With cheese and chocolates, Swiss food festival attracts crowds

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Nov 3, 2013.

Islamabad – The aroma of melted Swiss cheese, wafting through the air at the Swiss Embassy on Saturday, did not just excite the taste buds. It also appeared to accentuate the happiness and spirit of generosity which seemed aplenty at the Swiss Food Festival 2013.

With the festival, the Embassy of Switzerland in Islamabad continued its annual tradition of bringing authentic Swiss food and internationally renowned Swiss products to the federal capital.

Ambassador of Switzerland to Pakistan Christoph Bubb said food is an important part of cultural exchange.

“The food festival offers a unique opportunity for Pakistanis and expatriates to meet and learn about each other’s traditions,” the Ambassador said.

Switzerland is famous worldwide for its dairy products and chocolates and, among the Swiss delicacies on offer at the festival, the stall serving Raclette — melted cheese served with potatoes and pickles — saw the longest queue.

“The cheese is warmed so it gets melted and creamy,” explained Laurent Gross, who works at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and supervised the Raclette stall. “It’s from Valais province in Switzerland, where I am also from.”

Raclette got its name because of the manner in which it is served. The name of the cheese, Gross said, is derived from the French word racler which means to scrape off.

At the festival, Gross and his fellow servers warmed halves of cheese wheels in a “Raclete oven” and then simply scraped off the melted cheese from the un-melted part with a knife, pouring it on boiled potatoes.

Other Swiss food items available at the festival included Swiss sausages, cheese cakes and other desserts. People were also seen buying different varieties of packaged Swiss cheeses, chocolates, Buendnerfleisch — a kind of dried beef — and products such as Swiss Army knives and mugs.

A lucky draw was also held during the event with Swiss watches and airline tickets being some of the prizes.

An estimated 1,000 people, including guests from the business community, government officials, representatives from Islamabad’s civil society and members of the foreign diplomatic community, attended the festival which began in the morning and went on till the late afternoon.

Families with children enjoyed their food in the shade on a grassy knoll near the food stalls and a kid’s corner offered activities such as face painting to keep the kids busy.

The sunny November afternoon provided an almost picnic-like setting for the food festival.

“It’s a very pleasant afternoon and everything at the festival is great,” Nari Suleman Khan, the wife of the Swiss Honorary Consul General in Lahore, said.

While Khan said she thought the cheese cake was “out of this world,” Harris Shafique said he loved the carrot cake.

Shafique, who works with New Era Watches which is a dealer of the Swiss Omega Watches in Pakistan and said he had visited Switzerland, was all praise for the Swiss people.

“The Swiss are the simplest, most pleasant people who appreciate diversity and are very welcoming,” he said. “They have very strong institutions which is something we dearly need in our country.”

Bubb said the proceeds from the festival would go to the Mashal Model School, a charity educational institute that educates underprivileged children near the Bari Imam shrine.

“We want to contribute in our modest manner to the work of the school’s laudable cause,” he said. “If the Embassy is the able to raise around $10,000 for the school, if we do, it would be a great achievement.”

From the crowd’s response, it seemed the festival was on its way to raising a generous donation for the school. By 2pm, Marianne Baumeyer at the stall selling Swiss Army knives, said around 120 knives and most of the 200 mugs for sale had already been sold.

“It’s fantastic, since the money is going to charity,” Baumeyer said.

The festival was sponsored by Wilson’s, Qatar Airways, Swiss Air and Nestle among other companies.

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