Expat Chronicles: let's talk Dutch Food
Ok, so you want to hear about the food in The Netherlands - how we grocery shop, what’s available, special foods and more. Let’s do it. Now keep in mind that I’ve only been here a short while, so these are my impressions as a very new arrival. Nothing too definitive! I trust that real Nederlanders will chime in to make corrections as needed.
While lots of people own cars in The Netherlands, many get around mostly by bike. We’re in that club, so we’ve been grocery shopping by pedal-power. It’s actually much easier than you think!
First, there are grocery stores everywhere. I told someone from South Carolina that just like there’s a church on every corner in the south, there is a grocery store on every corner in the Netherlands. Not literally, but for sure the store is just a quick bike away. We have several grocery store choices within 5 minute’s bike ride. They’re so close that sometimes we walk instead of ride.
We’ve brought groceries home in the storage basket of Elora’s stroller, in that yellow bike trailer, in backpacks, bike baskets and in waterproof panniers that attach to the rear bike rack. So, there are lots of options!
In the States we would grocery shop twice a week. The grocery store was a 15+ minute drive by car, and we brought home several bags worth. The same amount of groceries would fit in a bike trailer, for example.
Here in the Netherlands most people have refrigerators that hold about half the capacity of an American fridge. As a result, smaller grocery trips are more practical. We’ve switched to a three times per week grocery schedule. I’m hoping having a smaller fridge will help us avoid food waste.
The Dutch also shop at open air markets which occur at scheduled times throughout the week. For example, market comes two days a week to our city center, a 15 minute bike ride from our rental. At market you’ll find stalls for produce, meat, eggs, breads + pastries, cheese and even candy. There are household goods too. Last time I spied a little fabric booth!
We’ve begun a tradition of going to market as a family on Saturday morning. The fresh pastries are an affordable treat. It’s been fun to try different things and start to get to know favorite venders. The kids and I like extra belegen gouda cheese, which we buy by the kilo from the cheese specialists. I need a lesson on how to deal with the rind though, and definitely need a new cheese-slicing tool. At the cheese stall they make it look so easy!
So far we’ve been really impressed with food quality! In fact, Liam said sometime around week two that “everything tastes better in The Netherlands.” This may have been the newness factor! Still, we all agree that the sandwich bread is delicious and that the fruit is refreshingly ripe.
In the States we almost never bought fruits like apricots, peaches, plums or nectarines because they were sold unripe in grocery stores. Rather than ripen on the counter, these fruits tended to get mushy and then rot. I’d even started to avoid buying strawberries in the stores after too many tasteless disappointments. At our first grocery trip in Enschede, I bought apricots. They actually smelled like apricots in the store! And - hooray - they tasted liked the apricots I would pick from our tree as a girl. Since then we’ve enjoyed store-bought strawberries (small and not so red as in the USA, but tasty like those picked from the field), peaches (perfection!), and nectarines.
Here’s the rub - the grocery stores are smaller with a more limited selection, as compared to the United States. Things we’ve been unable to buy: green enchilada sauce, Italian sausage, chocolate chips, hot dogs/buns. For sure the ethnic food section is highly limited. And then cheese - cheese is a whole issue.
At the grocery store there is a sizable cheese isle which would seem more than adequate on first glance. But look closer! You’ll find it’s almost 100% gouda. Gouda Jong. Gouda Belegen. Gouda Oude. But gouda it is! You might find tucked into the corners a tiny bag of shredded Mexican cheese, little portions of American Cheese, some mozzarella. No cheddar. But everything that is not gouda is going to be expensive! The Dutch eat gouda.
Ok, so we’re working on it. We’ve learned to substitute the Mexican cheese in our ethnic dishes with gouda jong. And, we’ve learned to buy little French cheeses (La Bonne Vache) for Rora, instead of pricey string cheese. We shall survive, haha.
Again, we’re new arrivals, so take my comments here with a grain of salt. Out and about we’ve seen that the Dutch enjoy lots of fries (with mayo instead of ketchup), fried fish, potato dishes, smoothies and fresh orange juice. Every grocery store has an orange juicing station. Isn’t that cool? Most cafes sell smoothies, which are truly delicious. The store-brand juices are pure and tasty. We’re definitely getting our fruit in!
Some famous Dutch treats are chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) and stroopwafels. I’m a huge chocolate fan, but couldn’t understand why there would be a fuss for sprinkles. Then I tried them. They’re not bland milk chocolate filled with sugar, as they would be in the States. Instead, they’re made of dark chocolate and they actually taste like a good chocolate bar. I’ve not gone so far as to put them on bread like the Dutch do for breakfast, but I like them on vanilla ice cream.
Stroopwaffels are a type of thin, waffle-textured cooke with a sort of caramel filling. They’re good, but not totally my thing (having no chocolate element). Brandon loves them, especially with tea!
One more thing - hazelnuts. I noticed immediately that chocolate bars are offered with hazelnuts, but not with almonds or other nuts. Turns out that hazelnuts are native to The Netherlands and most of Europe. In fact there’s a hazelnut tree outside our rental! So hazelnut chocolate it is. I’ll admit, I’m missing my chocolate covered almonds, but there’s something to look forward to when we visit the USA someday, haha.
Bottom line? We’ve tweaked some recipes and tried new foods and overall we’re quite happy with the offerings in our new home country. Brandon, who does most of our grocery shopping, doesn’t feel that it is less convenient to shop this way. I actually think it’s more convenient, because I can send Aria or Liam to the store on their bike to retrieve a missing ingredient for dinner. They’ll be there and back in 15 minutes, on safe bike streets, and no one will think it’s weird for my kid to use my debit card in the store. I love that kids have more freedom here. And I love that said freedom makes life a bit easier for kids and parents alike. More on that later!
p.s. Our grocery bill seems to be about the same as in the States. We’ll need more time to know for sure, but I figured you were wondering.