Zurich, Switzerland, is like no other place I’ve ever visited, from the moment I landed, everything seemed to flow seamlessly. It ‘worked’. It’s hard to put into words this feeling of events aligning, meandering from one occasion to the next, but trust me on this one. From touch down to passport control and to finding the ticket office to catch the (short) train to Zurich HB, my friend Leila and I had no issues.
Add to that how everyone we encountered was very friendly, I could tell we were in for a great weekend. As a linguist by degree, I do hate that I cannot speak the language, although I did try to put my GCSE-level German to use. Our host, Celine (the mastermind behind the gorgeous Blueberrysmiles), had informed us that everyone could speak English as it is a very international city, but I still felt the need to head up interactions with “Hallo, I’m English…”.
As well as visiting the cities treasures, the old town and the stunning lake, we ATE. We ate the most amazing food, discovered an up and coming vegan scene, spent lots of time in health food stores and devoured lots of plant-based goodness. I’ve summarised our ventures below, which you may recognised from my Instagram stories at the time:
There is good reason why this is known as the “First and Leading Vegetarian Restaurant in the World” as quoted here.
Hiltl is the Swiss “mother” of Tibits, which we have here in London. It is a pay-by-weight haven for vegans and vegetarians, alike. You won’t find it full of hippy, stereotypical ‘vegans’ set in a dark and dingy alleyway. Instead, it is blooming and business is clearly booming. There are so many as 10 Hiltl locations across Zurich including one Hiltl Shop (check out their range of teas), one Club and one Academy where guests put their cooking skills to the test.
We actually went to Hiltl twice in our 4-day getaway, it was that good. Think stretches of warm curries, grains and ‘meaty’ alternatives, alongside a colourful array of salads, vegetables and the most gorgeous dips and chutneys. Don’t forget about the help yourself dessert section (I’m informed the chocolate mousse is to die for), fresh juices and bread rolls warm from the oven. The first time we went to the stunning rooftop Hiltl Dachterrasse, which is a green oasis above the rooftops of Zurich, with a live DJ. The ambiance was beautiful; women drinking cool glasses of wine spritzers, friends gossiping over plant-based plates and guys toasting the weekend with a beer. I enjoyed delicious dolmades, mini ‘meaty’ sausages, the most amazing white bean, apricot and walnut salad, a yummy ginger vegetable slaw, a wakame noodle dish and date chutney – among other things!
The second time, we went to the Haus Hiltl celebrating its 120th year. As well as offering the largest buffet – stretching two floors – it also has an à la carte restaurant menu. We opted for the buffet selection and I had a totally different plate. The guacamole called my name, as well as the asparagus and pea salad, broccoli and edamame, olive tomato orecchiette, balsamic tofu (a must-try), and a Thai peanut tofu slaw to name a few.
After a leisurely breakfast at home (acai bowls for three please! With all the toppings, of course) we spent the early afternoon wandering around Zurich in the glorious sunshine before heading for some lunch to take as a picnic by the lake. Celine was desperate to try Stripped Pizza which has a delicious vegan pizza on a hemp base, complete with nut-based cheese and lots of vegetables. Leila and I fancied something a bit fresher and were delighted to find Gärtnerei.
This is a healthy café that caters for everyone, with an emphasis on fresh and wholesome ingredients, though not fully plant-based. We opted for the make-your-own-salad, where you choose a base, 5 toppings and a dressing. For an indecisive duo, you can imagine this took a while! My body craved fresh leaves, crunchy vegetables and a hearty protein, so my box of mixed leaves, broccoli, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado and chickpeas hit the spot – drizzled in a scrumptious sesame dressing. What I also loved is that the dressing came in a separate pot so you can gradually add as much as you like – though it was so delicious I could have drunk the dressing straight!
I’m not a big dumpling fan, but as the night grew dark and out stomachs began to rumble, we fancied a quick dinner close to our base. Lucky Dumpling was a suggestion that I was happily surprised with. After ordering the Chickpea Noodles and being told they were small, with very few vegetables, some chickpeas and a bit of sauce on the side, I was overwhelmed at the bowl that arrived in front of me. The udon noodles are homemade – they also offer GF soba noodles, too, which Leila opted for with the Spicy Tofu Noodles – and they were delicious. Almost chewy, they tasted so fresh. I was met with an abundance of vegetables, a thick sauce and lots of chickpeas – a far cry from what I was expecting. The chain also has a specific Lucky Noodle establishment which I’d be interested to try as there were limited options here for vegans.
