Culinary delights have always been an integral part of us humans. We don’t eat just because it is a physiological process required for the body to function. Rather, it is more of a luxury that we indulge in.
One such place that provides that extra oomph to the palate is located in the heart of Zürich in Switzerland. Right off the thronging streets of Bahnhofstrasse, lies the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world called Haus Hiltl with an aesthetic interior, emanating a soft golden glow.
The Rich History Of Haus Hiltl
According to the Guinness World Records, founded in 1898 by Ambrosius Hiltl, the vegetarian culinary paradise known as Haus Hiltl is the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant.
The restaurant was originally known as Vegetaria and was founded by a family of German immigrants. However, it did not receive much exposure or success. The ones who did consume vegetarian food were trolled and nicknamed as “grazers.” Back in the day, in Switzerland, the idea of having vegetarian food was a foreign intrusive thought as the country thrived on meat and potatoes.
However, the 19th century was the beginning of a new era for Vegetaria. Ambrosius Hiltl was a German tailor who had just moved to Zurich but soon fell seriously ill with a precarious case of rheumatism that had detrimental effects on his career.
But, Hiltl discovered the doctrine and vegetarian diet proposed by the pioneering nutritionist who invented museli – Doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner and decided to cut off meat.
In 1903, the restaurant then called Vegetarierheim was in pieces. Ambrosius Hiltl, who had given up his tailoring profession, came to the rescue and revamped the entire restaurant.
And that’s how Haus Hiltl was born.
What Made The Indian Cuisine So Popular?
In 1951, Ambrosius Hiltl’s daughter-in-law Margrith Hiltl travelled to India as an official Swiss delegate to attend the World Vegetarian Conference in Delhi. This visit to India opened up the door of a whole new cuisine packed with flavor and umami for Margrith Hiltl.
She was so taken by the flavors and spices that on returning to Switzerland the restaurant introduced the Indian cuisine in their restaurant. The menu was well received and the restaurant became increasingly popular, owing to the variety of vegetarian dishes when it came to Indian cuisine.
The restaurant became so popular that it caught the eye of India’s then Prime Minister Morarji Desai who dined at the restaurant when was visiting Switzerland.
In fact, in the 60s, they began delivering to Swiss International Airlines on flights to India with Indian dishes.
The Celebration Of Flavors
With a range of over 100 vegetarian and vegan dishes at the buffet or even à la carte, the options are diverse. They’ve got dishes ranging from our favourite Palak Paneer to the spicy taste of Masala Chai.
Combining Indian, Asian, Mediterranean and Swiss influences, Haus Hiltl’s mind-blowing and unusual menus have introduced generations of Swiss and Europeans to a rich amalgamation of veggies, breaking the stereotype that a vegetarian dish always needs a protein to shine.
On returning, Margrith Hiltl taught her staff how to recreate the Indian cuisine, and the restaurant took off. Out of all the dishes that have been pioneered by her, one stood out of the flock. That being, her thali platter which had the perfect balance of rich and luxurious along with spices and freshness.
The thali is a cured combination of a variety of curries served with ginger raita, mango pickles, coconut chutney along with aromatic rice, crispy poppadum, flatbread and naan.
Another one of her curated and popular recipes would include the Banana Madras which throbs with Indian spices and flavors. It is a rich curry served with rice, a juice ripe banana, slices of apple and kiwi.
Apart from these, we have a very creamy and silky stroganoff, pakodas, chole and many other Asian delights that would keep the consumers wanting more.
The Fascinating Architecture of Haus Hiltl
The restaurant was renovated in 2012 and looks straight out of a classic contemporary French movie. It is a two-storey restaurant with lush chandeliers, opulent upholstery, wooden paneled floor and multifaceted furnishings to make up the first floor.
The speciality of this floor is the wall adorned with pictures that showcases the history of Haus Hiltl. The picture wall also includes the portrait of the first Prime Minister of India – Morarji Desai.
The glass railings lining the stairs have proven to be every children’s fancy as they can write and draw on those railings with felt pens. What sets the restaurant apart from most others is the slanting glass around the kitchen which allows the guests to look into the kitchen.
The second floor is divided into three sections and each section represents a theme of their own. For example, for one section, we’ve got a very archaic Victorian era theme going on with brass accents and large, ornate mirrors whereas another section is all about the modern crowd with colorful sofas and unique light fixtures.
There’s also a Hiltl Academy on the fifth floor of the building. This academy offers culinary courses, kitchen parties, chef’s tables, bachelorette parties and dietary advice.
Hence, if you’re ever around Switzerland, do drop in for a day packed full of umami and flavors.
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