Filets de perche. In Romandie, these flaky delicacies are to summertime what moité-moité fondue is to winter. But if you’re like us and the idea of a plate full of tender white fish, salted fries and a glass of mineral-y calamin wine conjure up images of sun-drenched terraces and warm temperatures, we have some bad news…
We’re doing it all wrong.
You may have noticed suspiciously good prices on the dish and even the tricky distinction of “filets de lac” rather than “filets du lac” on menus throughout the region. When asked if the fish comes from our Lake – THE (du) Lake right in front of us – restaurant owners respond with exasperation that it’s impossible to source enough supply from the Lac Léman. In a statistic we found online from 2011, 9 out of 10 perch filets consumed in Switzerland were imported (!). There’s simply too much demand to serve our perch-loving public. As the population continues to grow (Switzerland’s likely to hit 9 million this year!), more new arrivals to the region catch on to our summer wine and fish ritual, the problem can only get worse.
So, what are we to do? Accept that perch from Estonia and Ireland are as good as it gets and ignore the irony of eating an imported product that’s meant to satisfy an ideal of “local” cuisine? Or do we just consume differently?
The answer? To eat local, eat “off season”
On a recent visit to our favorite perch spot – Restaurant du Port in Vevey – we decided to put the question to the owner and chef Laurent Barbey.
Restaurant du Port is rooted in the local fishing culture. Along the wall, you can skim decades of press articles mentioning the restaurant and telling stories of local fishermen and their catch. Fishing nets drape the walls and a life-sized wooden fishing boat hangs from the ceiling. The menu is simple and doesn’t change much to the season – you come here for fish, whether it’s January or June. Which is precisely why it’s been our go-to perch spot for years.
Barbey explained that perch leave the Lake’s deep, cool waters in April to mate and lay their eggs in May each year. By the time most of the hatchlings reach 15cm in size, the required minimum for fishing, the idyllic summer weather has passed. Seasonal demand and seasonal supply are completely out of sync.
In other words, the best season to enjoy real, local filets de perches du lac is, surprisingly, the fall and winter. Head to your favorite lakeside restaurants now and ask if the perch comes from our Lake. Chances are good that the answer is yes.
Don’t have a favorite spot? Try one of ours.
All of these restaurants are known for offering local fish when available but have to turn to imported products when the demand out paces supply. If you want to be 100% sure, you can always call and ask about where they’re sourcing their fish that week.
For authenticity and fair prices
Café Restaurant du Port, Vevey
For a more upscale and pricey experience
Major Davel, Cully
For a choose your sauce adventure
Au Vieux Navire, Buchillon
For the view.
Auberge de la Gare, Grandvaux
For the charming terrace
Café de la Poste, Lutry
For picnic style
Cully Sunday Market, from the Pêcherie du Lavaux stand (the fisherman’s family prepares and serves the fish along with delicious spicy Cameroonian sauce).