Roots and Friends
The ultimate (foodie) highlight of the weekend and perhaps the best brunch. Ever. After a scary, but fun, Muscle Burner Workout at the attached Balboa gym downstairs, we enjoyed a brunch feast fit for vegan queens (and Celine’s boyfriend!). Roots and Friends is fully vegan, not that they shout out about it at all. Instead their focus is on excellent quality, beautiful presentation in a laid-back atmosphere. While we were there, every table was reserved, so I highly recommend booking in advance, and there was such a mix of people from all backgrounds with all kinds of interests. The menu is vast, with protein smoothies for pre or post workout, bowls and plates of food, small snacks and delicious treats to take away.
The brunch was pricey at 32CH each, but you get your money’s worth and we didn’t need to eat all day! You choose one main dish from four, and also included is a jar of creamy coconut overnight oats with cacao crumble, banana and blueberry, passionfruit, a lemon-ginger-chilli juice shot, beet hummus, crackers, homemade crème fraiche and berry jam. I opted for most epic avocado toast: thick spelt bread spread with almond butter, topped with creamy avocado slices and a chilli grape salsa. It was served with a tamari dressed chickpea and mixed leaf salad and I savoured every mouthful. Celine and her boyfriend opted for the largest acai bowls I’ve ever seen topped with granola, peanut butter, and fruit, while Leila enjoyed the Protein Pancake Brunch. The spelt-based blueberry pancakes were layered with soya yoghurt, banana and almond butter drizzled in date syrup. We also tried their banana bread, which was so moist and rivals my own banana bread! Needless to say, we rolled ourselves out of our picturesque brunch spot.
While the name may be misleading, we all had salad bowls as opposed to soup on the day we left Zurich. Meeting Celine on her lunch break, Simply Soup ticked all the boxes: a fresh, vibrant and filling lunch. This is a small café with cute pavement seating, a range of snacks and sweets, hot dishes like soup and dahl, bagels as well as colourful salads and bowls. Again, this isn’t fully vegan, but the options all sounded delicious. The girls both loved their Asian Soba Noodle Bowl filled with soba noodles, edamame, mango, avocado, carrots, broccoli and a satay sauce. I chose the Crunchy Kale Quinoa Bowl which was beautiful and so fresh. White quinoa topped with kale, carrots, chabis, fennel, apple, pomegranate in a bright orange olive oil dressing. I was also intrigued by their beet hummus and avocado bagels and if the weather had been cooler, I’m sure I would have loved the creamy dahl.
Part of the vegan organic buffet café The Sacred, Vegelateria answered our dairy-free ice cream questions on a hot and sunny Swiss afternoon. They offered about 20 different flavours, and we were encouraged to sample flavours, too. Rather uniquely, the ice cream was rated from 1-3 based on the ingredients. Level 1 was soya-based ice creams with more sugar than the others, while level 2 was soya-free using a base of almond puree and rice milk, and level 3 ice creams were raw made from raw fruits, apple juice and almond puree. I love nutty ice creams, so I gravitated towards the Pistachio, while Leila sampled the pink Raspberry and Celine, true to her name, went for the Blueberry and the Brazil Nut. Delicious! The best ice cream outside of Italy. I can also vouch for the deliciousness of the chocolate ice creams and was very tempted the liquorice, the hazelnut and the strawberry.
A foodie haven! When we get together, the food-talk never seems to stop, so we had to check out a few shops while we were in Zurich. Alnatura is a delicious brand as well as a large shop, too. From colourful fresh vegetables, to an array of plant-based milks, grain alternatives and nut butters, this shop has you covered. We spent a good chunk of time just looking at the chocolate and snack bar aisle. The range of vegan chocolate available was amazing as were the bars. The large Roo bars aren’t yet available in the UK but are 100% raw organic superfood bars and come in cool flavours like chia and coconut and maca and cranberry, while their protein range is great post-gym fuel. Alnatura have a great range of own-brand goodies, too. I was treated to a white matcha chocolate bar (the cacao butter gives the creamy white aspect with a great matcha boost) and the coconut chocolate bar is so yummy. I also found super cheap amaranth puffs, so in the suitcase they went.
I hope my short time in Zurich may encourage you to venture to the beautiful city. As I say, there is also lots more to do besides discovering the food scene, but it’s a good place to start! Have you been? I would love to hear your opinions, where you’ve eaten or other great vegan-friendly cities, please leave a comment below!