that is seen on breakfast plates, sautéed in butter, cooked in eggs to make an omelette and marinated in olive oil to feature in garlic-tomato concoctions spread on crusty breads.
Pork — Without pork butchery the idea of breakfast across Europe would be very different. Bacon, cured and smoked, is that ideal in virtually every tradition, used in different ways. Pork is the ingredient for salami and sausage. Ham made from pork is an essential ingredient in the cold plate that emerged in the delicatessen era. The Danish liver pâté called leverpostej is a popular breakfast food in Denmark and Norway. Made with pork liver and anchovy it is part of the Norwegian breakfast feast that includes breads, cereals, cheeses, coffee, crackers, crispbreads, eggs, fishes, milk, müesli, pickles, potato flatbreads, potatoes, smoked bacon, smoked fishes, tea, toast and yoghurt – the most diverse breakfast in Europe.
Potato — When the potato arrived in Europe it replaced porridge made with oats as the choice of breakfast, particularly in Switzerland where it was grated and fried to become known as rösti and gradually lost it role as a breakfast food. In Ireland it became an essential ingredient in the morning fry as a cake or farl. The Norwegian lefse is a flat potato bread made with rye flour. Back in Switzerland in the east of the country the potato made a comeback as a breakfast food in the shape of maluns, cooked potato rested overnight, crumbled into small lumps, rolled in corn or wheat flour and fried in oil.
Rye — Black bread made from rye flour is a feature of breakfast cultures that require toppings of various types.
Spelt — Rejuvenated by the Germans and the Swiss, the English and Irish have taken up the challenge to produce breakfast loaves made with spelt flour.
Tea — Good tea from the Chinese, Indian and Turkish regions is a refreshing start to the day. Not only black and green teas, breakfast include fruit teas and herb tissanes, especially in the Mediterranean basin countries.
Wheat — Without the soft wheat grown across Europe, breakfast would be unrecognisible. Breads (large and small), cakes, pancakes, pastries and other confections made with wheat flour dominate the breakfast table. For over a hundred years the Viennoiserie style that produced baguettes and croissants and the Danish style that produced pastries was the breakfast choice of western Europe and Scandinavia. With the German and Swiss small breads revolution that has changed. Now enriched, small bread buns and rolls offer a nutritional package, from doughs that include fruits, nuts and seeds and are made with mediums such as apple juice, cheese, cream, egg, milk, potato and yoghurt. Even toast has not lost its allure, especially in central Europe where it is combined with an egg-cheese-cream mixture in different formations to produce a breakfast legend.
Then there are the processed products, vis bacon, cheese, ham, pancakes, pickles, salami, sausage and of course the dairy products.
Bacon and Ham — Ubiquitous across Europe, cured by different methods and used in hot and cold preparations.
Breads and Pastries — Bread for breakfast varies but the emergence of the bread roll in recent years has seen a shift toward a breakfast package, with enriched bread rolls and bread rolls filled with various items. Pastries designed for breakfast include Austrian, Danish and French elaborations that are eaten whole or stuffed, like the Swiss habit of putting cheese and ham in the croissant.
Butter, Buttermilk, Cream and Milk (including Soy Milk) — Breakfast without butter to spread on various breads and other preparations would be unthinkable to most European food cultures, less so buttermilk and cream which are used with specific breakfast foods. Dairy and non-dairy (soy) milk is the medium for cereals including porridge, an old tradition that is still alive in northern countries.
Cheese — The list of cheeses that form the fabric of the breakfast table continues to grow as Europeans come to realise the extent of the raw milk cheeses available to them, all perfect as breakfast foods. The Norwegian breakfast has all the iconic cheeses of the country including cream cheeses and white cheeses, hard cheeses and semi-soft cheeses. French cheeses like brie and camembert, Dutch cheeses like edam and gouda and Swiss cheeses like emmental and gruyère provide fillings and toppings in breads and pastries. Most of the cheeses of Europe including mountain and valley cheeses play a role in the breakfast plate.
Ferments and Pickles — Generally fish and vegetables, herring and cucumber for example.
Salami and Sausage — The sausage, more than bacon or ham, is a truly global food found everywhere as an established breakfast item made to traditional regional standards. In the German speaking countries there are 1500 varieties of sausage made from pork, beef or veal with herbs, spices and milk including frankfurters (aka hot dogs) sold as a breakfast street food. Salami is generally a cold plate item at breakfast.
Lastly let’s look at the breakfast stables from the perspective of each country. Generally the choices are a cold plate, a hot plate and a takeaway divided throughout the morning.
Cover of the Fricot pocket book Handmade Small Breads
The modern bread roll is one of those mother-of-invention moments. A product of the 1800s, when necessity decided that different sized breads were needed throughout the day in the various work environments, it is now ubiquitous across Europe.
