Switzerland is a land of many dialects. I remember slowly sounding out one of the first Swiss German texts that I received from a friend.
“So many umlauts!”
Sam smiled and helped me decipher the message, then asked “your friend’s from Basel, eh?'“
“How did you know?”
They two had never met, but just from sounding out the phonetic spelling of the Basel dialect, Sam could tell where my friend was from.
So, savvy Swiss German readers, do you know where Härpfilreschti is from?
That’s right, the Wallis.
(For more help deciphering regional dialects, check out the Kleinen Sprachatlas der Deutschen Schweiz, full of maps showing where every different word and pronunciation exists. It’s in book form, and also an interactive online tool where you can search different words. Here’s Potato (aka Härdöpfel, Gumeli, Ärdli, Tartuffel, Häbel or Häärpfel to the Wallisers).)
This dish is also known as Walliser Rösti, though if you googled that today you get the typical hash brown, topped mostly with tomatoes and raclette cheese. This recipe comes from Marianne Kaltenbach’s Aus Schweizer Küchen, where the potato is sliced in rounds, the cheese and tomatoes are omitted in favour of onions, and an interesting ingredient is added—Milchkaffee. If you don’t have it at hand, you can use just milk, or in true Walliser fashion, even a glass of white wine.
2 onions, sliced
nutmeg, salt and pepper
700 g small boiled potatoes, sliced in rounds
1 tbsp flour
150 ml Milchkaffee
In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and fry for a few minutes. until translucent. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, then add the potatoes.
Sprinkle the flour over top, stir gently, then press the potatoes down. Pour the Milchkaffee over, then let it cook without disruption for about 12-15 minutes (I find it helpful to set a timer, otherwise I get impatient and try to lift the pancake before a nice crust has formed).
Now, try to give the frying pan a shake and if the pancake moves, use a spatula to peek underneath.
When the bottom is golden brown you are ready to flip.
Slide the pancake out onto a plate, cooked side down, add a little more fat to your pan, then gently flip it back into the pan. (Or turn the whole pancake upside down onto a plate, add a little more fat, then slide it back in).
Cook for another 12-15 minutes or until golden.
Gschwellti (small boiled potatoes) are perfect for this dish and easy to grate after a night in the fridge. They are the typical spuds that you see served with raclette, fondue or on their own in the classic dish Gschwellti and Chäs.
If you don’t have Milchkaffee, just use some milk, water, broth, or even white wine.