Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Food and Shopping

General thoughts / information about food in the Netherlands:

Traditional dutch fare is considered "winter food" - a hearty meat and potatoes dinner. This is preceded by a small breakfast consisting of toast, an egg, some cheese - considered small by American standards but larger than traditional continental fare of coffee/tea and a roll/croissant. Lunch is usually soup or a sandwich. The sandwiches would also be considered small by American standards. No big sub-shops here with footlongs to go.

The only meals I have eaten out yet have primarily been lunches, consisting of a Tosti Kaas (or Ham/Kaas) and soup. You can see in the picture of my remaining half-sandwich that it is not overly large. (Apologies for the yellow tone of the photo as I didn't want to use the flash inside the cafe and disturb the other diners.)

The other day, after eating eggs or yogurt for breakfast and a tosti kaas for lunch and ham/cheese on a Wasa cracker for dinner, I was really craving something colorful and healthy. So I got some beets and green beans from the grocery store. They were really good and hit the spot.

A couple days later, I got a pre-packaged salad from the grocery store and my intitial impression overall is that dutch food is bland. It is not tasteless, just not spiced or salted very heavily. Even the salad dressing was mild (it was nice, actually, to be able to taste the vegetables beneath the dressing).

Interestingly, because of Dutch colonialism there is Indonesian food and other ethnic eateries throughout Amsterdam. I'll let you know whether the fare there has been toned down for the dutch palate as soon as I try another. I did get a "schwarma", which was a mildly, cinnamon-spiced lamb pita (about 5 inches in diameter) with a garlic yogurt sauce. Not even close to being garlicky, but overall it was tasty.

Food shopping:

Throughout Amsterdam there are Albert Heijn grocery stores. They are just like our American grocery stores except they are smaller and don't have endless rows of choices. For example, when I went to buy laundry detergent, I had a choice of six or seven brands and options. Instead of an entire grocery aisle, I would say the space took up about as much room as two Hostess display racks.

To get a cart, you have to put in 50 cents (euro cents), which unlocks the cart. You get your 50 cents back when you return it. Apparently this really works to keep the carts in the store because you don't see anyone, including vagrants, with carts outside the store. To use a plastic shopping basket, you do not need to make a deposit.

Most grocery stores that I have been to in the city have mono-directional controls - presumably to discourage stealing. You enter through a turnstile or one way gate and must exit through a checkstand. I do not know whether this is the case out in the countryside, but doubt that it is.

Grocery stores do not provide sufficient bags. If you forget your bag, you can get a flimsy one at the checkstand and pray that you get your goods home without it breaking. This is a practice to encourage re-using durable bags. I picked up this little bag for 1E to use for shopping. When folded up in its little bag, it is half the size of a fork. When opened up, it is the size of a normal plastic shopping bag (maybe a little deeper even). I used it today when I went to the Albert Cuyp open-air market.

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