What are your favorite treats at Swiss Christmas markets? I’m thinking about the traditional food and drink you generally find only once a year, throughout the month of December. Here’s a brief list of some common Christmas market fare from Switzerland, based on my visits during the last three years to these festive holiday events on both sides of the Röstigraben.
In French-speaking Switzerland, hot mulled wine is known as vin chaud, but on the German-speaking side, the signs at the Christmas markets change to glühwein. Vendors have large pots full of steaming red wine, seasoned with ingredients like cinnamon sticks, star anise and citrus fruits. The few times we’ve made vin chaud at home, we’ve used Dôle, a red wine from Valais. It makes your home smell like Christmas. I need to make some again soon!
Recipe: Glühwein from the Swiss Consulate of New York
When the roasted chestnut (marrons in French, marroni in German) vendor appears in our neighborhood, it’s a sure sign that winter and the Christmas season have arrived. After removing the hard outer shell, you’ll find a warm chestnut inside with that distinct, yet mild flavor
Recipe: “How to Roast and Peel Chestnuts” from Martha Stewart
Magenbrot literally means “stomach bread” in German. According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, the name developed because the spices and sugar contained in the bread were supposed to aid digestion. Instead of wheat flour, recipes for Magenbrot call for rye flour, which gives the gingerbread a little more texture. These fragrant little cookies are usually coated in a thin icing. You’ll see Magenbrot sold in pink paper bags at Swiss Christmas markets.
Recipe: Magenbrot from Rosa’s Yummy Yums
Each year on December 6th, Swiss children receive treats from Saint Nicholas—the patron saint of children. He hands out peanuts, chocolates, mandarin oranges and rectangular Swiss gingerbread (biscômes or pain d’épices in French and lebkuchen in German). It typically contains some honey and a mix of spices, such as cinnamon, coriander, anise, cloves and mace.
Recipe: Cœurs en pain d’épices from Swissmilk (in French)
Related to lebkuchen/pain d’épices is biber, which originated in the Swiss canton of Appenzell. This sweet and dense treat contains a layer of almond paste sandwiched between two pieces of gingerbread. The photo below shows biber emblazoned with white bears, a traditional style from canton of Bern. Biber is popular throughout the year, but the larger and decorated versions are more typical at Christmastime.
Recipe: Appenzeller Biberli from Swissmilk (in German)
Grittibänz/Bonhomme en Pâte
Grittibänz (German) or Bonshommes de Pâte (French) are little bread men made at Christmastime that likely date back to the 16th century, according to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse. Very loosely translated, Grittibänz apparently means something like “old frail man walking with his legs spread apart.” They come in all shapes and sizes, but usually have raisins for eyes and are sprinkled with coarse grains of sugar. Not surprisingly, they are very popular with children.
Recipe: Bonshommes en pâte from Migros Migusto
In addition to the food and drink listed above, you can also find things like crêpes, fondue, raclette, sausages, soft baked pretzels and more. However, these foods aren’t limited to the holiday season.
Want to visit some Swiss Christmas markets this season? For more information, Schweiz Tourismus has compiled a list of the upcoming Christmas Festivals and Markets.
What do you like to eat and drink at Swiss Christmas markets? What would you add to my list? Please leave a comment below or send me an email. Thanks!
Updated: December 29, 2022