I’m ashamed to say that after living in Switzerland for a year, I haven’t toured outside of Geneva. This year I’ve been to several new and exciting places – in France, Spain, and Japan—but I have yet to explore the country in which I’m currently residing. I would love to see the capital, and experience the diverse regions of Switzerland. Did you know there are three distinct zones in Switzerland? There are four official languages spoken in Switzerland. The zones are split up by the countries Switzerland borders, and the Swiss people speak other countries’ languages instead of an invention of their own, with the exception of Romansh, an old Latin knock-off spoken by less than one percent of Swiss people. Geneva, where I live, is in the French-speaking region. There is a small area in the Alps, in the Southeast corner of the country, where they speak Italian. The largest section of Switzerland is the German-speaking one, in the north, which encompasses the well-known cities Berne, Zurich, and Basel.
With the goal of probing a bit more of the country, I took a lovely little train ride up to the village of Nyon with the same friend who hosted the international dinner. Nyon is a hamlet on a hill, overlooking Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), with winding cobbled streets, castles, and churches. The mossy, tiled roofs, age-stained with colors that mimicked the autumn foliage, stair-stepped down to the waterfront, where geese and ducks still floated despite the icy conditions. Flags bearing the crest of the canton of Vaud cracked in the water’s breezes, proclaiming the city a fishing town of old. Night approached swiftly, as the sun sank behind the Jura Mountains and cast a pinkish glow on the stone dwellings.
I wanted to explore more of the city, but it got too cold when the sun went down, so we marched back up the rocky lanes to find a warm meal. Because Switzerland is divided into the aforementioned regions, it is hard to proclaim a truly national food dish. The same can be said for America; is it hamburgers, or bar-b-que, or fried chicken, or pizza? Here, the highest contenders for that honor are cheese fondue and rösti, both of which I have enjoyed numerous times, to the chagrin of my waistline. But the canton of Vaud, the county that houses Nyon, has another specialty, one that many Southerners would embrace wholeheartedly. It’s called “Malakoff,” and it’s basically just wine-soaked, deep-fried cheese. OMG.
We met up with two more girls and traversed the grape vine-covered hills around Nyon for a restaurant serving Malakoff. The place we found was doing a special, “Malakoff-à-gogo,” which means….wait for it…all-you-can-eat!!! They bring out a salad tossed with a mustard vinaigrette, bread, and pickles. We ordered a bottle of wine (or two). Then, about every 10 minutes, a bell rings out and a woman bearing a loaded tray steps forth from the steam of the kitchen. She passes by every table, filling and refilling to the patrons’ hearts’ content. At our table, we had a competition to see who could eat the most. I tied for first with five and a half. I figured I could overindulge as it was my first time enjoying the delicacy. I was not sorry.
The cheese inside is a typical fondue cheese variety, a Gruyère or a vacherin or an Emmental. It is soaked in a regional white wine for at least an hour. A batter is made, using the same wine, and the hunk of cheese is thickly coated. Then the whole mess is dropped into a deep fryer. The outside becomes crisp like a perfect tater tot. You cut through the middle to let the heat escape, and the cheese oozes out like a molten chocolate cake, thick and bubbly and steaming. They are best when eaten piping hot, soon after removal from the fryer, before the oil has a chance to cool and soak back into the dough. Without a doubt I will be returning to this medieval Swiss town, perhaps when the snow falls and I am in need of the warmth only a gooey, fried cheese ball can provide.