Food lovers are big lovers of life, and Ity Tiwari, an Indian-born, Zurich-based food blogger, vegetarian cooking teacher and pop-up chef, possesses a passion for her adopted Swiss hometown that is palpable. "People feed on good ideas in Zurich," she says, steering us down Napfgasse, a narrow pedestrianised alley lined with patisseries and delicatessens in the heart of Zurich's Niederdorf quarter. "As a vegetarian, I'm continually delighted by the creativity and quality of dishes here, and we have amazing international restaurants. But I'm just as obsessed with Zurich's humanity and determination to do things the right way, as seen in its zero-waste and community-driven initiatives." She's right: Zurich's humanity is evident even in a history-steeped gourmet grocery store like Schwarzenbach, which was specialising in bean-to-bar chocolate and fair-trade single-origin coffee decades before it was fashionable.
Tiwari points out the dinky Äss-Bar bakery, which sells day-old quality baked goods from the city's top bakeries at knockdown prices, a zero-waste initiative that has proven a hit. "I love that this makes quality items, such as Sprüngli sandwiches, affordable to students," she says.
Ity Tiwari, left, and Zurich
Established in 2013, it's one of those Swiss ideas that seems so startlingly smart that we wonder why it hasn't been adopted in every European city. But Zurich has always been politically and socially innovative: Tiwari pauses outside the Cabaret Voltaire, also in the heart of the old town, where a cluster of writers, poets and artists founded the influential and disruptive dadaist movement in 1916. The Irish writer James Joyce and Swiss scientist Albert Einstein are other notable minds that found inspiration in Switzerland's largest city.
Zurich has also always been an international city. "The food scene is endlessly interesting," says Tiwari. "I highly recommend a Lebanese restaurant called Le Cèdre, which, when it opened 26 years ago, was the first Lebanese restaurant in the city. Bebek does the best Middle Eastern meze, and I love young Moroccan chef Zineb 'Zizi' Hattab's plant-based restaurants DAR and KLE."
Today, says Tiwari, Zurich's determinedly progressive spirit is best understood through its food. "It's not just the amazing quality of locally sourced ingredients that makes Zurich such a great city for foodies," she says. "It's the creativity and the passion behind new ventures."
Hiltl's vegan butchery, left, and Zurich
It might come as a surprise to travelling foodies that the world's oldest vegetarian restaurant, Hiltl, is located right here in Zurich. Hiltl was founded in 1898 by a German tailor who had suffered ill health. Over the years, Hiltl chefs travelled to India, returning with spices and recipes and introducing Indian cuisine to Switzerland. Hiltl's vast, international vegetarian buffet (food is priced per weight) is a Zurich institution, and we see diners of every age in the beautiful dining room at the Sihlstrasse flagship restaurant. After dining on curried banana soup and palak paneer, Tiwari takes us next door, to Switzerland's first vegetarian butchery, the Hiltl Vegimetzg, which sells all sorts of innovative plant-based meat alternatives from behind a deli counter, alongside cookbooks, vegan wines and plant milks. Tiwari introduces us to Milo Stegmann, a member of the Hiltl team, who explains that although only 5 per cent of the Swiss population are vegetarian, Zurich's diners were quick to embrace plant-based produce and dishes: in Zurich, people eat a vegan lunch without even noticing it's vegan. We ask about community impact and sustainability, and Stegmann nods. "We took avocados off the menu because we had ethical concerns about water waste, so our chefs developed a pea-based guacamole that is really popular." Hiltl might be a historic Zurich landmark, literally mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records, but, with its workshops, evolving menu and commitment to ethical sourcing, it's not content to rely on heritage alone.
Roots at On Labs
Perhaps the most inspiring food story that Tiwari tells us, though, concerns a new company canteen in Zuri-West. On is one of Switzerland's best-loved running shoe brands, selling Swiss-engineered footwear with a cult following. "They've just collaborated with a local vegan eatery, Roots, to develop Switzerland's first 100 per cent plant-based workplace canteen," Tiwari explains. Best of all, the Roots at On Labs, next to the On flagship store, is open to the public, which includes Roger Federer, a backer of the brand. This futuristic, light-filled space filled with Vitra furniture and sustainably sourced furniture truly feels like the workplace of the future - and everything we pile on our plates from the plant-based buffet is a delight.
We always knew that Zurich is a youthful powerhouse of a city, quick to embrace new ideas, but it's genuinely uplifting to find a corporate environment with such a fresh, youthful and experimental flavour. "I believe that work should be fun and uplifting, and so should every meal," says Tiwari. She's right, and our culinary exploration of Zurich's most progressive eateries proves that seeking out good food is the best way for a traveller to find good ideas, and good people.
How to get there
Fly direct from London Heathrow to Zurich Airport with SWISS. From the airport, the city centre is just 15 minutes by train with Swiss Federal Railways. Use a Zurich Card (£24) to get an unlimited 24 hours of travel on all public transport.
Ready to plan your Zurich trip? Visit myswitzerland.com to get a taste of all the Swiss city offers.