Finally made it to St. Gallen, the city of industrial textile manufacturing, a basic resource that gave rise to important chemical and mechanical engineering capabilities. This city is small for its activities: capital of its canton, education center in Eastern Switzerland, in addition to these business activities.
As I crossed a random street in front of bus and tram stops (a typical transportation setup in Switzerland), a clutch of well-dressed, slender young businessmen rushed past me, chattering in a friendly way in the St. Gallen dialect. They seemed happy. Unusual for Europe.
As I searched for late lunch, I saw a small place on an out-of-the-way corner. The sign said, “Traditional Swiss food.” Usually that is the kind of place to stay away from – touristy, kitschy, expensive.
What made me decide to try it were: three steps up to a door on the left, only a few tables inside including one with and three men casually playing Jass, the Swiss card game that resembles whist.
Was I ever right. I chose to try the raclette, a French-Swiss dish that very few people can get right, including me. Typical of the French, there are few ingredients, but they must be the right ingredients in the right proportion: Raclette cheese, small boiled potatoes, pickles – slightly sweet/slightly sour, and pickled cocktail onions. Ground pepper on top.
Normally, the host holds a half wheel of the cheese held horizontally to a heating element at the dining table. As the cheese melts, the host scraps of the melted part onto a plate already loaded with the other ingredients.
Guests begin to eat immediately before the cheese cools and hardens into a plastic-y substance.
My DDH and I had this one time in 1963, when a French-Swiss grad student at the ZPG invited us to dinner. We were shocked and intrigued. No salad? No meat? No ‘real’ vegetables? No bread?
The St. Gallen restaurant couldn’t use a cheese wheel and big melting apparatus. They solved the problem by arranging halved potatoes around a heavy, heated skillet, putting the cheese on top, and running the skillet under the broiler.
When the cheese was just right, the plate was topped with pickles and little onions, and a wedge of tomato and some nussli salat, a small, dark, lettuce-like green. The dish tasted perfect!
The waitress gave me a city map and museum guide. All I had time for, among the many museums, was the textile museum, which fortunately, was one of my two top picks. More in the next post.