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Eating Well in Vaud
The marvelous culinary delights of the region range from the elaborate concoctions of star chefs to the simplest fare.
What's the common denominator? In any eatery worth its salt, it'll be cuisine du marché: cooking based on fresh market produce. Seasonal is the name of the game.
Like the rest of Switzerland, this region was part of France's Helvetic Republic in 1798 through 1803 and—although Vaud did some time under the House of Burgundy, and borders France to the west—French cooking here, as in la cuisine française, does not come out of historical tradition, but out of the relatively recent, essentially 20th-century, phenomenon that saw French restaurants spring up around the globe.
Which is not to say there aren't cross-influences, French and otherwise, in Vaudois cooking, best sampled in cozy pintes (wine pubs that serve food) that feature the finest local wines.
The villages of Vinzel and Bursins are the best sources for a very local specialty, the Malakoff, which consists of a slice of Gruyère on a piece of toast that is then deep fried. These cheesy delights have always been a favorite of the Vaudois, but after the Crimean Wars they were renamed after a beloved officer who led his army of Vaud-born mercenaries to victory in the siege of Sebastopol.
The highlight of Vaudois cuisine, this dish is the unbeatable combination of slowly stewed leeks and potatoes, white wine, and spices, served with the classic pork-and-cabbage-stuffed sausage, saucisse aux choux.
Filets de Perche
Whether dusted with flour and fried in sweet cream butter à la meunière, or sautéed in a simple white wine sauce, this local fish has a ubiquitous place on every lakeside restaurant menu. There is a reason folks order it year-round—when served with thin, crispy frites and washed down with a chilled Chasselas, your taste buds will find themselves in seventh heaven. Beware that some perch in less trustworthy establishments comes from Eastern Europe, so be sure to ask for the real deal.
Legend has it that the occupied Vaudois chopped up the biggest hanks of ham to avoid giving them to their Bernese rulers. With copious small pieces of meat on their hands, it is only natural that charcuterie reigns supreme in the canton of Vaud. From the traditional Easter or Pentecôte boutefas (sausage stuffed in a pork bladder), to the famous cabbage-stuffed saucisse aux choux typically enjoyed from September to April, there is a smoked sausage to suit all tastes.
Desserts here are some of the best, and most unusual, in the country. The salée au sucre is a popular breakfast item for special occasions. A yeasty, salty doughnut of sorts, it is topped with a deliciously sweet, creamy filling—a Vaudois "cheese Danish" if you will. Real sweet tooths will prefer the carac, a miniature pie filled with dense chocolate ganache and glazed with neon green icing. And if you're tempted by historic desserts of yore, the gâteau à la raisinée or gâteau au vin cuit—sweetened with a thick syrup of reduced pear or apple juice—is a must-try.
Chasselas is to Vaud what Fendant is to Valais—a light, often slightly sparkling, white wine whose popularity is unparalleled in the region. While some say it lacks complex aromatic notes, crisp, clean Chasselas is a perfect match for buttery regional specialties like filets de perche. Be sure to try Chasselas in all its incarnations—the prestigious Dézaley, Mont-sur-Rolle, or Yvorne all make fine additions to any wine cellar.Updated: 09-2013
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