Hello again! This is Kate’s sister, Greta, with part three of my four-part series on interesting differences between life in Switzerland and the US. In this post, let’s talk about grocery shopping in Switzerland.
Because many residents here commute on public transit, many people don’t have cars or drive their cars on a daily basis. Big grocery-shopping trips like I do in the States just aren’t as much of a thing here because you are generally walking your load of groceries home. On top of that, there isn’t fridge, freezer, or pantry space to store a bunch of food (as discussed in my last post). This means that smaller trips to the grocery store happen more frequently and often on a daily basis.
There are two major grocery store chains in Switzerland, Migros (pronounced mee-grow) and Coop. Migros tends to carry more of its own brands of items, and Coop carries a variety of name brands, as well as its own. And they carry some different things. For example, Migros has much better peanut butter than that rarely found at Coop. Kate and Martin shop at both, but definitely have preferences at what to get where.
When you go to the grocery store, in order to use a shopping cart, you have to put a coin in the handle to free it from all the other carts. You can use a 1 or 2 chf coin, which is like $1-2. Then, when you return the cart, at the end of your shopping trip, you can retrieve your coin from the handle.
In the produce section, much of the produce has to be selected and then weighed on a little machine that prints a bar code label that you stick to your bag of produce. Then, when you get to checkout, the cashier only has to scan the produce item rather than typing in a code and weighing it there. There is a great variety of good produce, although it is often limited to seasonal offerings than at home.
The dairy section has a huge variety, as dairy products, including milk and cheese, are a very local product in Switzerland. It is also easy to get soy, almond, rice, and even quinoa milk. Most milk, except for fresh milk, cream, and buttermilk is not refrigerated on the shelf, because it is subject to Ultra High-Temperature Pasteurization (UHT).
Eggs are also not typically refrigerated at the grocery store because they are so fresh, and also not pre-washed like in the US, so there is no need. (More about that here.) The date they were laid is even stamped on the top! They are also sold in odd quantities, with 4, 6, and 10 much more common options than a dozen. Our eggs in the US are often much older by the time we purchase them in the grocery store and also pre-washed, so they have to be refrigerated. I’m not sure how I feel about that! You can also purchase colorful hard-boiled (so-called “pic-nick”) eggs, and these are commonly eaten as a snack along the hiking trail.
One of the unique dairy products here is called quark. It is technically classified as an acid-set cheese product. It is produced by warming soured milk until it curdles. Then, it is strained. In previous trips to Switzerland, I was a little put off by reading how quark is made, so I was reluctant to try it. This time, I tried it, and I was not disappointed. It reminds me of yogurt, with a thicker, fattier texture. Yum! It comes in little containers, just like yogurt, in a great variety of flavors. I love trying as many as possible! The yogurt selection is also huge, with a variety of locally-produced yogurts, soy yogurt, and many more. The yogurt selection from a mid-size Coop is pictured below, at right.
Another dairy item that is just delicious in Switzerland is Mövenpick ice cream. This is a Swiss brand that is available in many other countries, but not in the US. It is so smooth and creamy and they have special edition flavors all the time that are just amazing. If you ever have the opportunity, definitely try Mövenpick!
the meat department
The other section of the store that is a little different than in the US is the meat department. Since I am vegetarian, I don’t shop in the meat department at home much, but it is still apparent to me that in Switzerland, there is a huge variety of cold meat cuts, compared to the US. Often the hot meal of the day is lunch, so cold cuts are very popular, especially as part as an light dinner with cheese and fruit. Otherwise, meat in Switzerland is very pricey.
When your grocery shopping is complete, and you get to the checkout line, you have to be prepared to bag your own groceries in your own bags. They have very small bags, and sometimes, they charge for paper bags. This seems to be something the US is moving toward, at least where I live, and I am happy that this is becoming the expectation so we can prevent all that plastic from ending up in our landfills and oceans.
At the same time, you also have to remember that much of the grocery-related packaging, including egg cartons and yogurt labels, also should be recycled with the cardboard according to the process outlined in my first post. Crazy!