An annual hike on the first day of March through the canton of Neuchâtel, known as the Marche du Premier Mars, symbolizes the march taken by revolutionaries to overthrow the rule of a Prussien King and establish a democratic form of government in 1848. Of course, every holiday has its food traditions, and in Neuchâtel, the special dish is… tripe! I participated in the walk this year, and while I didn’t eat any tripe—although I’ve identified some local restaurants where I can find it—I certainly took advantage and sampled other local foods along the route.
Marche du Premier Mars
Approximately 850 people participated in the 2016 Marche du Premier Mars, as well as 180 Swiss soldiers. Participants could choose one of two routes, either starting at the Maison de l’Absinthe in Môtiers or at the Château de Monts in Le Locle. I opted for the 30-kilometer route from Môtiers. Before we started walking, I sampled a piece of Taillaule, a delicious brioche loaf at the absinthe museum, and then had some of the Swiss military chocolate provided by the soldiers at various stops for ravitaillement (refueling) along the way.
The Swiss military chocolate, which I really like, is a milk chocolate bar with crunchy corn flakes, as well as cola extract with caffeine. It seems like a good chocolate bar for breakfast, doesn’t it? From several sources, I’ve learned that Swiss military officers actually have a different chocolate bar made of a fine, dark chocolate, which I have yet to see. I also tried some Swiss military biscuits, which are crisp and slightly sweet. (As an aside, my friend told me about participating in a competition among his fellow soldiers to try and eat three of these biscuits in one minute without a drink. He said the first one is easy, but after that it’s much harder!).
For lunch, we sat in the Salle Communale in Rochefort and had a hearty meal of vegetable soup, thick slices of bread and cheese, and an apple. My friend treated me to a cold Boxer beer, and we continued on our hike until the Château. I had read beforehand that tripe was a traditional dish served for Neuchâtel’s independence day, and was hoping to try some at lunch, but at the same time I felt a sense of relief at having avoided it…
Tripes à la Neuchâteloise
Tripe comes from a cow’s stomach, and you’ll find it served at restaurants as Tripes à la Neuchâteloise around the time of Premier Mars in the canton of Neuchâtel. The tripe I’ve seen sold at supermarkets around town is typically pre-cooked for your convenience. If you’re using raw tripe, one of my Neuchâtel cookbooks (Neuchâtel à Table, Marcel North and Jacques Montandon) recommends cooking it first for about five hours in salted water.
Recipes for Tripes à la Neuchâteloise typically call for the pre-cooked tripe to be simmered in bouillon with either wine, vinegar or lemon juice. When it’s done, the usual accompaniments are potatoes, vinaigrette, mayonnaise, onions and capers–seems like a lot of strong flavors to mask the taste and texture of the tripe, but since I haven’t tried it yet, I must keep an open mind…
Where to eat tripe: If you’re feeling more adventurous than me and want to taste Tripes à la Neuchâteloise, here are some restaurants in the canton of Neuchâtel where you can find it:
- Le Chapeau de Napoléon, Fleurier – recommended to me by a kind gentlemen who noticed me gawking at the tripe in my local butcher’s window.
- Le Jura Brasserie, Neuchâtel – recommended to me by the local tourism office, it’s generally served at this restaurant from September to April.
- Festin Neuchâtelois, an event hosted by 12 different restaurants throughout the canton of Neuchâtel on Saturday, March 13, 2016 that features a feast of local food specialities, and Tripes à la Neuchâteloise is on the menu at Les Six-Communes in Môtiers.