A Taste of Now: Discovering Basel’s Experimental Food Scene

A Taste of Now: Discovering Basel’s Experimental Food Scene

From food waste-fighting market halls to multi-hyphenate restaurants, Basel’s food scene is a riot of fresh flavours and clever concepts. Sate your (sustainable) cravings with a cutting-edge culinary tour of the Swiss city

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Basel, the pursuit of pleasure is taken seriously. Visit the
Swiss city in the summer months and you’ll spot the post-work crowd
flocking to the banks of the Rhine, stuffing their laptops and
suits into colourful waterproof-nylon Wickelfisch bags, leaping
into the water clutching these floating balloons, and gliding
downstream to their preferred buvette (open-air eatery) for a cold
Ueli beer and a bite. It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant commute
from uni or the office, and the sight of students, pharma and tech
workers and creatives bobbing along happily perfectly sums up the
work-hard, play-hard nature of Basel.

Even on a Tuesday lunchtime, visiting Basel’s 1929-built
Markthalle, a vast, brutalist covered food
market, feels like a party. Inside, 40 international food stalls
surround a communal seating area, where local workers noisily
gather to fill up on dishes from countries including Ukraine, Sri
Lanka, Israel, Vietnam, Argentina and Nepal. All the vendors are on
board with the Markthalle’s pioneering food-waste programme,
operated in partnership with United Against
and Foodways, which evaluates the amount of food waste
generated by each stall and provides metrics to help combat
overproduction and oversized portions, contributing to
Switzerland’s ambitious aim to reduce food waste by 35 per cent by

Pasta preparation at Markthalle, Basel
Markthalle, Basel

Markthalle, home to stalls serving over 40 international

Basel has always been associated with innovation. In the Middle
Ages, the town became a centre for the dyeing of ecclesiastical
ribbons; later, this evolved into a pioneering chemical and
pharmaceutical industry. It was here in Basel, too, in 1943, that
Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann invented and ingested LSD, becoming
one of the first European advocates for psychedelic therapy. Today,
the city is perhaps best known for its billionaire-luring Art Basel art fair, and a lively modern
architecture scene boasting constructions by Richard Meier, Frank
Gehry and Mario Botta alongside works by local big-hitter firms
such as Christ & Gantenbein, Diener & Diener and Herzog
& de Meuron. For lovers of architecture, and food, it pays to
sleep centrally: we opt for the Hotel
, a stylish 68-room boutique hotel in the heart of the
Old Town with a roof terrace overlooking the Marktplatz, an area
steeped in history. And a little bit of history helps travellers
unlock this enigmatic city, because it’s Basel’s combination of
efficiency, enterprise and exuberant love for life that flavours
the city’s gastronomic scene, too.

Take the surreal, expansive harbour district of Holzpark
Klybeck, where artists’ studios, bars and cultural collectives are
housed in former industrial shipping containers, old boats and
wooden shacks. One of the city’s best-loved venues is home to
restaurant Gannet, a former lightship repurposed to house an
unfussy Italian-inspired eatery, with an upper-deck bar for
grapefruit spritzes overlooking the Rhine, and a basement music
venue where an electro gig was soundchecking as we dined on
homemade penne. This side of the city, across the Rhine from the
old town and commercial district, is Kleinbasel, aka “Little Basel”
or “Lesser Basel” – not that there’s anything remotely inferior
about it. Instead, the area has a bohemian, lived-in vibe.

The team behind culinary cooperative Squadra Violi

The team behind Squadra Violi, a pop-up culinary cooperative
in the city.

Chatting to young vendors at the Markthalle, we’re told about an
intriguing pop-up “no beach bar” near the Novartis Campus, so we
cross the Rhine and ride north on our e-bikes until we find
ourselves at a repurposed industrial quarter that has been cannily
converted into a lido without a pool or a beach by a band of
brothers – culinary cooperative Squadra Violi. This pop-up is part of a series of
experiments by the three Salerno siblings, including a zero-waste
ravioli business and a new Italian restaurant, Mezzo Mezzo. It’s
already become one of the coolest eateries in town.

Sipping a botanically-infused spritz at the bar, we tell Fabio
Salerno about our culinary exploration of his city, and how struck
we’ve been by the quiet confidence exuded by all the chefs,
entrepreneurs and artisans that we’ve spoken to. But what makes him
and his crew so open to experimentation? “I think it’s not being
afraid of failure,” says Salerno. “If failing doesn’t scare you,
there’s no limit to what you can dream up and create.” His words
sum up the spirit we’ve tasted all around the city – a distinctly
Swiss sense of security that underpins creativity; a conviction
that good ideas will naturally succeed. Basel is a city where good
ideas – be they a medical breakthrough, a pioneering architectural
movement or a zero-waste culinary initiative – go rewarded, and for
food-loving travellers who want to taste the future, this makes
Basel a dream destination.

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The Lowdown

How to Get There

Fly direct from London Gatwick to EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse
Freiburg with EasyJet, or journey via London Heathrow to
Zurich Airport with SWISS. From Zurich airport, Basel city centre
is just under an hour by train with Swiss Federal Railways.

The Swiss Travel System covers more than 29,000km with its
extensive public transport network of trains, buses, cable cars and
boats. Book your tailored Swiss city package and get unlimited
travel on public transport with a Swiss Travel Pass at switzerlandtravelcentre.com.

Want to explore Basel’s forward-thinking food scene? Visit
myswitzerland.com to plan your trip.

A restaurant in Basel, Switzerland

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