By Mark van Engeland


Update from last week:
I've been told that I don't need X-ray vision to see the road markings which say whether a side-road has precedence or not; because there are signposts, indicating the ones where cars have to give way to the main drag.
So, now all I need is X-ray vision to see through all the incredibly tall Dutch people who stand in the way of the signs!

And the Dutch really are tall!
I could make some comment about it being legal to get high, over here; but I don't like to go for the obvious.
I'm about average size for a Briton.  At eighteen I was just under six feet, and twenty years on I seem to have shrunk an inch or so -- presumably from carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders -- but these guys tower over me!
Even the women!  If you like 'em tall, boys, this is the place to be!
It must be something in the diet -- which just happens to be the theme of this week's column (don'tcha just love the way I link these things together?)

The first thing I asked, as I got off the boat, was....

<Dramatic Reconstruction Begin>

    "Ok, so what do I eat, now I'm here?"
    "Eat?  You mean eat like food? 
    "No, I mean eat like bricks and soap.  Of course I mean food!  What are the local delicacies?"
    "Well, we have meat..."
    "Meat, yeah.  Always a good start."
    "And we have potatoes..."
    "Ok.  So far, so good.  And...?"
    "What was that?  I didn't catch it."
    "I am thinking."
    "Oh.  Ok.  So.  Meat and potatoes.  And what else?"
    "Erm...  You're not saying much."
    "Well, we have meat, and we have potatoes..."
    "Yes, I'd gathered that.  What else?"
    "Wait a minute!  Are you trying to tell me...?"
    "We have meat...  We have potatoes..."
    "Meat...  Ja...  Potatoes..."
    "Are you saying that you Dutch just eat meat and potatoes?!"
    "You're kidding me!  I mean, what about special occasions?  What do you eat for Sinter Kinski's day, or whatever?"
    "Sinter Klaas.  Oh!  Sometimes we have sauce!"
    "Sauce?  Ok, that's cool.  So you have the basic staples, and make loads of different sauces to give you variety?  Like French cuisine, but without the disgusting creepy-crawlies?"
    "Well, yes, but we get sauce from the supermarket.  In jars."
    "... from the supermarket...?"
    "Ok...  Cool...  Erm...  Just a second.  I want to go and check the ferry timetable..."

<Dramatic Reconstruction End>
(No animals were harmed, cooked, nor eaten during the filming of this dramatisation)

Actually, it's not so bad as I make it sound.
There's a good range of international fare in the restaurants and cafés; and the food they sell from snack bars is mostly good stuff (various types of rissole, croquette, etc.).  I tried a falafel the other day; my first ever; and it was gorgeous!  There are plenty of Jews in England -- Why are there no falafel stands?  We're missing out, there!
I haven't really been here long enough to have tried out too many of the traditional dishes (if anyone needs a guest for dinner...); so you can be sure I shall be returning to this subject, once I've tested out a few of these meats and potatoes culinary delights.
The chips they eat over here are those horrible, frozen, cardboard things; which you have to smother with ketchup or mayonnaise to give them any flavour; but that's not a major problem -- in fact, I only mention them at all because it's expected of me, being British (I don't suppose you heard me sigh as I said that) (No, I don't wear a bowler hat).
Where I have seen the Dutch excel, so far, is in the sweet stuff -- everyday sweet stuff; the kind that you would take for granted; not special event sweet stuff.
Dutch ice-cream is almost on a par with the superb Italian style; although they do have the awful, sugary, powdered-milk-based English rubbish, too (Walls is called 'Ola', over here); and I could spend an entire column, singing the praises of stroopwafels (pronounced strope-vaffle, the 'a' sounding as in 'apple').
I'll settle for a couple of small paragraphs.
'Stroop' means syrup, and a 'wafel' is a wafer biscuit (nothing to do with the American mashed potato things).

<Excerpt from Ma van Engeland's Recipe Book Begin>

    Take two round, single-leaf, but quite thick, wafels; splatter a big glob of hot, thick, translucent syrup between them, and press until the syrup oozes out of the edges.
    Eat warm.

<Excerpt from Ma van Engeland's Recipe Book End>

What you do is; because they are circular, and almost four inches across; you sit them on top of your coffee/tea, to warm up.
If I get fat, you know what to blame -- and my coffee intake has tripled, just so I can warm my stroopwafels!
And no!  All this extra sugar and caffeine is not making me irritable!  So just shut up, shut up, shut up!

