Fondue on wheels in Zürich's party town

"We're a party town!" says Stefanos as he drives our tour vehicle through the narrow streets of Zürich's Old Town, and I have no reason to doubt him. We are, after all, in a tuk-tuk, a vehicle I'm more used to riding in Bangkok. That incongruity suggests a sense of fun, as does the fact that we're on our way to pick up a serve of fondue.

Eating molten cheese and bread with a pointy utensil while bumping along the cobblestones of Switzerland's largest city? No problem. The Fondue-Tuk tour is a rebuff to the stereotype of the Swiss as serious, safety-first types, and says something about their sense of humour. This was the city that gave birth to the absurdist Dada art movement a century ago, and eating fondue in motion seems to fit with that tradition.

Starting from the main train station, we pause at Walliser Keller, a restaurant famed for its traditional dishes, to pick up a pot of steaming hot cheesy goodness. Stefanos slots this into an ingenious table between two facing benches in the rear section of the tuk-tuk. It has recesses which hold the fondue pot, individual bowls, and a basket of bread pieces. Smaller slots hold wine glasses, and long fondue forks.

At this point the tour becomes more challenging, as I juggle hot cheese on forked chunks of bread while sipping excellent riesling-silvaner wine. Luckily we're not going very fast, and Stefanos is quick to warn of tricky corners where I need to stow my glass.

As we head into the historic heart of the city, across the Limmat River which forms its eastern boundary, my guide delivers a patter that's different to the usual tour of civic landmarks. This is more of a people's tour, focusing on local culture.

Though this district has the highest concentration of nightclubs in Switzerland, I hear how noise complaints are forcing them to close (a familiar problem worldwide). He also points out local icons such as "hippie" co-op Café Zähringer, long-established restaurants and music venues, and shops that specialise in items from Spanish wine to Gummi bears.

The tour does include more establishment landmarks, such as St Peter's Church with its broad clock face, but mostly it's a fun excursion into the grassroots cultural history of Zürich. Cheesy in places; but considering the fondue, that's to be expected.

The next night I sample the dish in a more traditional way, by having dinner at the Fribourger Fondue Stübli restaurant to the west of the Old Town. Though Zürich lays claim to the oldest mention of the cheesy dish in a 1699 cookbook, the fondue served here follows the style of Fribourg in the country's west.

It's a simple menu, with two choices: a basic fondue made of vacherin cheese only, or a more complex version that's half vacherin, half gruyere, mixed with wine and kirsch (cherry brandy). Vacherin is a sharp, tangy variety that melts beautifully, and it instantly becomes my new favourite cheese. A glass of white wine from the Lavaux region near Lake Geneva is a perfect accompaniment.

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Fondue is traditionally served with chunks of bread to be dipped, but here they're accompanied by small boiled potatoes, and (at an extra cost) pickled onions, gherkins, and pieces of pineapple and pear.

To be frank, the pineapple tastes odd when coated with cheese, but the pear works surprisingly well. And the "grandmother", the curious name the Swiss give to the crisp cheese layer at the bottom of the pot, is delicious. Eating it at a restaurant table isn't as much fun as aboard a tuk-tuk, but it's just as filling.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

myswitzerland.com

zuerich.com

FLY

Emirates flies to Zürich via Dubai, see emirates.com

STAY

B2 Boutique Hotel offers contemporary-styled rooms and a thermal spa within a converted brewery building. From CHF330 a night. See b2boutiquehotels.com

EAT

The Fondue-Tuk tour costs CHF258 for two people, CHF327 for three people, and CHF396 for four. Book via tuktuk.ch

Fribourger Fondue Stübli, Rotwandstrasse 38, Zürich. Fondue from CHF28.80. See fribourger-fondue-stuebli.ch

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Switzerland Tourism, and travelled via the Swiss Travel Pass (myswitzerland.com/rail).

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