The next best thing about not winning a quad of free tickets to a great shindig…
…is having a friend who’s won them! So, began my day on Thursday. T and I exchanged messages – she wanted to talk to me but I was in a meeting. Promising to get back to her, I sent her the link to the email I had about the food fair and she sent me a reply – ‘That’s why I wanted to talk to you, I have free tickets for this afternoon!’ And the rest is history.
Eten & Drinken 2010 food fest in The Hague.
Now, while the Dutch are not exactly renowned for their gastronomic prowess, it is fair to say that my limited exposure – holidays, daily living and so forth are not sufficient for a rapid generalisation. And I am a foodie at heart….after all. So I accepted the ticket gladly – a chance to shop at the food market, sample some dutch cuisine in the resturants and maybe participate in a couple of workshops!
Well, the afternoon session was almost drawing to a close when I arrived but I was ushered in and my ‘free ticket’ taken away 🙂 I came just before the evening session began but didn’t have to shell out another 17.50 euros for a new ticket. That pleased me to no end.
I started with the Market.
At the 3rd stall I stopped by, which happened to be a book stall, I happened upon a young man. Actually, 2 young men,on either side of the book table. And a lady. I can’t remember how the conversation began but the next minute photos were mentioned. I, in absolute ignorance offered to take a photo of the lady with the young man on my side and she offered to do the same for me – all in my very ‘confused dutch’. Eventually, I gave in and a few photos of us were shot and I continued looking at the books…thinking that the guy sort of looked familiar. I did notice the looks of shock I received from people around me and when I pressed further, it appears I had been in the company of royalty….in the very presence of one of the Netherlands Top TV chefs….Ramon Beuk!
It all came flooding back. I remembered that I may have seen him on TV eons ago as I rarely watch TV these days (the thought of being devoted to 3 different screens all day long is not very pleasant – computers @ work, computers @ home and if I want to stretch it, then the TV also!) It was quite funny and I felt a tad bit guilty that I hadn’t recognised him till they showed me his new book – on Fair Trade: cooking and travels around the world. This just goes to show that the very air around celebraties is not fraught with electric excitement and heavy with ‘royal’ oxygen – they are pure and normal people! Just like me 🙂 Oh, I’m so ready to meet the queen – any queen!!!!!
After my jarring intro into the world of Dutch cuisine, I met Arnold again, my ‘friend’ from DOK. Remember, my super butter and bread knife? Well, he not only gave me a 20 euro voucher, but he offered me a saturday spot in their fantastic shop to give a cooking class/product demo! I was so excited but common sense set me on the path of reason and I figure that the New Year will be a better time to explore that opportunity. Let it be said though that I am very, very excited.
There were loads of food produce and I mean – upmarket, up-scale and for me never-seen-before – een echte gastrofest!
One of the most delicious combinations I had was at ‘Oro in Bocca’, an Italian ‘shop’ out of Marche. It was a delicious soft pork and lard sausage, combined with some pecorino cheese. One taste and I was sold! I quickly secured my portion with a cash exchange and stuffed my already overflowing bag with the cheese and sausage.
Only to return home, sausageless. Help, Waiter, I lost my sausage. If I called security to report it, what would I have sounded like? A lunatic? No one would understand the absolute taste explosion from a tiny bit of the stuffed meat cylinder! Had I been smart, I would have availed myself of the ‘Shop and Drop service’
So, there was an email waiting for me today (21st November)…and it said – I have your sausage!!!!!!!! Enough said. In a couple of days, I’ll pick it up and I’ll let you have a little look and a bit of a taste…too.
There wasn’t just one Italian store….
Or one Spanish either but multiple: Manchego cheese, tree-dried raisins and ham,only a few to mention. A ‘cake’ of pressed figs with almonds, quite similar to what I tasted at the Italian stand – it must be a mediterranean thing.
English reps…they were all there.
Producers of Turkey and other meat products turned out in numbers….
I heard some interesting stories. The sign below says ‘what have you eaten all year?’ A question the gentleman below asked himself about beef and steak during a holiday in South Africa! When he returned to the Netherlands, he resolved to up the game and he has….that was the best beef jerky I’ve ever had. My first experience was diametrically opposed to this – one taste and it was binned. This on the other hands was soft yet firm and well seasoned. I like it.
There were wines and aficionados, from the wine institute.
Homemade jams and chutneys, from Courgette to …
…Backberry, Orange and Cherry with sugar and spice!
