Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant on culinary crusade (With Images)

August 5th, 2011 - 1:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Zurich, Aug 5 (IANS) Who said vegetarian cuisine is all about fruits, veggies and blandness? Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, the century-old Haus Hiltl here, can seduce a sworn meat lover with dishes like saffron noodles, red Thai curry and roasted corn sticks.

Customers can pick vegetarian cuisine from 30 countries, cooked by chefs from the respective nations. The restaurant receives over 1,500 guests daily and can cater to 550 people in one go.

The journey of Haus Hiltl started in 1898 as a vegetarians’ home and teetotal cafe, visited by very few people who were derisively termed the “grass-eaters”. But today it is one of the most buzzing eating places in Zurich, receiving more non-vegetarian guests than vegetarian foodies.

“It all started when the owner, Ambrosius Hiltl, developed arthritis and doctors asked him to switch to a vegetarian diet. His health improved and this acted as a catalyst and foundation for Haus Hiltl,” Paul Vauthier, Haus Hiltl managing director, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

Since 1898, things have been changing, from looks and menu to owner and marketing strategy - but not the ‘vegetarianess’ of the menu.

“The restaurant is now run by the fourth Hiltl generation and the present head Rolf introduced alcohol, live music, cooking school and many other things to attract more people, especially youths,” said Vauthier, who is himself a vegetarian.

Guests can also enjoy a kitchen tour and even cook the dish of their choice under the guidance of an expert, and later enjoy their creation with a variety of hard and soft drinks.

It was certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe in 1998, the centenary of its founding.

At Haus Hiltl, guests pay for what they eat, literally.

The restaurant charges food by weight and not per dish. Patrons are charged 3.5 Swiss Francs (Rs.200) per 100 gram.

On weekends, the restaurant offers breakfast and lunch buffets with a variety of dishes, salads, breads, desserts and drinks.

Paul says some of the dishes are prepared using soya to make them look like chicken and meat. The texture of soya dishes is so similar to the chicken that even non-vegetarian people cannot judge it after eating, he said.

All the dishes at Hiltl come with a product declaration describing what it contains, like ‘ga’ for garlic and ‘mu’ for mustard to make people know what they eat.

The restaurant went for a major renovation in 2007, incorporating old and new elements, which makes it modern yet comfortable. An ingenious glass construction allows guests to view the lower ground floor, which houses the kitchen — a constant source of delight!

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at richa.s@ians.in)

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