Monday, July 13, 2009

Hallo up there

I'm now in the Netherlands, reading for orals met koffie while Jo attends a conference. Things here are almost too serene - the only places I associate with schoolwork are Hyde Park, Chicago and lower Manhattan, so sitting with a book by a canal just seemed bizarre, but in a good way. Although tomorrow I may have to turn the two-mile (each way) walk to the center into a jog, to up the reading-to-sightseeing ratio. It is truly lovely here (and not just because of the giant HEMA, to which I will no doubt return...), so it should be a good week.

You knew this was coming: I keep looking for clues in the food here as to why people here are ridiculously tall, even, it seems, compared to Belgians. Last night, upon arrival, Jo and I had some truly awful hamburgers that many Dutch people seemed to be enjoying (an acquired taste?) at a fast food place that specializes in sustainability, and has pictures of cows on the walls. There were so many cows staring at us that between those pictures, the (real-) cow-filled pasture next to the conference hotel, and the horribleness of the aforementioned hamburgers, I'm considering vegetarianism. Then again, the muesli cereal I bought to compensate: also verging on inedible.

The lunch I assembled for myself via the supermarket - gouda on a couple of wheat rolls - tasted very... nutritious. Not the gouda - that just tasted like gouda in the States, only fresher - but the roll. It had this vitamin-y aftertaste that prevented me from finishing the second roll. (No tragedy - I'd prepared for the possible failure of the sandwich with additional purchases of fruit and chocolate). But perhaps the aftertaste comes from the mysterious height-inducing substance? I did eat most of the two rolls, so we shall see.

Linguistically, the Dutch-Flemish thing is confusing me to no end. When Jo speaks his native language here, even at length, people reply in English. Is it that they've heard us speaking English? Sometimes, but not always. That Jo has brown rather than blond hair, and is 6'2" rather than 7'2", as is usual here? Perhaps. Other possibilities include the tendency for store and café signs, even in places I can't imagine cater to tourists or other international types, to be in English - perhaps all formal interaction with people who even might not be Dutch takes place in English? Or is Flemish really that different from Dutch? The sound of the two languages (two accents?) is noticeably different to me, someone who at this point understands some Flemish, just about no Dutch, and can only express coffee-related concerns in either, while despite knowing French, I'm still not convinced I'd hear any difference between the French in Paris and in Brussels.

That's enough of that. Now, back to 1870 Paris, where no doubt people were closer to my size.


Matt said...

Is this part of a slow trip to Germany for some extended period, or just a vacation?

tomorrow I may have to turn the two-mile (each way) walk to the center into a jog, to up the reading-to-sightseeing ratio.

I long ago developed the habit of reading while I walk and am now an expert at it. It increases my reading time by quite a bit, though it does make sight seeing harder. I don't know if it would suit your needs, though.

The hamburger story makes me thing of certain scenes from the movie Barcelona, though I guess it was claimed there that the Spaniards didn't like their hamburgers. I was surprised to find on a recent trip to England that ground meat there has to be done well, because of health regulations, I guess, thereby making it much worse to the taste.

Phoebe said...

Not vacation anymore - thus the orals reading. Basically, I'm following my boyfriend to various European locales, because my work for the summer is mobile, and because it was cheaper to give up our Brooklyn apt and do this.

I can now report that falafel here, at a Dutch-based chain, is nearly as bad as the burgers. But the (Flemish) fries at the falafel place were not half bad!

eamonnmcdonagh said...

maoz felafel, no? yum! it was one of the few highlights of my very boring two and a half year stint in the low, low lands of Holland

Phoebe said...

Yes, Maoz, but no, not yum. Except for the fries. Given the food here, I'm now starting to accept that this will be a week of fries, with supermarket fruit and chocolate (these things never go wrong) to supplement. Not the tragedy of tragedies, but it's strange how close this is to Belgium, where the cuisine is not exactly an acquired taste.

Daniel Goldberg said...

I just came back from the Netherlands, and I'm convinced that the falafel in Amsterdam, at least, is better than anywhere outside of the Middle East. But there are definitely better falafel than Maoz.

Phoebe said...

Interesting. Two thoughts: 1) Any suggestions for Leiden?, and 2) perhaps it's necessary to fully partake in what the Netherlands has to offer in order to think so highly of the falafel here.

Daniel Goldberg said...

Sadly, I was only in transit to Germany via the Netherlands, so I only had time for brief stopovers in Amsterdam inbound and outbound (hence no Leiden).

As for partaking, ha, you are probably right about that, but enjoying all that the Netherlands has to offer did not make me think some of the other meals I tried there were The Best Ever.

I was talking to one of the falafel shop owners about the falafel, and he, biased though he might be, enthusiastically agreed that the falafel there was some of the best in the world. I asked him why, and he admitted he did not really know, other than to note the presence of large communities of persons with Middle Eastern heritage, and hence perhaps a strong demand for really good falafel.

But if that is the case, you would expect to find incredible falafel in New York or Los Angeles, and, to the best of my knowledge, not so much.

Phoebe said...

I'm also heading to Germany - hopefully falafel there will be good, if there is any. Prior experience with doner has left me looking to try other street foods instead.

In NY, the best falafel is no doubt Taim, which does hold its own with Tel Aviv - amazing given how much worse the vegetable options are that they have to work with. But it's true that just going somewhere random in NY, or even to some of the famous places (Mamouns, ugh) the falafel will be unimpressive.

Daniel Goldberg said...

I can't speak to the falafel, and I suppose it depends on where in Germany you are headed, but I did have a phenomenal meal at a Georgian restaurant (had lahmacun mit doner). However, this was a sit-down restaurant, so I don't think it qualifies as street food.

Phoebe said...

Where in Germany was this Georgian food?

Daniel said...

Bielefeld; right across from the train station. No web site, as far as I can tell, but the restaurant was quite crowded.

Kaleberg said...

Wow, Holland has changed. I remember pickled herring stands, rijstafel and great sandwiches. Of course, this was back in the 1960s, and we were doing it on $5 a day.

A worldwide search for the best falafel sounds like a great idea for a book. Ah, the taboule of Beijing, the deep fryers of Chad and the Malaysian falafel made with Kemiri nuts.

Phoebe said...


Want a co-author?