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Serving Swiss rösti on the beach

Home serves up rösti to homesick Swiss, and other nationalities swissinfo.ch

It may be 35 degrees Celsius on Patnem beach, southern Goa, but the demand for Sandi's Swiss fried potato is huge.

This content was published on March 25, 2008 - 11:57

Sandi and her business partner Patrick - both from Zurich – run a small guesthouse and restaurant with dishes that are rather exotic for the Indian subcontinent.

"When we started the restaurant nine years ago, you couldn't get salads around here or a good plate of spaghetti. Pasta and rösti were the things I missed most from back home," says Sandi.

"The rösti took off immediately, especially with the Brits because they seem to love potato dishes. We even get people travelling here all the way from the north of the state just to try the rösti."

Sandi and Patrick fell in love with this little patch of paradise 12 years ago during a trip around Asia. They stayed with locals on neighbouring Palolem beach, now a popular tourist destination but at the time completely undiscovered. It was then that they hatched their big dream of one day running a guesthouse. Sandi also swore to herself that she would come back to southern Goa as soon as she could.

But normal working life in Switzerland took over and it was another three years before she would return. Patrick decided to pursue a career in sales, the couple split up and Sandi came back to Palolem alone in 1999.

She was shocked at what she found; her paradise had changed completely. The beach was filled with makeshift huts to accommodate backpackers from all over the world. It was too much for her, so she ventured south and found Patnem beach much quieter and more like the paradise she was looking for.

She also found love in the arms of Richard, from Britain. They spent the season renting the only house on Patnem beach and when the time ended, Sandi was so upset that her Goan landlord spontaneously offered to give her and Richard a lease on the house so they could return the next season and start up a business.

Home from home

It took a lot of painting, hard work and all their savings from Europe to create a guesthouse of international standard but before long "Home" was born.

Home has the bonus of being the only house on Patnem beach because it was built before a 1991 law came into effect banning all permanent brick buildings on the beach.

Initially the locals weren't at all happy: "They protested because they were afraid we would get all the customers. A gang of about 40 Indians showed up on the first day we opened, armed with wooden clubs and wearing gloves. But Richard and the landlord were able to speak to them and they did a deal that we would only open during the day and close every Wednesday," recalls Sandi.

Since then, things have relaxed considerably and the business is very much part of the community, employing locals and injecting money into projects like rebuilding temples, schooling and controlling disease spread by rodents and stray dogs.

"It's really important to integrate and respect the local culture," stresses Sandi. "I go to the Goan festivals and parties and weddings and eat things I wouldn't normally eat out of respect for them. I try to have an open ear and help out financially if anyone is in trouble. We are really thankful that we are accepted here as foreigners."

Patrick is back. After ten years in Switzerland pursuing his sales career, he decided that at the age of 40 he would give his guesthouse dream another shot. His previous experience as chef de cuisine has come in useful and he has revamped the evening menu to serve three to four fresh dishes that change daily.

He goes to the fish market every morning and orders organic vegetables from the nearby mountains. The attention to detail and the Swiss seal of quality go down well. The guesthouse is booked out all season and the restaurant is continuously packed out.

Monsoon season

But it's not all plain sailing. The yearly monsoon that descends upon Goa from June until September means Home has to shut shop for four to five months. Heavy rains and rugged seas batter the coastline and the sandy beach disappears entirely.

The house has to be wrapped in mud and palm leaves to protect it from humidity and every October, before the new season starts, it has to be repainted and the garden terraces prepared.

"I lost my patience a few times and nearly walked away," says Sandi. "It's not a big money maker and it's only recently that I didn't have to get a job in Switzerland during monsoon season to help subsidize the guesthouse.

"But it's a way of life and sometimes when I look out of the kitchen, I realize how lucky I am to have the most beautiful place to work."

swissinfo, Claudia Spahr in Goa, India

Rösti

Each region in Switzerland has its own particular way of making rösti, but in all cases, the common denominators are butter, salt and of course, potatoes.

There is no definitive recipe, and what constitutes a "proper" rösti dish is subjective. However, most people start with pre-cooked (and cold) potatoes.

Traditional recipes call for grating the potatoes and frying them in a pan with generous amounts of butter.

Some compress the potatoes into a large, glorified hash brown, while others leave them loose.

Some add bacon, others add sausage. Fried onions are another option.

In canton Uri, home of the legendary William Tell, some rösti fans even add coffee to moisten the dish.

Cooked to a crisp, rösti can be served with vegetables or meat on the side, or with fried, runny eggs on top. Cheese is also a popular addition.

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