Thursday, 3 November 2011

Fabulous things about the Dutch #3


The food everywhere, from the smallest hole-in-the-wall takeaway to the most elaborate restaurant, is unfailingly delicious.


Coming from a country where going out to eat is usually a gamble – with the odds normally stacked against having a great meal – it’s a revelation to always, always get a plate of food that’s hot, fresh and seriously yummy; and it’s worth mentioning that the service, too, is lickety-split, entirely without the infuriating waiting game South Africans often have to play in restaurants here at home. From the ‘designer burgers’ we had at Burgerz in the bustling centre of Den Haag to the catch-of-the-day at Land en Zeezicht in the tiny town of Marken, and an endless array of fantastic cakes at many coffee shops in between (the heavenly ‘slut pie’, a chocolate-and-cherry marvel that I had at De Taart van m’n Tante in Amsterdam springs to mind - the pic above is of my sister and my friend Michele in the shop, which was also visually fabulous), the whole experience was a gastronomic delight.

As, it could be argued, it should be – eating out in Holland is a Very Expensive Undertaking. The plate of ravioli I had at a little Italian restaurant in Amsterdam was, for instance, utterly delicious, but at +-R150 for 8 pockets of filled pasta (yup, that’s about R20 per bite), I would have been annoyed had it been anything other than astonishingly appetising.


And let me not even begin to talk about wine prices. It’s only when you’re paying from around R120 for a very so-so bottle of wine that you can begin to appreciate how lucky we are in South Africa (and, in my case, in the wine-growing region of the Swartland) to have access to good, reasonably priced wine. I took with me a box of Riebeek Cellars’ merlot as a present for my Dad, and we finished it on the first night (here he is, above, honouring that very South African tradition of squeezing the papsak for its last drops) – something I might not have done had I known what it was going to cost to keep my red-wine levels topped up. (Okay, I would have.) (Oh, and for any wine snobs out there: the boxed merlot is the same inexpensive, easy-drinking wine that Riebeek Cellars puts in its bottles.)

The Dutch are very proud of their traditional dishes, some of which I admit I did find a little challenging. For instance, the morning-after tradition of eating a whole raw herring by throwing back your head, opening your mouth and munching the entire fish from top to tail, chased by raw onion, left me cold. The ‘stamppot’ sauerkraut also didn’t really do it for me. Croquettes, which consist of a batter rolled in a crumb and deep-fried, and often served on a white roll, were a bit carbohydrate-heavy for me (although necessary, I suppose, to keep warm in a country where the sun don’t shine). And although I liked the speculaas, I quickly got bored of its flavouring in everything, up to and including ice cream.


One tradition I loved, and will continue here at home, was mayonnaise on chips – and Dutch fries are unfailing hot, fresh and crispy, regardless of whether you buy them from a street stall or order them in a chi-chi restaurant.

In the spirit of ‘what goes in must come out’, a word about Dutch toilets. The Dutch are generally a fairly tall people, so it’s a matter of some puzzlement why their toilets are built with, apparently, Hobbits in mind. And is it really necessary to have a kind of dry ‘platform’ onto which your leavings are deposited, so that once you’ve stood up and rearranged your clothing in a space so tiny that it’s sometimes literally impossible to turn around, you’re forced to look at what you’ve done before flushing the loo? Really, yuk.


The Dutch tend to be a bit arrogant about their cuisine, often subtly suggesting that any other country’s is somewhat lacking, so it was fun to find this made-in-Cape-Town salt-and-pepper set in the restaurant halfway up the Euromast in Rotterdam – so, clearly, our table condiments are good enough for them!



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