The bread roll emerged out of the tradition of baking small bread loaves. These gradually became smaller and became known variously across Europe as a bap or a bun, and then simply as a roll or as a small bread (brötchen in Germany, brötli in Switzerland).
In the beginning these bread rolls were made with white wheat flour, warmed water, fat (usually lard), bakers yeast and salt. These were usually the breakfast bread rolls and the lunch bread rolls.
Depending on the environment (factory or field, mobile or office) they were designed large – to hold fillings – or small – to accompany confits and jams and pastes. In some countries whole milk replaced water, and, unsurprisingly, these became known as milk bread rolls.
Milk was an ingredient in tea bread rolls which were enriched with eggs and a higher quantity to fat, to produce a soft, silky bread. They might contain dried fruit and dried peel.
Dinner bread rolls were characteristised by a crisp crust and a soft sponge. They contained less fat and more yeast.
Sugar featured in most breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner bread rolls throughout the 1900s, until it was decided that the quantity of salt determined the quality of the bread, and sweetness was not a criteria.
Small breads were not always round, and for a long time they were shaped like tubes, shorter versions of the Vienna roll. Exceptions included the bagel, the ring-shaped bread of northern Europe, the pirogi, the oval-shaped filled bread of central Europe, pouch-shaped bread of eastern Europe and the crescent-shaped breads that emerged out of Anatolia and Asia.
Viennoiserie defined breakfast breads from the late 1800s, with the baquette and the croissaint. Suddenly bread was light or it was flaky. Hydration became a factor and instead of breads with a 2:3 liquid-solid ratio, the amount of water or milk increased to over 70%. This technique could only be achieved with machinery but it produced an aerated crumb with a softer sponge.
Then it changed again, toward the close of the 1900s, as bakers experimented with numerous ingredients. Milk began to feature prominently in recipes that had previously required water. Cream, kefir and yoghurt became popular liquid mediums and apple juice was found to work if it was combined with cream.
Biscuit ingredients, such as grains and nuts and seeds, were adopted and recipes that were once associated with confectionary became bread ingredients, especially in Switzerland where a bread roll revolution took place in the early 2000s.
Small breads began to feature toppings and traditional breads made a comeback, like the onion and poppy seed topped bread of Poland.
Oils began to replace lard in small breads as bakers realised that olive oil and rapeseed oil added a delicate flavour.
And not before time the sourdough techniques found their way into the ‘brötchen’ tradition and wheat began to lose its dominant position.
Pre-ferments or starters made with rye and water crept into small bread recipes, but it was the advent of spelt flour, white and whole, that changed small bread culture.
At first spelt flour was mixed with the various soft and strong wheat flours, then it broke out on its own, usually with a pre-ferment. Rye flour left its traditional position in northern Europe as the desired flour of the encased pie, to gradually become an essential ingredient in small breads.
Even barley flour, used as a pre-ferment and as an improver, got in on the act.
Generally though small breads are made with soft wheat flours. Soft wheat has more flavour than strong wheat.
Some recipes use a small amount of strong to increase the gluten content. We begin with a bread made with strong white wheat flour, and high fat, salt and water content – the Rowie!
The chocolatiers of hazel mountain on the edge of the Burren in north Clare in the west of Ireland have every reason to celebrate their first year in business. They are heading a trend that is seeing the art of chocolate-making move out of its traditional centres in Belgium and Switzerland, and setting a trend that has been the preserve of large-scale factories for far too long – cocoa bean roasting!
Dara Conboy, a 25-year-old from county Sligo with a background in coffee bean roasting, is the head roaster on hazel mountain. Recruited by John and Kasia Connolly to get the flavour out of the beans they import from Madagascar and other tropical cocoa growing regions, Conboy is an Irish chocolate expert. He can talk chocolate all day long.
Accompanied by Anna Murphy, a young pastry chef employed to make confections with their chocolate, the Connollys and Conboy are a unique team in rural Ireland.
But they are not alone in Europe. The idea that artisan chocolatiers can roast their own cocoa beans and make their own distinctive chocolate has been seeping into the creative consciousness among European food artisans for several years.
This is not about the mass production of an homogenised product, it is about the flavour and taste that can be coaxed out of cocoa beans with their own delicate aromas, then transferred into artisanal chocolate of quality.
Chocolate Whiskey Coffee
1 square Hazel Mountain chocolate, chopped small
1 shot blended Irish whiskey, eg Tullamore Dew
Melt chocolate in hot coffee, stir add whiskey and a pinch of sugar, stir again.
Jellied eels are an integral feature of London’s pie and mash shops, many housed in Victoriana, and despite the collapse of eel fisheries across Europe it is still possible to eat this wonderful delicacy in jellied eel shops across the English capital.
