The Green Shacks are Back !

Arriving at Zürich’s main train station after almost two weeks in the more remote northern regions of Portugal, Olivier and I were prepared for a drastic change from what we became accustomed to.   We had been driving through the isolated and magnificent parks of Portugal, protected areas with striking landscapes.   We passed fields and fields of craggly olive trees, vineyards ready for harvest and chestnut trees just planted or overflowing with fruit.   We visited markets with live chickens and rabbits, alternated meals between bacalhau (salted cod), sardines, kid and smoked meats, always followed (and preceded) by egg yolk-laden pastries.   We savored the relaxed Latino rhythm of life there, people overflowing with warmth and generosity and villages where time has stood still.

Chestnut trees in Portugal

One foot outside of the Zürich train station, and I immediately yelped – they’re back!  Chestnuts are back!   The perfect link for our time in Portugal and our return to Switzerland, thanks to the roasted chestnut stands that are now all over the city here. October 1st was the day: the chestnut guys set up their little green shacks and the aromas immediately began wafting through the air, drawing you in.  My buddy Roland, who sells chestnuts at Weinplatz in Zürich’s old town, told me that for the first few weeks, they are not Marroni, but in fact Kastanien or châtaigne (his are from an Italian city near Naples) – the same type of chestnut we were seeing in Portugal (Castanea sativa).  In a few weeks, the Marroni will arrive – sweeter and more tender than the others.

Chestnut trees in PortugalChestnut trees in PortugalChestnut trees in PortugalChestnut trees in Portugal

The Castanea trees were just gorgeous when full, their clusters of chestnuts a bright chartreuse color.  Even though it may be tempting, don’t grab them with your bare hands; it’s like a mini porcupine!  Driving through Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes (the country’s largest chestnut producing region), we saw these endless fields of chestnut trees, alternating between winding roads and tiny, quiet villages.

Chestnut trees in Portugal

In one of the towns near the border of Spain, Olivier asked a man off the side of the road if there was a bar or café nearby to get a drink.  Not for at least 30 kilometers, he said.  While I was looking left and following their conversation, the man’s wife popped her head into my window and said, “We’re about to have lunch, why don’t you just join us.”  Okay!  And so, it was a three-hour lunch, simple and delicious, with lots of fun and interesting discussions in Portuguese.  Following queijo fresco with an assortment of homemade jams (blackberry, cherry, chila squash) and shots of cherry liqueur, we went chestnut picking in their backyard!

Chestnut trees in PortugalChestnut trees in PortugalChestnut trees in PortugalChestnut trees in Portugal

Costa showed us the long tool you use to snip the clusters off the tree, unless they are ripe and fall off themselves.  When they haven’t opened naturally, you can still open them yourself – as he showed us with a quick stomp and twist of his foot on the spiny round.  Using a paring knife, he and Maria meticulously peeled open a few chestnuts for us to taste, raw.  Very hard, rather dry and not sweet at all – I can’t say I was a fan.  Time to hop outside here in Zürich and pay a visit to Roland…

* Roasted chestnuts (heissi Marroni) are Zürich’s ultimate street food.  You can read the article I wrote about Zürich as part of Gourmet’s Street Food Week that went online in September, here.

17 Responses to “The Green Shacks are Back !”

  1. becky grant says:

    Wow these are really beautiful pictures!

    I have always found that when I learn more of the history and behind the scenes, I end up appreciating things much more.

    I now feel like I want chestnuts lol

  2. Lani says:

    I am not a chestnut fan but the landscapes in your photography are so beautiful that it does want me to taste them once again! I do remember in New York City the hot chestnut stands during the holidays. What do chestnuts really taste like! I do love the idea that you were able to really emerge yourselves in the culture! What did you have for lunch?? Did you bring back any goodies?

  3. VeggieGirl says:

    So breathtaking!! And I love chestnuts 🙂

  4. Rosa says:

    Nice pictures. I love chestnuts! In Geneva, the shacks are brown…



  5. honey living says:

    such beautiful pictures! i had no idea that’s what the trees looked like. very interesting.

