Swiss German Food Expressions

In the German part of Switzerland we call our dialects Mundart. Especially for food related topics we use a lot of our own words instead of the German ones. And of course every area has its own words; if a person from Bern or Wallis talks to me about food I, as a Zurich native, don’t understand half of their words. Here’s a selection of food related expressions from the Zurich area, many of which I believe are used in the rest of the German speaking area too.

Eis go zieh to meet for a drink (literally: to go and pull (or suck) one)

FDH (friss die Hälfte) to be on a diet (literally: to eat half only)

Zmörgele (verb) to eat a big breakfast at a leisurely pace. This expression is only used for weekend or holiday breakfasts

Fräss-sack somene who eats a lot (literally: munching bag)

Käfele (verb) to enjoy a coffee and a chat with a friend. Often used in: Wämmer go käfele nächst Wuche? Shall we meet for a coffee and chat next week?

Es Käfeli näh: drinking a coffee at a leasurely pace, either while chatting to a friend or reading a book or newspaper. Käfeli (lit. a little coffee). 

Isch guet gsi? Did you enjoy the food?

In suure Öpfel biisse Literally: to bite the sour apple – do to something that needs to be done even though you don’t want to.

De Foifer und s Weggli ha Literally: to have both the coin that buys the bread roll and the bread roll at the same time. Which means ‘to have it all’ – we use this expression if someone is extremely lucky.

E stange Literally: a stick. Means: a 3dl glass of beer.

E schale Literally: e bowl. Means: a coffee with milk.

Schnipo Means: A dish containing Wiener Schnitzel and french fries (abbreviated from Schnitzel Pomfrit (Pomfrit are pommes frites or french fries)). Our recipe for homemade Wiener Schnitzel

Kafi complet Literally: a complete coffee. Means: a meal consisting a coffee with bread and butter and jam. Sometimes people eat this for dinner if they don’t want to cook.

Es iiklämmts Literally: a jammed something. Means: a sandwich

Studentefueter Literally: students fodder. Means: a mix of nuts and raisins.

Zmorge Breakfast
Znüni Morning snack (nüni means 9am, Znüni means we eat the snack at 9am, which, in reality, is rather at 10am than 9am)
Zmittag lunch (mittag means midday)
Zvieri afternoon snack (vieri is 4pm)
Znacht dinner (nacht means night)

8 thoughts on “Swiss German Food Expressions”

  1. A friend who lives in Aagau (not sure of which canton she was born in) uses the word a’hoil (rhyming with “boil” in English) for the end slice of a loaf cake such as date loaf or banana bread. Is that term in general usage? Interesting article, thanks.

  2. My grandmother was from Bern Switzerland and she served us milk with warm milk and some sugar before going to bed. She called it “sterm”??

    1. Little Zurich Kitchen

      I have never heard the expression, I grew up in Thurgau and have been living in Zurich for 20 years, and the Bern dialect is very foreign to me. A Google search didn’t reveal anything either

  3. I am curious about the grammatical structure when using the term z’nacht. If I were to say, “I won’t be staying for dinner”, in high german it would be, “Ich werde nicht zum Abendessen bleiben” right? but how would you say it in swiss german (Ideally in Zurich dialect but I’ll take anything). “ich bliib ned bis zum z’nacht” just sounds weird to me…

    1. Little Zurich Kitchen

      Hi! The sentence ‘ich blibe BIS zum Z’nacht’ can either mean I stay UNTIL dinner but leave shortly before dinner and won’t eat dinner with you, or it could mean I stay even for dinner, so it’s actually a bit unclear what is meant. If I wanted to say ‘I won’t stay FOR dinner’, personally I would omit de ‘bis’ and say: ‘Ich blibe ned zum Znacht’. I’m from Thurgau but have lived in Zurich for over 20 years, so I think people from Zurich would approve of this expression too.

  4. I believe the “complet” in “Kafi complet” is probably not referring to the coffee being complete, but rather to the completorium (or “compline” in English), which is the traditional evening prayer in the Christian context — so it does mean something along the lines of “coffee for dinner”.

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