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A local’s guide to Zurich’s progressive plant-based food sc…

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“People feed on good ideas in Zurich,” announces Ity Tiwari, an Indian-born, Zurich-based vegetarian food blogger and chef. “As a vegetarian, I’m continually delighted by the creativity and quality of dishes here. But I’m just as obsessed with Zurich’s humanity and the determination to do things the right way, with many restaurants pioneering zero-waste and community-driven initiatives.” 

Lunch is a little earlier than expected on our gastronomic tour: we’re headed to the new company canteen at On, in Zurich-West. On is one of Switzerland’s best-loved brands, producing Swiss-engineered footwear with a cult following. “On have collaborated with a local vegan eatery called Roots to develop Switzerland’s first 100% plant-based office canteen,” Ity explains. Roots Food Lab — next to the On flagship store — is also open to the public and stars such as Roger Federer have been spotted dining here. An airy, contemporary space, it feels like the workplace of the future — and the vegan buffet is equally pleasing. 

The On canteen may be a new development, but we are about to learn that Zurich has long been forward-thinking when it comes to food. Our next stop is Hiltl, which opened in 1898 and is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest continually open vegetarian restaurant. Here, the in-house, plant-based butcher’s shop, Hiltl Vegimetzg, is Switzerland’s first. Visit for vegan wines, plant milks, cookbooks and innovative plant-based deli meat alternatives.

Hiltl’s Milo Stegmann explains that although only 5% of the Swiss population is strictly vegetarian, many more of Zurich’s citizens regularly enjoy meat-free meals. “In Zurich people eat a vegan lunch without even noticing it’s vegan,” he says. Hiltl is a historic institution, but it’s not content to rely on heritage alone. I ask about community impact and sustainability, and Milo replies: “We took avocados off the menu as we had ethical concerns about water waste, so our chefs developed an alternative pea-based guacamole that’s really popular.” With ever-evolving menus and ethical sourcing, Hiltl is one of a number of Zurich eateries championing positive change. 

In the Old Town, Ity steers us into Café & Conditorei 1842, an indulgent establishment housed in a 13th-century listed building. This historic cafe is now run by the Arbeitskette Foundation, which aims to integrate disadvantaged young people (including participants in Switzerland’s migration programme) into the hospitality industry. Ity tells us they serve the best hot chocolate in the city. As I sip a deliciously creamy cup in the lavishly decorated drawing rooms, I’m inclined to agree. This is a treat on all levels. 

As we continue down Napfgasse, a narrow alley lined with patisseries and delicatessens, Ity points to Schwarzenbach, a heritage grocery that started specialising in bean-to-bar chocolate and fairtrade single origin coffee decades before it was fashionable. 

A little further down is Äss-Bar bakery, which aims to cut down Zurich’s food waste by selling day-old baked goods from the city’s top bakeries at knockdown prices. “This makes quality items, like sandwiches from Sprüngli [Switzerland’s best-known high-end bakery] affordable to students,” explains Ity. “Zurich is a truly international city and this makes the food scene endlessly interesting,” she adds, as we dip into Zurich’s answer to Harrods Food Halls — the grand basement at Jelmoli, the city’s swishest department store. It’s a treasure trove of Swiss and international delicacies, and one could spend hours in the condiments section alone, or tasting slivers of gouda at the cheese counter.

“It’s not just the quality of the locally sourced ingredients that makes Zurich such a great city for food-lovers” says Ity. “It’s the creativity and passion behind the new ventures, too. Food in Zurich isn’t just about good flavours, it’s about good principles.” 

Ity’s top three restaurant recommendations in Zurich

1. Hiltl
With locations across the city, Hiltl’s international vegetarian buffet is now a Zurich institution. Highlights include palak paneer (spinach with Indian cottage cheese). 

2. Marktküche
Awarded both a Michelin star and a Michelin green star for sustainability, Marktküche’s surprise tasting menu (simply choose the number of courses) is the perfect introduction to the calibre of Swiss produce and the creativity of Zurich’s chefs.

3. Markthalle
This bustling covered market hall, in hip Zurich-West, is a must-visit. Start at the grocery Berg und Tal, before moving on to the wine bar, cafe, restaurant and food stalls. 

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