How to eat well in The Netherlands

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Which of these drinks would you prefer?

I must confess that I am starting to become rather obsessed with labels on food. I feel somewhat resentful when I am forced to spend money for the privilege of poisoning myself.

A couple of days ago, we spent the evening at a friend’s house in Amsterdam. We arrived at his house a good few hours before he got there – he had left us the key – and, as I was feeling extremely thirsty, I sent Violetta off to the supermarket. What I was really craving – perhaps a trifle bizarrely, since this isn’t my normal beverage – was a soda and lime.

Violetta did very well on the sparkling water, but, when it came to the lime cordial, her purchase was definitely found wanting. She had opted for the Euro Shopper brand, since it was all she could find. The usual one I go for is Teisseire, which is about four times more expensive (€2.99 compared to 80 cents).

The Euro Shopper variety, presented in a transparent bottle, was vibrant and rather putrid green. It looked exactly like washing up liquid – and didn’t smell all that different. I had a couple of glasses, since I was so thirsty, but it was pretty dreadful – and didn’t taste all that much like lime. When I looked at the ingredients on the back, the list seemed to contain more ‘E’s than any other letter. We left the bottle at our friend’s house, amusing ourselves with the thought that he might mistake it for washing up liquid, with titillating consequences.

I have just returned from another trip to the supermarket, where I did purchase my favoured Teisseire lime cordial. I scrutinised the ingredients on the back before parting with my money, to make sure I knew what I was buying. There wasn’t a single E-number on the label. There were no colourings and no preservatives, and the colour of the drink, when poured into the glass, was almost transparent. Just as it should be. Granted, the top ingredient was sugar, but that is as one might expect. I didn’t buy the drink because I thought it was lime juice – I bought it because it was lime cordial. If I wanted lime juice, I’d squeeze a lime.

I have some other gripes about food shopping, specifically in the Netherlands but they probably apply to other countries as well. One of my biggest ones concerns supermarkets. It seems that they have way too much power in influencing how we shop, and the really galling thing is that what they sell isn’t actually that good. It often isn’t cheaper than what you can get elsewhere, and it is rarely better quality (with a few exceptions, of course). Even worse, many of us believe that the supermarkets do offer good value-for-money and good quality. What they offer is convenience, which I appreciate is a valuable commodity. But it is irritating that they invariably lure us into believing that they offer more than this, too.

Vegetables are far cheaper in the market, which is just round the corner from our house. The quality and availability (not to mention price) of fish on the shelves is disappointing – again: check the market. And don’t even get me started on the meat. Absolutely terrible and filled with water. Chicken is possibly a safe bet, but the rest? Forget it. Fortunately, in the case of meat, there is a good butcher or two around town (if one can be bothered to go there).

As I was cooking Greek kebabs this afternoon, I took myself off to our preferred butcher – Scharrelslagerij ‘t Oudeambacht – which was, as usual, absolutely packed. I had to wait almost half an hour before I was served, but I didn’t mind, since I knew that the quality of the stuff I would be getting would be top-notch.

And they’re so friendly and helpful in there, too. I wanted to get a leg of pork, but knowing very little about the different parts of the animal, I had a long discussion about what meat cut I should get. Eventually, I walked off, very happily, with 400 grams of rump (I tried to ignore the fact that they called it ‘pig’s arse’, I think this may have been a slight mistranslation). Plus a very delicious, though slightly pricey, truffle salami.

It’s always nice to go to this butcher, not only because the quality of the produce is so good, but also because the number of customers piling out the door shows that, well done, local shops can still work.

Another good local shop, which is also a thorough pleasure to visit, is the Alien Brewing Company, which is a specialist beer shop. I popped in there to get a few experimental beers – I am somewhat fed up with the rather mundane, though admittedly quite cheap, beers that I frequently stock up on from Albert Heijn. Absolutely delightful to pop in, just to discuss beers with someone who actually knows what they are talking about, and can give recommendations tailored to what you want.

And, really, how much of a hassle is it to leave the supermarkets aside occasionally and concentrate on the local shops, where you are certainly going to get better produce, often for a better price?

So, to summarise:

  • The market for vegetables.
  • The market also for fish.
  • The butcher for meat.
  • Speciality beer shop for beer (same applies for wine and spirits)
  • Baker… mmm, difficult, this isn’t France. We haven’t found a good one yet. Suggestions?
  • Supermarkets. Use with extreme caution. Can be good value in some instances, particularly if you rely on their special deals. But never, ever take this a given.
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One Response to “How to eat well in The Netherlands”

  1. Colin Cartmell-Browne Says:

    Unfortunately what you describe with the supermarkets in The Netherlands is the same in the UK. Large, faceless companies are strangling the small independent shops regardless of how much they like to pretend they are part of a ‘community’.

    To a certain extent I can understand how this comes about- not everyone has time to go to several shops to get what they want. For example we live in a small town, luckily for us my wife doesn’t work so has time to go to the small, local shops. However if she did work then we’d be stuck with Morrison’s or Tesco’s to do our shopping.

    Its actually the same story with any large company in any given sector, it’s the Amazon effect of commercialisation!

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