The smell of onions was in the air yesterday in Bern. I somehow talked two friends into taking an early morning train with me to visit the “Zibelemärit”—an annual onion market that’s one of Switzerland’s oldest fairs. I’m always searching for opportunities to learn about Swiss foods, and the onion market introduced me to some specialties for the autumn/winter seasons. We spent about 1 1/2 hours there, during which we sampled “glühwein” (hot mulled wine), “zwiebelkuchen” (onion tart), brötli (small breads) and more.
Bern’s autumn market dates back to the 15th century, but the focus on onions apparently began in the mid-19th century. It’s always held on the fourth Monday in November, much like Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday in the United States. Like Thanksgiving, the Zibelemärit seems to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Of course, the Swiss version includes loads of confetti, squeaking plastic hammers and most importantly, a focus on onions (I particularly like author Diccon Bewes’ description of the atmosphere).
While I knew the onion market would draw a huge crowd, I was still surprised by the tremendous number of people there at 6:00 in the morning. At times, my friends and I were walking shoulder-to-shoulder past countless booths of braided onions. In contrast, I talked to several Swiss and non-Swiss folks living in our small French-speaking city who had neither attended, nor even heard of the onion market before.
In the coming weeks, I’ll work on sharing a few Zibelemärit-inspired recipes (sans dairy, raw/undercooked egg and almonds). However, I think it’s nearly impossible to recreate the delicious onion tart full of eggs, cheese and cream. In the meantime, I’ll use the onions I bought in my homemade stuffing and other dishes for our Thanksgiving feast this Thursday. What’s left of our pretty onion braid will serve as our Thanksgiving centerpiece!
For those who celebrate this very American holiday, I wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!