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  • In my family, fondue is a sacred food. We are Swiss, and very proudly so. My close family moved to California when I was a toddler, and every year we visit Switzerland, where all my relatives live. And every year, we are invited for fondue – for lunch and dinner, every day of the week, summer or winter. It simply is the meal to share with the people you love. I was trying to figure out what was so special about fondue that made it such a go-to dish. Was it to remind us of our Swiss-ness? “Un-Americanize” us, in a way? Perhaps. Was it simply a way to enjoy good company, for hours at a time? Probably. There are many values in fondue that I have difficulty finding anywhere else.

    Because it is a communal dish, each and every person sitting around the table is connected with the other every time they dip their piece of bread into that pot of cheese. We interact on a very profound level, through the spirituality of food. This rarely happens with the typical American meal, I find. Although my family has always tried to maintain our cultural and family values by having sit-down, homemade meals whenever possible, I have come to see, off living on my own in college, the difficulty that this entails. We are all busy in life, and taking the time to sit down, talk, and share food doesn’t come easily. So, eating fondue allows us to share good food and good conversation with the people we love.

    Clearly, fondue and Switzerland are very closely tied. When people hear of Switzerland and the Alps, most immediately envision some sort of peaceful mountain scene. That’s where fondue comes from. It has a long history in Switzerland as the traditional meal to have up in the mountains on a snowy winter day, and for good reason. It is simple to make, but still customizable (we like to add cloves of garlic to our fondues). It isn’t a meal where you can simply keep the leftovers and microwave them the next day – instead, it needs to be eaten in completion, in one long sitting. Also, all the ingredients are closely tied to the land: the cheese is unique to Switzerland, so it is sustainable in both a spiritual and literal way.

    Fondue, in a way, represents the whole of Switzerland and its values; the way it brings people together, the long-standing traditions it personifies, and the way it connects people to the beautiful mountains and countryside embodies everything I cherish about my home country.
    When I eat fondue, I express patriotism and pride in where I come from. I re-assert my roots, and connect with my family. So, to express my appreciation for this particular dish, I have written an ode – an “Ode to Fondue”.

    Ode to Fondue

    The pot is brown near the bottom
    Where the fire has discolored the red
    Inside: cheese
    Thick and white
    Not white – yellow
    Beige and bisque
    Champagne and cream
    Little bits of garlic are floating
    (“It’ll make you old and healthy,” my grandpa says)
    (“I’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight,” my grandma says, smiling)
    We love garlic
    We love cheese
    There is nutmeg, and pepper, and various spices
    I don’t know, my dad won’t tell me
    The spices are his job
    The bread is mom’s.
    We picked it up this morning
    From the bakery down the road
    “Making a fondue?” the baker asked
    My sister smiled and nodded, smelled the bread
    Felt the warmth of the oven
    The heat comes from firewood
    Chopped down by the wife
    The other day, on her walk through the woods
    Now, the bread is cut into perfect cubes
    (“It’s an art,” my sister says. “The perfect cube”)
    (“You want to maximize the cheese
    But sill be able to eat it in a bite,” my dad adds)
    It’s an art.
    The table is set
    The tea is poured
    The children are seated
    The time has come.

    I carefully place my first cube of bread onto my fork
    And dip it in
    I swirl it around, playfully bumping into other swimming forks
    Smiles and laughs are exchanged, everyone is excited
    I carefully twirl my fork, so the cheese doesn’t drip
    I don’t want the cheese to drip
    I wait for it to cool
    It has to be perfect
    I close my eyes and bite

    I’ve been there
    I know where that cheese comes from
    I can see it and smell it and hear it

    The fresh cow patties litter the trail
    (“Patty aheeeaadddd,” my cousin yells)
    The clanging of the bells
    Remind us of the ever-constant presence of the
    Wonderful creatures, they are.
    The perfect touch to a peaceful mountain scene
    They bring us cheese, and milk, and meat
    We love cows.
    (“I’m scared of them,” my sister says)
    (“It’s ok,” my grandma smiles. “Give me your hand”)
    We continue on our hike.

    I twirl my fork again and
    Take another bite of bread and melted cheese
    And more memories

    I can feel the cold on my nose
    It’s dark, but the ski slopes are illuminated
    I swish down the mountain
    (“Not too fast,” my sister says)
    The iced snow crinkles under my skis
    As more floats down, gently
    It’s cold
    But I’m warm, from love and from food

    More cheese, and
    More memories
    From people and times past and present
    From a nation that loves tradition

    Skip across gurgling streams
    Feel the cold of a glacial torrent
    Twirl on hills and sing about music
    Summit peaks and ski down slopes
    Swim in green mountain lakes
    Sit and wait for marmots
    Stand in awe at the precarious mountain goat
    Clamber up rocks
    Soar above the valley
    Sled down the mountain

    I am happy to be with my family
    I love them
    Sharing this sacred dish, together
    Remembering happy memories
    Loving our country
    And each other
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