View Full Version : Switzerland’s ‘Röstigraben’, a Curious Culinary and Cultural Divide

Friday, October 9th, 2009, 05:33 PM

Switzerland is predominantly German-speaking, but far from completely so. The alpine confederation is officially quadrilingual: German (64%), French (20%), Italian (7%) and Romansh (0.5%). As the latter two languages are very minoritary, linguistic tension does tend to be a binary thing, between Deutschschweiz – a word only a germanophone could pronounce – and la Romandie, signifying the Swiss French west of the country.

The Romands call the ‘other’ side la Suisse alémannique and the Schweizerdeutsche call the francophone part of their country Welschschweiz (the root word being a Germanic term for ‘stranger’, identical to the one in ‘Wales’ and ‘Wallonia’).

The language border dividing these two areas is known jestingly as the Röstigraben (in German) or the rideau de rösti (in French). A Graben is a ditch and a rideau is a curtain, so you get the idea of separation – but what a Rösti is and why it is significant, requires a bit more explanation.

This dish is made mainly by frying grated potatoes in a pan. It was formerly eaten as breakfast by farmers in the (German-speaking) Bern canton. The original conceit of the Röstigraben was that it constituted the western limit of the German Swiss culture, beyond which people spoke (and ate) differently.

The Rösti has gained popularity as a side dish all over Switzerland, but the language and cultural differences persist. The French Swiss voters have traditionally been less averse of the international community (including potential EU membership) and more prone to support a more active role for the federal government. Recently, voting trends in French and German Switzerland have tended to converge more.

The Röstigraben isn’t the only gastronomically defined cultural border in central Europe. The northern and southern halves of germany are separated by what is called the Weisswurstäquator – the white sausage equator, after a favourite dish in Bavaria that’s rarely eaten in the north.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a map of this particular equator around. The book cover used here (and found here (http://www3.dfj.vd.ch/%7Elatin/Nouveautes/rosti-graben.jpg)) shows a picture of a very literal Röstigraben – a Switzerland-shaped Rösti broken in two exactly where the language border runs. That the ditch wasn’t too hard to cross, is apparent by the name of the author, Laurent Flütsch: his French forename and German surname suggest his parents had a quite intimate knowledge of the ‘other’…


Saturday, July 24th, 2010, 02:26 AM
Rösti is honestly some of the most delicious stuff I've ever had. Nice to know Switzerland has a dish of such simplicity yet of such a taste. Goes well with Bratwurst too.

Thursday, July 29th, 2010, 03:39 PM
Rösti is honestly some of the most delicious stuff I've ever had. Nice to know Switzerland has a dish of such simplicity yet of such a taste. Goes well with Bratwurst too.

Is there a Recipe You could give me, or is it simply a particular way of preparing the potatoes? I love potatoes, cooked nearly any way they can be cooked. Bratwurst too.
I don't think my Dear old Mom ever fixed a meal, without potatoes, even breakfast. At my age I have to be careful how often I eat them now, though. But I'd surely like to be able to make some "Rosti".