Like any Swiss etiquette, the Swiss diet revolves around a schedule with its own set of social rules and typical Swiss foods depending on the time of day.
There are few things that define a culture as much as their traditions and customs around eating, and there’s nothing more Swiss than adopting the five daily meals in Switzerland – Zmorge, Znüni, Zmittag, Zvieri and Znacht – and the typical Swiss foods that we eat at different meals and the proper conduct at a Swiss table.
This guide goes over the different Swiss meals, and gives tips on integrating the Swiss diet into your daily life. According to health, lifestyle and diet expert Orsolya Szathmári, it has many health advantages.
Orsolya Szathmári is a health optimization expert in the field of Holistic Healthcare located in Switzerland. She offers six weeks to six months programmes, individually tailored to help improve your general health and lifestyle. Orsolya is a certified naturopath and nutritionist and offers expertise in the area of nutritional therapy, bioresonance, and energy medicine.
Swiss diet: breakfast, or Zmorge
Zmorge is the Swiss German word for breakfast. It is an abbreviated form of the two words ‘zu’ (to, at) and ‘morgen’ (morning) and literally means ‘in the morning’. This obviously makes sense, since breakfast is eaten in the morning hours of the day.
During the week, many Swiss people take their Zmorge between 6.30am and 7.30am, depending on when school starts or what time they have to catch their train to work. On weekends breakfast time is usually around 9am.
The hour of Zmorge is not the only difference between a midweek and a weekend breakfast in Switzerland. During the week, Swiss people eat simpler and faster breakfasts because there is no time to indulge. But it’s a different story on the weekends, particularly for Sunday brunch which is a big deal. We even have a word to describe the manner in which we eat ‘weekend Zmorge‘: zmörgele – to eat breakfast in a leisurely fashion.
Here are the typical Swiss food you can expect during Zmorge during weekdays and weekends in Switzerland.
A typical midweek Zmorge looks much like breakfast in many other places of the world. It usually includes one of the following:
- slice(s) of bread or rolls with butter and jam, coffee, tea or hot milk
- bowl of cereal with milk, coffee or tea
- bowl of Müesli with fruit and yoghurt, coffee or tea
- Gipfeli (Swiss croissant) and coffee.
This list is not conclusive. Breakfast is very individual and partly depends on whether you are a morning person or not. In fact, I know quite a lot of Swiss who leave the house in the morning without eating any breakfast.
The situation changes on weekends, especially on Sundays. Swiss people love their Sunday brunches. Yes, we incorporated the word brunch into the Swiss German language – that’s how much we like it!
Sundays in Switzerland are meant for extensive and rich Zmorge and there is one ingredient that should not be missing on the breakfast table: Zopf. It is a tasty, braided bread that we prepare (and that is sold) on weekends only.
Other typical dishes to prepare your weekend Zmorge include:
- eggs (fried, scrambled, hardboiled)
- fried bacon
- Röschti (potato pancake)
- different kinds of jam
- a selection of cheeses
- a selection of cold cuts
- coffee or tea.
Swiss diet: The ‘at nine’ meal of Znüni
The Swiss German word Znüni is a short form of the German ‘zu neun’, which literally means ‘at nine’. It refers to a meal or snack that is eaten at or around 9am. A non-literal translation for Znüni would be mid-morning snack.
Znüni is a custom all over Switzerland that exists in schools, companies and homes. Some companies even encourage their employees to take a mid-morning break and enjoy a conversation and a cup of coffee with their colleagues. It supposedly improves productivity.
Usually Znüni contains fruit, rolls or croissants and is accompanied by hot coffee, tea or juice. For example, a typical Znüni from my school years had to include a Swiss apple. Some schools even provided Znüni apples for all the children. However, there are no strict rules on what to eat or drink during your Znüni break – it depends on your personal preferences.
The word Znüni is used in combination with other words such as:
- Znünibrot – Znüni bread
- Znüniwägel – Znüni food truck
- Znünipause – Znüni break
- Znüniöpfel – Znüni apple
Swiss diet: The ‘noon’ meal of Zmittag
Zmittag is the Swiss German word for lunch and is a short form of ‘zu Mittag’, which means ‘at noon’. This logically implies that in Switzerland, Zmittag is eaten at midday.
However, Zmittag is not very representative of Swiss culture. Lunch in Switzerland is usually a hot meal and hot meals here have become very international. The Swiss like to eat Italian, Thai, Chinese, vegetarian and pretty much everything you can think of. There are some traditional dishes like Züri Gschnätzlets (Zurich-style ragout of veal) or Basler Mehlsuppe (flour soup from Basel) that are great for Zmittag but one can only eat them once in a while, right?
What is special about Swiss Zmittag then? In Switzerland, the time between 12pm and 1pm is dedicated to rest and relaxation. Any kind of loud noise is not allowed during this time. Lawn mowing and drilling holes in the wall are frowned upon. Some people even consider it rude to call someone on the phone during this hour, even if mobile phones have changed this quite a bit.
Swiss diet: The ‘at four’ meal of Zvieri
Zvieri literally translates to ‘at four’ and refers to a small meal eaten around 4pm. The unofficial time ranges between 3pm and 5pm. If a meal is eaten before 2pm or after 6pm it is considered lunch or dinner respectively.
Much like Znüni it is more a snack than an actual full meal and usually consists of cold foods like fruits, a small sandwich or a pastry.
In summer time ice-cream is a popular Zvieri treat. Other summer Zvieri favourites are the typical Swiss summer fruits like grapes, strawberries, cherries or apricots. If it’s hot people tend to skip coffee and go for a cold drink like juice or soda.
During the colder months a hot beverage, like tea or coffee, is almost a must for every Zvieri break. It is usually accompanied by winter snacks like mandarinas, peanuts or a (Christmas) cookie.
Swiss diet: The night meal of Znacht
Znacht comes from the German ‘zu Nacht’, which basically means ‘at night’. A typical eating habit in Switzerland is to have dinner at the beginning of the night from 6pm to 7pm. Only during winter nights do dinners start before the usual time. During the long days of summer Znacht is often eaten on the balcony or on the patio to enjoy the warmth and light of Swiss summer evenings.
Unlike lunch, which is usually a warm meal, dinner traditionally consists of cold foods. Typical Swiss foods eaten during dinner are sometimes also called ‘Café complet’, which includes the following:
- Swiss bread (usually a whole loaf that is cut at the table)
- a variety of cheeses
- a variety of cold cuts
- different jams
- a hot drink (coffee or tea).
Of course you can add any ingredient you like to your Znacht. Many people also warm up leftovers from lunch, fry an egg or prepare hot soup especially on cold winter days.