  6. kelleyn says:

    How fun that they invited you to eat with them. I like these kind of experiences the best!

  7. Romy says:

    The insides may be hard and dry, but the dark, glossy brown of the shells is so beautiful!

    Welcome back to Zurich and autumn, Kerrin!

  8. Kerrin says:

    becky, thanks! I could not agree more – whenever I travel or even just eat in a restaurant, I love to know about the history of the place, the story behind it all – adds so much to the experience for sure.

    Lani, that’s right, I forgot about the chestnut stands in New York. I actually never tried them there, nor in Paris. I wasn’t always a chestnut fan myself, but have come to really love them here in Zurich. As for lunch at the couple’s home, it was homemade tomato soup, a big salad with potatoes, eggs and tuna, homemade bread, then the fresh cheese with jams. Did I bring back any goodies you asked? But of course, as always! 😉

    VeggieGirl, glad to hear you’re a chestnut fan – raw or roasted?

    Rosa, we’ll have to do a taste test of the chestnuts from the green and brown shacks – see how they compare! 🙂

    honey living, I had never seen chestnut trees either! The first day on our trip, I kept taking pictures of them and saying to myself how beautiful they were and also – what ARE they?! Until Olivier told me and finally pulled off the side of the road while driving so I could hop out and get a closer look!

    kelleyn, those spontaneous totally unplanned adventures are always the best. Thanks to Olivier speaking perfect Portuguese, we were able to meet a lot of people and have different experiences than if we weren’t able to communicate with the locals.

    Romy, thanks for the welcome back wishes! And yes, I could hardly believe it myself how beautiful the chestnuts were. I thought when you crack them open, you would need to clean and polish them to get them to that state. But no, that’s natural, right out of the outer skin like that! Amazing!!

  9. Tweets that mention The Green Shacks are Back ! | MyKugelhopf -- says:

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  10. Julia @ Mélanger says:

    I have never seen chestnut trees before. How exciting that you not only were able to capture these amazing photos, but were able to see first hand how they are handled by some friendly locals in Portugal. I remember having chestnuts firstly in London on a trip during the holiday season when I was a young 15. I also remember having them in NYC. Since then, I’ve not seen them. I would love to taste them again though. Great street food. Your article on Zurich in Gourmet is fantastic, too! You’ll have to show me all those spots when I visit. 🙂

  11. Julia @ Mélanger says:

    P.S. When I first read your headline, I thought it said, “Green slacks are back”. Wondered what fashion happenings were going on in Zurich! 😉

  12. Kerrin says:

    Julia, you have tasted chestnuts in London and New York – next up is Zurich for sure! So glad you read the Gourmet article, and SO glad you were enticed. Thanks for the thumbs up.

    Too funny about the “Green slacks are back.” That made me chuckle for sure. Swiss fashion gone awry, haha!

  13. Ryan @ Globester says:

    I really admire you Kerrin, you’ve so much time to travel when I can’t even think to leave my chair. 😀

  14. jen laceda says:

    Thanks for showing me how chestnuts REALLY look before they are stripped naked of their green fur! 🙂 I’ve only had chestnuts from the Philippines.

  15. giao {kiss my spatula} says:

    i can’t tell you HOW many roasted chestnuts i devoured while in france and switzerland! i am in love with the packaging those little guys come in – so beautiful!

  16. Kerrin says:

    Ryan, um, thanks… but do you want to know where I am whenever I am not traveling – plastered to my desk chair! 😉

    Jen, glad I could share the before picture! What do chestnuts from the Philippines taste like? Do they look the same?

    Giao, glad to have found another chestnut fan! Now that the season is here, I’ll be devouring a reasonable amount too! And yes, their packaging is just fantastic!

  17. Andrea says:

    Heisse Marroni in a warm brown paper tüte….only way to go. Miss that! (The States need to get with it.)

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