If you check in here occasionally, you’ll know I have a soft spot for tibits, the upmarket fast-food veggie restaurant with branches in Zurich, Bern, Winterthur and Basel, plus one in London. Probably you also know – maybe you already own – their cookbook tibits at home, up until now published only in German by AT Verlag. Good news: it’s now also out in English.
It’s stuffed with fab creative recipes for veggies, arranged by seasons and starting – in timely fashion – with spring. I’ve extracted one of them, below, for you to try. Meanwhile, tibits has a great back-story you might want to read. [The name, btw, is not a typo – it’s all lower case – or even a spello – it was chosen because it sounds vaguely like ‘tidbits’ but also because it sounds light/fresh/tasty – and not specially Swiss]. It all began when Reto Frei, at the time a student at the ETH in Zurich, together with brothers Christian and Daniel, won a McKinsey-sponsored entrepreneurship award for their business plan outlining a fast-food, self-service vegetarian restaurant.
They knew zilch about the restaurant business – Daniel had trained as an economist, Christian as a teacher, Reto as an engineer – so they went looking for a partner with experience in the field. Enter Rolf Hiltl of the eponymous Zurich restaurant, established 1898 and famous for tasty vegetarian food that’s resolutely un-preachy. Hiltl is still actively involved in partnership with the Frei brothers, with plenty of cross-fertilization between the two operations.
This lack of missionary zeal is also central to the tibits philosophy – and doubtless contributes to its success. “We’re not crusaders,” says Reto, “we’re into joy, good taste, fun. We wanted a restaurant that offered all that, plus great food – a place where non-vegetarians and veggies could meet and eat together.” All too often, says Frei, non-meat options are seen as bland, boring and terribly worthy, so tibits doesn’t trumpet the absence of meat or fish from the rooftops – the sign outside just says: Restaurant, Bar, Food to Go. “Plenty of people don’t even realize we’re vegetarian,” he smiles, “and for those that do, I guess 90% of them would never describe themselves as such”.
In case you haven’t been there yet, here’s how it works. At the heart of each restaurant is a huge self-service food bar shaped like a boat. You approach from any side (you can sneak in anywhere, no standing in line) and choose between freshly prepared salads, a range of hot dishes and some wicked desserts. Influences range widely from Middle Eastern to Indian, Mexican, Spanish – even Swiss (don’t miss the startlingly delish dried green bean salad, yum). Offerings change seasonally and as new ideas come in – from the customers, the chefs or from the Frei brothers, all of them keen cooks. The decor is pure Designers Guild: fabrics, paints and wallpapers with funky color combinations (lots of acid green, turquoise and fuchsia pink at the moment), big lampshades, low-slung coffee tables and sofas, high tables with bar stools.
When you’ve made your choice, you take your plate to the bar, set it on the scale and pay by weight. I have a hard time spending more than SFR20 a pop, which makes it a great-value lunch option. They also do freshly pressed juices, seriously good coffee, exotic teas (including a heavenly jasmine flower that bursts into bloom in contact with hot water), creative cocktails, interesting wines by the glass and local beers. Takeouts are bagged in snappy little carriers (the only place where you see the word vegetarian mentioned), signed with the stylish house logo underlined by a slender, sinuous green bean.
Back to the book: the English edition is also published by AT Verlag and is available at all tibits branches or direct from the publisher. Here’s a sample recipe: a salad of gorgeous chewy cracked wheat with crisply cooked flat (aka coco) beans plus cherry tomatoes, a gingery dressing and a swirl of sprouted seeds:
120g (4 ounces) cracked wheat (bulghur)
1 cup water
150g (5 ounces) cherry tomatoes
150g (5 ounces) green beans
sprouted seeds or flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
A walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
7 tablespoons olive oil
7 tablespoons white Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato puree
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon mild paprika
½ teaspoon ground coriander
salt and pepper
- Put cracked wheat in a large saucepan, add water and 1 teaspoon sea salt, bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer for 8 minutes or until all the water is absorbed
- Tip into a bowl and allow to cool.
- Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes
- Wash and trim the beans and cut in short lengths.
- Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil and cook the beans for about 8 minutes – keep tasting for doneness, they should be barely tender
- Drain beans, refresh with cold water.
- Fork up the cracked wheat and stir in the tomatoes and beans.
- For the dressing, blend together all the ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour dressing over cracked wheat and garnish with some sprouted seeds or flat-leaf parsley.