Eating alfresco, Swiss style

By David Lewis [email protected]

David Lewis lives in Praia da Luz with his wife Shirley, and two children, Ollie and Fraser. Having spent more than 25 years in the City of London, he is now Financial Services Manager with the Oceânico Group.

Did you know that it is almost impossible to buy a portable, one-use barbecue in the whole of Switzerland?

I am sure you have all used these before – small trays made entirely out of tin-foil containing a small number of coal-like lumps, on top of which is placed a strange paper sheet which ignites like a flamethrower when exposed to a match, and a metal grid on which to place your food for the few seconds before it is cremated.

These clever little devices are brilliant in the UK, where our hopelessly unpredictable climate means that barbecues are usually arranged with almost no advanced planning or preparation.

Instead, at the first sign of the sun rays peeking through the dark clouds above, we jump in our cars and hurtle down to the local garage where we fill up our boot with turkey burgers, cans of lukewarm lager and, of course, the ubiquitous portable, one use barbecue.

Then, we rush home, balance the portable, one use barbecue on a couple of stones, pour a lukewarm lager and stand back to see how fast we can turn the turkey burgers into blackened lumps. At which point we then nip out for a take-away.

Anyway, there are, apparently, no portable, one use barbecues in Switzerland. Now I know this to be true because my wife, Shirley, told me it might be the case.

And that is why, as I was trying to shoe horn various bags, suitcases and children into our family Volvo before our summer holiday to Bonigen in the Swiss Alps, I had also to find room for two portable, one use barbecues.

As those of you who are regular readers of this column will know, last month I explained how we had driven for hour upon hour to reach one of the prettiest little hotels on the banks of Lake Brienz, in a small town called Bonigen just a few kilometres from Interlaken.

We all love Switzerland – the long walks in the mountains, the gloriously fresh air and the quite simply stunning scenery makes it the perfect place to forget about work and the other pressures of everyday, post-recessionary life. Every morning, we would have breakfast, before stepping out of the hotel’s front door to face the almost unreal turquoise waters of the lake. What a perfect place for a barbecue, we agreed.

Perfect spot

So it came to pass that, a few days into our holiday, we had bought some fresh meat, soft bread and cold drinks and headed along the lakeshore to find an idyllic spot for our evening meal. The problem was that half of Bonigen had decided to do the same thing. Every little lake-side nook and cranny was filled with families and couples enjoying a private, alfresco meal. We walked and walked until the boys started to get hungry and, frankly, it was threatening to get dark before I had even burnt my first sausage.

Which is why we eventually set up our camp in what I can only best describe as a Swiss lay-by. Right next to the fairly busy lake road, and just under a motorway flyover was where we chose to enjoy our meal, along with Johanna, one of Shirley’s closest friends from her days working in Europe. Johanna dutifully trooped along with the rest of us, not even the occasional thundering past of a truck serving to suppress her enthusiasm for our family outing.

By this time, I must confess to being a little grumpy so it was with a degree of reluctance on my part that I finally placed the portable, one use barbecues on the floor, stood back and threw a lighted match in their general direction, wincing ever so slightly when they went up in flames with that sort of “Whoomph” sound that I recall from that fire-based adventure movie, Backdraft.

Now, those of you who have used these things before will know that, having set fire to them, they then proceed to burn ferociously for about 10 minutes, during which time the only thing to do is open a beer, which is precisely what I did next. As the flames began to recede, I cautiously removed the various packs of fresh meat from our carrier bag and began to creep very slowly towards the now vigorously smoking tin trays.

Sausage rolls

At this point in the story, let me just pass on one piece of advice. Feeding a family of four, plus one old family friend, requires more than two portable, one use barbecues. No sooner had I placed four rather attractive turkey breasts on the grill than there was no room for much else. Very carefully, I removed a pork sausage from its packaging and gently placed it on the edge of the grill. Stepping back to select a second, the first rolled ever so slowly on to the floor.

Checking to make sure that no-one else had noticed, I put it back and selected a second. The first one slowly rolled on to the floor again.

Eventually, I managed to get everything on the barbecue at which point it was time to turn the turkey breasts to prevent them from burning. Reaching into our bag of barbecue accessories, I rummaged around until I found what has to be the smallest fork known to man. For some reason, despite the fact that we had packed almost the entire contents of our house into the car in preparation for our trip, the only fork we had room to bring with us was a tiny cake fork, no more than 3 inches long.

With the two portable, one use barbecues on the floor, I had little option but to creep about like Quasimodo, gently prodding and turning the fast cooking food with my miniature fork, with the combined sound of motorway traffic and the family crying with laughter in the background.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on with my wee fork. Whilst perhaps just a little overcooked (and what barbecue cooked by Man, isn’t overcooked?), it all turned out a lot better than I expected. The food was edible, the company and views wonderful and even the sound of the motorway overhead eventually faded into white noise.

Now, if I can just straighten up…