And aged Balsamic vinegars…which you could combine with fruit. The 15 year old Balsamic vinegar I tried was a thickened dark syrup, sweet and slightly acidic with the familiar balsamic taste. In the centre of a raspberry, it was amazingly delicious! And though they resemble perfume bottles, they aren’t. Instead, they combine wood-aged vinegars with time to produce distinct flavours depending on the maturity – 4 year, 7 years, 9 years or 15 years!
Confitures and preserves of pear and more.
Literary delights in the form of bookshops and magazines were in great abundance
I came across exotic herbs and spices – yes Fleur de Sel is kinda exotic.
There was chocolate..and not just any chocolate but Valrhona – the first time I’m seeing it outside France!
The gentleman at the chocolate stand started talking about attending a cooking workshop in the Valrhona labs last year and then I mentioned caramelised white chocolate. The result – a bonbon filled with caramelised white chocolate and berry filling.
Stalls of fresh cresses…and flowers were not at all out of place. I sampled bothh broccoli and rocket cress – good for you foods!
I ate a petal from the same edible orchid I didn’t eat at Buddha’s months ago….and learnt that they have a very special ‘hook’ stem which allows them sit neatly on tumbler rims. Not just a pretty face, I say.
Some of the things I hadn’t seen before are:
1) Food perfume
2) ‘Self-growing mushrooms’
3) A Caviar cooler
And 4) Mushroom beer
Now back to the familiar and in typical dutch fashion, there was Brood. Bread….bread….bread. Very nice bread I might add. I took home a Spelt loaf after trying it out and enjoying its light, refined taste.
I did also try some bread soup which was essentially tomato soup, flavoured with herbs and bread. It was delish, save for the faint celery taste (which I’m not keen on!)
And lots of seafood (of course you could nibble…for free 🙂 )Though I did take away buy 6 delicious mini quiches with flavour-some fillings and flaky crusts – everything from tomato, chilli and black olives to crab, salmon and shrimp.
I saw oysters being shucked….
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…and tasted my first ever – hmmm. Loads of sea water and gravel is how someone described it! It was ok, an experience which I won’t necessarily describe as mind-blowing… but nice that I didn’t end up in hospital!
There were numerous cooking sessions and demos – cheese, wine, pastry and more. All cheap, save for the caviar workshop which cost 15 euros but you got to taste 4 different sorts, including the real beluga, straight from Caspian sea sturgeons.
I paid 5 euros for a Tapas and Sherry workshop and that was great!
There was a room full of excited people….in small groups of 2s and 3s. I sat with two nice guys – Luke (Luc) and David who are studying Hotel Management and we chatted and analysed the Tapas and Sherries from start to finish.
Everything was laid out well in little bowls which were then ferried off to each table when it was time
The tables were set up with huge ‘vases’ for Sherry dispensing – very logical but before I saw people dispensing, I wondered what it was for. Forgive me but this was my first experience at ‘tasting ‘!
The first Tapa we made was serrano ham with onion confit; follwed by sobrasada (from pork with origins in Majorca) and honey. Each of the Tapa was accompained with an appropriate Sherry. Since I don’t drink much, I hardly focussed on how well they paired. My apologies. I did notice they were a bit alcoholly and not very sweet. We made another Tapa of Tuna and piquillo peppers and then one with blue cheese. Of these 4, I quite enjoyed the serrano ham tapa and the tuna and peppers
I really enjoyed the Tapa sandwich of cheese, rocket and fried chistorra sausage.
After my workshop, which lasted just under an hour and enriched my Tapas repertoire greatly, I had a quick whizz round the resturant before I set off for home!
It was full to the brim. I coasted round each restaurant booth, peeking, poking and just looking.
I don’t know what the food tasted like but it can’t all have been bad….all of it looked pretty good to me.
Couscous in a square….
And a plate ‘almost exactly’ like one I made last week – red wine poached pears, mash and venison!
And dessert. Luke and David had told me where to have dessert- at the Patisserie. I got there to find out that I needed tokens. Tired, end of the day and not willing to work back and forth, I stood, trying to decide on the next move. And then, a plate in front of me – free dessert!!!!! Yes, though without the red berry garnishes :-). This is an sutumn dessert called sprokkelaar herfstgebak. This serving was meringue filled with flavoured cream and dipped in chocolate. It was ok….not my first choice in treats but it was nice to try something and feel complete – market, workshop, restaurant.
What can I say but….
…with one last statement – ‘Ride on men and women of the Netherlands, you no longer stand accused of being non-gastromes. This proves it, in my book’!