There is a market stall in Rotterdam centre which makes stroopwafels on the spot, in all shapes and sizes, from piles of home-made wafels and a big cauldron of syrup.  If you ever need to find me....
Of course, the 'grandmother' society of England would never allow such a stall to exist...

<Interfering British Regulatory Busybody's Report Begin>

    The temperature of the syrup was found to be below 637 degrees Celsius.
    This is, of course, unsatisfactory, as this temperature will not kill every bacterium known to man; including the millions of varieties which do not exist in England; and will not burn thirty layers of skin off the roof of the mouth of anyone who purchases the product.
    Recommendation:  Close the stall, and replace it with a minced-offal-burger bar.

<Interfering British Regulatory Busybody's Report End>

Then, of course, there's the chocolate!
You wouldn't believe it from my figure, but I'm a big lover of things chocolaty; and in the Netherlands, as in most European countries (except England), they are not allowed to use any crap or additives in chocolate production; so they use cocoa, instead.
Sounds perfect to me!
Oooh! And I almost forgot the chocolate milk!  (See what I mean?  Chocolate mad!).
The main brand over here is called 'Chocomel'; but there is a slightly cheaper one in Lidl shops, which is just as good (when you consume it in the quantities that I do, a few pennies makes a big difference!).
If any chocolate milk producers I have not mentioned here would like to send me a free truckload sample, I should be happy to give my honest opinion of it (of course, if they want me to lie, it will cost them a truckload of the good stuff -- and I'll call it 'acting'!)

A lot of dishes have been transported here from former Dutch colonies -- the same as England having a lot of Indian and Caribbean food -- and this is all good stuff.  I had a superb Surinami meal, the other day -- which looked like it was meant to be a vegetarian meal; but chicken had been added, to satisfy the 'meat and potatoes' criteria.
And there is, of course, the omnipresent (omni = everywhere except Italy) Chinese cuisine.
Y'know, it's always amazed me that when China turned communist, millions of people left to open restaurants around the world; but when Russia switched, everyone stayed there.  People are only leaving the Russian states now that they have turned capitalist (maybe they've heard that people have meat with their potatoes, in the Western world!).
But enough obtuse politics.  I'll leave that for a political humour column -- this one's about crazy Dutchmen.

I've been doing a lot of cooking since I came over, because I can and because people here want to try English cuisine -- which constitutes a lot more than roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and chips; no matter what the snooty French say!
Incidentally, do you know what line one in a standard French cook-book reads?
"If it moves, Eat it!"  (badaboom!)
Having to cook means having to shop for the fixings...  Which leads on nicely to the second sub-heading for this week's column:

Shopping in Holland

<Storytelling mode on>

    I stared at the doorway to the 'Supermarkt' for a long time; watching the patterns of the guards as they carried boxes of heaven only knew what evil substances into the building, and shunted trolleys from one place to another.  Some of the boxes had 'Potatoes' printed on the side in bold black letters; the others, 'Meat'.
    The fate of the entire dinner party was at risk if I did not complete my assignment.  I had to do it!
    I waited for a pause in the guards' pattern, then made my move.
    The information I had been given about the trolleys was correct.  Their rudimentary security devices could be easily bypassed by way of inserting a coin into a slot on the side, and pressing it home.  Score one for the Intelligence crew.  I mouthed a silent prayer that the other data they had given me would prove to be equally accurate.
    Taking calm, even paces, I entered the monstrous edifice; pushing the uncooperative trolley before me.
    Keep your cool, Double-0 PS,  I told myself.  Act like you belong, and no-one will give you a second look.
    My objective was to find some vegetables to go with cottage pie.  I had already decided that the swiftest, and therefore safest, way to achieve this would be through canned goods...
    Oh, my God!
    They've got Stroopwafels!

    I cast my trained eye back to the entrance.
    Was it worth a second sortie, to collect a second trolley?
    A rapid calculation told me that there were only between sixty and seventy packets of stroopwafels on the shelf, anyway.  Going back for a second trolley would be a fruitless risk.
    I quickly loaded the syrup-filled biscuits into the trolley and continued with the mission.

    ... and ran out of column space!
    Don't miss the next exciting episode, where Double-0 PS finds the canned-goods section -- but will he get out alive?

<Storytelling mode suspended>


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