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 with potatoes and pickles --- saw the longest queue.
“The cheese is warmed so it melts and becomes 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, my hometown.”
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 device called a “Raclette oven” and then simply scraped off the melted cheese from the unmelted part with a knife, pouring it on boiled potatoes. Gross also proudly presented a “charcoal Raclette oven” which he said was the only one in the world, since he had designed and built it himself.
Other food items available at the festival included sausages, cheese cakes and several desserts. People were also seen buying varieties of packaged Swiss cheeses, chocolates, Buendnerfleisch — a kind of dried beef — and products such as Swiss army knives and mugs from different stalls. A lucky draw was also held during the event with Swiss watches and airline tickets being some of the top prizes.
An estimated 1,000 people, including guests from the business community, government officials, representatives from Islamabad’s civil society and members of the diplomatic community, attended the festival, which began in the morning and went on till the late afternoon.
Families, especially 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 Honourary 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, a dealer of the Swiss Omega watches in Pakistan, said he had visited Switzerland and was all praise for the Swiss.
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.
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 had already been sold.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2013.
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