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Raul Dias on Haus Hiltl

A note from an Indian food & lifestyle Journalist

Raul is a writer, restaurant reviewer and a travel and food addict. Me and Raul, we hit off instantly when we met and we both being foodies had a great time together. I met Raul and accompanied him on behalf of Zuerich Tourismus for three days in the beginning of March to various famous food places in Zürich. We started off at Hiltl and this is what he has to say. He keeps you tied with his words and you always feel like wanting more. So if that is also the case with you then go on here on his blog Raul on the Prowl to read more articles from him. This one below came in the Hindu today and I couldn't be happier to read it.

By Raul Dias Ever the sceptic when it comes to anything remotely “record-worthy” within the realm of one of my life’s greatest passions i.e. food (coupled with my callously carnivorous proclivity!), I really wasn’t looking forward to my very first meal in Zurich, Switzerland. My friend and local Indian culinary guru, Ity Tiwari had all but dragooned me into a pure vegetarian lunch at Haus Hiltl. A veritable Zurich institution, Hiltl, as it is more commonly known as today, is believed to be the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, having been founded in 1898. The stately-looking restaurant, perched on the city’s crowded Sihlstrasse street, even has a shiny plaque from the people at the Guinness World Records to corroborate this claim. Coming from a country like India, it seemed rather strange for me to see such a title bestowed on a restaurant in Switzerland of all places. For here, no meal in general is complete without a serving of a hunk of meat with some potatoes and the ubiquitous cheese on the side. But some quick, on-the-spot research confirmed this as being very much the case. And so, I soldiered on, tucking into my yummy cumin-dusted roasted cauliflower soup and saffron gnocchi, while a few interesting morsels of Hiltl trivia served as accompaniments! Born of Necessity Founded by a family of German immigrants in 1898, and originally called Vegetaria, the restaurant was a boarding house for vegetarians with a small attached café. But thanks to the concept of vegetarianism being virtually non-existent in Switzerland at that time, with vegetarians even mocked as ‘grazers’, the erstwhile establishment didn’t have much success. It was only a few years later in 1904 when a Bavarian tailor named Ambrosius Hiltl was rendered jobless due to rheumatoid arthritis, did he take over the restaurant and rename it Haus Hiltl, after he was prescribed an all-vegetarian diet by his doctor. Not only was Ambrosius cured of his affliction, but his restaurant was looked upon as a novelty to which scores of locals flocked, making it an overnight success. Something that it enjoys to this very day thanks to its famous pay-by-weight vegetarian buffet that’s a rage with Zurich’s hipster brigade. And today, as an annexe, it even has the world’s first “vegi butcher” called the Hiltl Shop on the adjacent St. Annagasse street. Here is where one can stock up on everything from all-vegan mock meats like seitan and tempeh—where the former is made from wheat gluten, while the latter from fermented soybeans—to the wacky ‘noix gras’ hazelnut stand in for the controversial goose liver foie gras. The Indian Connection But talk of India and its rich vegetarian influence on Hiltl seemed inevitable as I was taken on a short, post-prandial tour of the gargantuan, three-levelled restaurant and shown the photograph of India’s late former prime minister Morarji Desai relishing a plate of pakoras at the restaurant. It was Ambrosius’s daughter-in-law Margrith, who, in the 1950s, introduced recipes and elements from Indian cuisine into Hiltl’s repertoire. Understandably, at first it was mainly the Indian guests who responded with enthusiasm, but over time they were joined by more and more locals. The art of Indian cooking remains a major element of Hiltl with their channa masala being the top seller and a personal favourite of Rolf Hiltl, the fourth generation Hiltl who runs the restaurant today. “I have an affinity to Indian cuisine, due to our family and company history, and because of its wide variety of spices,” says the Hiltl great-grandson who caused quite a stir in 1993 when he introduced alcoholic beverages to the menu for the first time. But the Hiltl’s adherence to vegetarianism is non-negotiable and so strong that it is rumoured that they are even known to deny entry to those wearing fur. ‘nuff said! The Mumbai-based writer and restaurant reviewer is passionate about food, travel and luxury, not necessarily in that order.

(This article first appeared in the 19th May 2019 issue of The Hindu newspaper's Sunday Magazine section on page 27

PS: Picture of the Hindu Text and the readable text: Credits: Raul Dias. Thank you Raul and hope you dont mind me putting our picture of both of us at the Lindenhof.

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