We were in Switzerland for more than three weeks on a project that we were working on and were staying in Uster, about 20 kilometres from Zurich. As we are strict vegetarians (no meat, no fish, no eggs) we had a tough time when it came to fulfilling our basic need of food. We were surviving on bread, apples and salads with an occasional pizza, lasagne or risotto. Our Indian palates were missing the tingle of the chillies and spices of India and we were on the verge of feeling homesick.
One beautiful evening after finishing work we joined two of our local colleagues and made our way to Zurich to spend some time in the picturesque city. We spent the evening walking through the lanes of Zurich and gazing at the swans gliding graciously on the Zurich River.
Soon it was time for dinner and our colleagues conversed amongst themselves in German and finally nodded their heads in agreement. They beamed at us and said that they had a surprise for us.
We walked into Haus Hiltl for our dinner and just as we were bracing ourselves for another bland dose of bread, butter and fruits, our colleagues surprised us by telling us that this was a vegetarian restaurant and we would be having a buffet dinner. We could eat whatever we fancied without fear, as everything was vegetarian!
We looked at the huge buffet line up, there were at least four long rows laden with vegetarian food. We held our plates in anticipation as we walked slowly through the buffet heaping our plates with food. There was rice, curries, samosas (Swiss version), chole (chick pea curry), pakoras (veg fritters), vadas (lentil fritters) and many, many more vegetarian dishes which reminded us of home.
We lugged our heavily laden plates towards our table and were surprised that there was a counter at the end of the buffet with a weighing scale? We were required to place our plates on the scales and out popped our bill for the food that we had piled up high!
We enjoyed the food, slowly revelling in the aroma and taste that made us feel as if we were back home in India. We thanked our hosts for their wonderful and thoughtful surprise and made our way back home, treasuring that special moment when we tasted the flavors of our homeland, faraway in Zurich.
Years later we realized that Hiltl features in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first vegetarian restaurant in the world. It was founded in 1898 by Ambrosius Hiltl and is currently run by the fourth generation of the Hiltl family. It offers more than five hundred dishes and has, of late, also included eggs in its menu. Indeed it is an oasis in Zurich for vegetarians.