By C H Kwak
Ach, Zurich! The pristine lake, the crisp air, the immaculate streets… and the robust banking sector! The Swiss economy seems blissfully unaware of the global financial meltdown—which is bad news for the rest of us Anglos who, thanks to our ever-weakening (insert floundering currency here), have more or less all become budget travelers.
And in a pricey city like Zurich, staying true to your frugal ways is a daunting challenge.
Cut out all indulgences and extras, but you still have to eat. And we at EuroCheapo refuse to eat microwaveable dinners. So we took on the challenge to eat well and on a budget in Zurich. (Call us crazy, but it can be done.)
When it comes to Swiss food, most folks think of sizzling fondue pots or melted raclette cheese drizzled over potatoes and cornichons. But Zurich, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, has its share of other delectable dishes.
Long before “organic” became the buzzword du jour, a certain 19th-century whole foods advocate named Dr. Maximillian Bircher-Benner invented muesli in his sanatorium in Zurich. We breakfasted on Birchermüsli, the famed breakfast cereal named in his honor, at Café Mohrenkopf (Niederdorfstr. 31; +41-44-262-05-45).
The wholesome cereal of oats, nuts and fresh fruits came topped with tart yogurt and fresh cream. Remember that certain cream cheese commercial, where a spoonful of the white cheese transports the taster to cloud nine? Yeah, that’s how we felt as the dairy melted in our mouths.
At CHF 8, though, Café Mohrenkopf's müsli might be too pricey for some. If so, follow Zurich’s students and young ‘uns to the university cafeteria (Plattenstr. 11; +41-44-634-31-98;), which also serves excellent müsli at breakfast.
With prices that tend to be much cheaper than dinner menus, lunch can be a good time to splurge. We tried Sankt Meinrad (Stauffacherstrasse 163; +41-43-534-8277), which was once awarded a Michelin star. There’s no lengthy menu—just daily selections of stunning gourmet dishes derived from local recipes (think Spätzli: cheesy egg noodles with rosy filet mignon doused in cocoa sauce). While the lunch deal, including wine and water, is significantly more affordable than dinner or meals at other chichi eateries, the CHF 34 price tag is a far cry from budget.
If you want a real deal, we recommend the Kreis 5 branch of Migros M (Hardturmstrasse 11; +41-43-366-6250), a supermarket par excellence. Located in Puls 5, a Zurich West industrial space converted into a shopping and entertainment complex, this Migros exceeds what other supermarkets have tried.
A combination of food court and convenience store, the sprawling shop offers anything and everything from Thai noodles to pipin’ hot pizza to sandwiches made to order. At lunchtime, it’s packed with students and dot-com types from the surrounding start-ups, all vying for coveted indoor and outdoor seating. Grab some food, elbow your way to a table, and eavesdrop on the latest Swiss entrepreneurial ventures in English, German and French.
Dinner is trickier for budget eaters, but cafés and pubs offer good food and company.
At Zum Guten Glück (Stationsstrasse 7; +41-43-540-7299), for instance, we had some mean, hearty Rösti, the humble hashbrowns that embody Gemütlichkeit, or cozy comfort food. Made with coarsely grated potatoes and pungent Swiss cheese, the salty carbs did much to console our thinning wallets.
Other Tips to Eat on the Cheap
Skip bottled water. The good folks of Zurich are very proud of their city’s excellent drinking water, and there are around 1,200 (stunningly gorgeous) stone fountains scattered throughout the city. When thirst hits, instead of shelling out for a pricey bottle, find a fountain, admire and then drink away.
Hit the food court. Supermarket food courts are a thing of beauty in Zurich. In addition to the Migros, we are particular fans of Coop, a local chain that knows how to stock the hot goods.
Take it out. In addition to supermarkets, Zurich also knows how to do food stands and snack bars. Seek these out to save some francs. Especially popular and tasty is Vorderer Sternen (Theaterstr. 22), a snack bar known to have the “best bratwurst in town.”
Get a culinary surprise! “Free” is not a word you hear often in Zurich, but holders of the ZurichCARD are treated to a complimentary “culinary surprise” at various participating restaurants. (Night owls will also appreciate that the ZurichCARD grants free admission to several clubs and lounges.) Read more about the ZurichCARD in our Budget Tips guide to Zurich.
Related posts from our blog
Updated and edited: January 2012