1 kg eels, peeled, gutted
600 ml water / fish stock
3 onions, sliced
30 g sea salt, coarse
30 ml white wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
5 g sea salt, crushed
Black peppercorns, handful
3 bay leaves
Nutmeg, grated (optional)
Spread the eels in a bowl with the coarse sea salt, leave for ten minutes, then rinse the salt off.
In a large saucepan, bring the bay leaves, eels, onions, peppercorns, salt and vinegar to the boil, turn heat to low and simmer until the eels are tender, about 30 minutes.
Remove the eels, leave to cool.
Reduce the remaining stock by two-thirds. Strain, add carrageen and lemon juice, reduce until the seaweed has melted. Strain again and leave to cool.
Cut the eels into the desired sizes, place in jars with the stock, the cooked onions and peppercorns on top. Put in fridge or a cold place to set.
For a richer flavour use a fish stock and add herbs, spices and vegetables.
The Jellied Eel
Not for eating, just for reading about sustainable food in London that could not be more traditional.
Swiss bakery is among the most diverse in Europe, rivalled only by the Turks. Here are four popular treats and a selection of small bread recipes (taken from our small breads book).
Butterzöpfe is the symbolic (Sunday) bread of Swiss bakery, flûtes au fromage are the wonderful cheese sticks from the Vaud canton, roggenbrot, the rye bread of the valleys, goes with air-dried meat, and birnenweggen is pear heaven.
AUSTRIA CZECHIA GERMANY HUNGARY POLAND SLOVAKIA SLOVENIA
When we first encountered lecsó in the Slovene town of Ilirska Bistrica, it was an accompanying sauce with crusty polenta squares and freshly cooked sausages.
Fresh paprika peppers and juicy tomatoes, being plentiful throughout the Balkans, are stewed and bottled for use as a cold condiment. Every household keeps lecsó, made or bought.
And it can be reheated and served as a sauce.
The home-made versions include numerous additional ingredients and variations of ratios between the peppers and tomatoes.
The base is one to one peppers and tomatoes, a third onions and sufficient oil to sauté the onions and coat the ingredients.
The ground paprika quantity is always personal.
Lecsó / Lečo
pepper and tomato condiment
2.5 kg green and red paprika peppers, fresh, de-seeded, chopped
2.5 kg tomatoes, fresh, chopped small
800 g onions, chopped
100 ml olive oil
25 g sweet paprika
10 g hot paprika
10 g sugar
Sauté onions in the oil over a low heat in a deep pot for 15 minutes.
Add peppers, increase heat and cook for ten minutes
Add tomatoes, sugar and paprika, cover and simmer over a low heat for 90 minutes.
Lecsó / Lečo 2
This is Károly Gundel’s recipe from his Hungarian Cookery Book.
2.5 kg green and red paprika peppers, fresh
1 kg tomatoes, fresh
200 g onions, chopped
90 g oil
90 g smoked szalonna / back bacon
1 tsp hot paprika
Salt, large pinch
‘Scald the tomatoes, skin and quarter them. Core the green paprikas (peppers) and cut each into five or six pieces lengthwise. Dice the bacon, brown in oil and add the finely chopped onions. When the onions are browned, add the red paprika, mix, and then add the green paprika and tomatoes, stewing the mixture over a slow fire. If the green paprika are too hot, scald them before putting them into the stew.’
Paprika changed the humble freshwater fish stew of Hungary.
Once made with the great pikes and sturgeons of Laka Balaton and with lesser fish like carp and catfish, stewed whole in an apple, black bread and onion stock, the freshwater fish stew called Halászlé Szeged was transformed with the arrival of hot paprika.
The 1698 ‘Booklet of Chef Craft’ reported the old method.
If you want to cook carp or any fish like it, handle it as follows: gut the fish and if it is clean enough, salt it and let it stand in salt while you prepare its liquid; toast thin slices of bread till they are black and throw them into water to get rid of their burnt smell, then take them out of water and put into a jar, add water, wine and vinegar, cook it all well, then filter it through a sieve; cut apple and onion, fry it in honey together with some cracked walnut and cook it with the fish which previously was freed from the salt and flavour the dish with black pepper, ginger, clove, salt, honey to have it real sweet; serve it hot.
No longer charcoal black, Halászlé Szeged is now blood red, and spicy hot. The onions remain but it is the relentless paprika that defines the dish.
3 kg freshwater fish
2 litres water
1.5 kg onions, chopped
80 g Hungarian hot paprika
Wash, top, tail and fillet fish.
Set fillets aside, place the heads, tails and bones in a large pot of water with the onions and half the paprika. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Strain stock into a clean pot.
Cut the fillets into equal sized pieces.
Bring stock to the boil, turn heat to low and simmer fish pieces for 15 minutes. Add remaining paprika, serve in bowls.
Taking influences from their conquerors and neighbours, somehow the Luxembourgoise have managed to fashion a modest food culture they can call their own – largely because the ingredients are indigenous.