Instead of staying in a hotel, for our first week in the Netherlands we rented an apartment in a 17th century row house along the Bloemgracht (Flower canal) in the Jordaan district in Amsterdam.
The house boasted twenty foot ceilings, beautiful chandeliers and wood sconces, wide windows overlooking the canal, a modern kitchen, and wood floors worn beautifully smooth and uneven with the years. The street breathed romance, like old songs and old books.
The front of our apartment had a window seat which overlooked the canal. In the evenings we liked to sit there and people-watch, an activity we really enjoyed. Another activity we embraced with much enthusiasm (too much, perhaps!), was our quest to sample and discover Dutch food.
Vincent van Gogh may have been on to something with his portrayal of his kinsfolk as Potato Eaters in his famous painting, as there is an abundance of hearty potato-based dishes in the Dutch diet. There is still often this utilitarian approach to eating: two slices of brown bread, a slice of cheese and a glass of buttermilk is a standard lunch. This is frequently eaten on the go, without much ritual or reverence. However, humble, honest food can be a good thing. The beauty and simplicity of the root vegetable mash and the thick pea soup, the sublime cheeses and smoked sausage, the to-die-for apple cakes ... well, all I can say is 'lekker' ... delicous!
We also discovered a universe beyond potatoes and it was, indeed, good.
As we had a very nice, fully equipped kitchen in our apartment, we cooked most of our breakfasts and dinners there, eating them at the diningroom table overlooking the small courtyard terrace.
We shopped for fresh vegetables and fruit at outdoor market stalls, of which there were many. Each day we bought the most excellent strawberries and raspberries, blackberries, fresh figs, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. For meat, milk and eggs we usually went to the Albert Hejn, a local supermarket which was a five minute walk from our apartment.
Here I am choosing bread at a fabulous bakery nearby.
De Kasskamer, a cheese shop in the Jordaan, also near us, was amazing. It's name simply means 'cheese room', and a room full of cheese it most certainly is ... piled from floor to ceiling. For cheese lovers, like Gem, A and me, it was kaas heaven.
For our first meal out in Holland, which happened to be lunch, we walked to a Dutch Pannecoek Huis (Pancake House.) Our granddaughter, A, had poffertjes which are puffed mini-pancakes. They were smothered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce! Dutch pancakes are traditionally served with poedersuiker (powdered sugar) and stroop (a sugar-syrup similar to light treacle), and with the addition of freshly squeezed lemon, this was my choice, and they were delicious!
A's Poffertjes, which delighted both her eyes and stomach.
Gem's strawberry pancakes, to which he added whipped cream.
Traditional Dutch croquettes have long been a favourite in Gem's family. He grew up eating them and his father's handwritten recipe is one of Gem's prized possessions. Croquettes are comprised of either chopped beef or chicken stirred into a thick seasoned sauce and then allowed to cool. The mixture is molded into shape, dipped into beaten egg and rolled in bread crumbs, and then deep fried until golden brown. Gem makes them for St. Nicholas Day every year, mailing a frozen batch to each of our children in time for a special December 6th treat. Now our grandchildren love them, too, often asking when it will be time for Papa's croquettes.
Dutch Croquettes. which we usually ate served with chips and salad.
Our darling A began a love affair with the croquette. These she asked for every day ... in restaurants, at street carts and even out of the wall! (A term Gem started using as a little boy when his father would take him for a treat to the automat, which is a wall of self-serve ovens containing hot snacks.)
Papa picks a croquette from 'the wall' ... something he hadn't done since he was a child! I loved seeing the boyish excitement which shone in his eyes.
We made a deal with A that we would visit McDonald's once while we were in Holland, and once only. Here she discovers MacDonalds, Dutch style ... the McKroket! ... and pronounces it yummy!
Gem discovers McDonalds, Dutch style...
the McBeer! ... and pronounces it yummy!
A loved the Dutch hot chocolate. Here she enjoys it in a special cup at an outdoor cafe near the Rembrandt museum. As always it is served with whipped cream, and this time also with a chocolate filled waffle stick. Her Nana and Papa share a slice of our favourite appel coek (apple cake), also with whipped cream. I think Dutch people must bleed whipped cream!
French Fries called Frites were a popular street food. We ate them out of paper cones, perfectly golden and crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. In the Netherlands they are traditionally served with mayonnaise, not something I particularly enjoyed, although both husband and granddaughter did. These they shared one afternoon as we wandered the myriad stalls of the Albert Cuyp markt.
As we were on-the-go, lunch was the one meal we had out every day. Often we bought fresh bread or buns and paired them with the most gorgeous array of cheeses I have ever seen or tasted. We also sampled wonderful street food; Frikandels which are a sort of hot dog smothered in curry ketchup and raw onions, croissants filled with melting cheese and mushrooms. Another wonderful lunch was a cheese plate with spiced apple dipping sauce and black currant rye bread.
An array of fresh breads and buns boasting an assortment of savoury fillings.
A inspects her ham filled bun because she is worried that it may contain a few surprizes ... like hot Dutch mustard or raw onion. (Of course it's Papa's teasing that caused the apprehension in the first place!) There were no nasties, and she ate every bite. Her palate grew more adventurous as the days passed.
A strawberry sandwich, anyone?
Or how about some pickled herring?
Although pickled herring is supposed to be eaten as the poster shown below demonstrates, only Gem was brave enough to try it!
Gem and I also really liked the traditional Uitsmijer, an openface sandwich consisting of a layer of bread, spec (ham) and Edam cheese with sunny-side fried eggs on the top. This dish can be found in almost every Deli or Lunch place in the Netherlands. The granddaughter was not so taken with it. She did, however, enjoy the Dutch version of a grilled cheese sandwich.
An Uitsmijer sandwich.
On our last evening in The Netherlands, we went out for a spectacular dinner with Gem's three cousins and their spouses in Zanvoort, a quaint seaside town about a thirty minute train ride from Haarlem, where we had spent our second week. At the restaurant, which faced the North Sea and was surrounded by acres of sandy dunes and beach, over three laughter-filled hours, we feasted on a dizzying array of delicious courses; oyster gratin, tiny spinach tarts, dates wrapped in bacon, smoked salmon on toast, suddervlees (stewed beef), red cabbage baked with apples, garlic mashed potatoes, and a magnificent speculaas (spiced ginger cookie) ice-cream that I still dream about. All was washed down with Jopen beer and Gem's favourite Tilburg's Dutch Brown Ale.
The sunset view from the restaurant in Zanvoort.
As you can discern, we certainly didn't go hungry during our holiday ... and I haven't even written about the chocolate or the stroopwaffels ... yet!