Leiden is 12 minutes on the bus, from where I live. It is a quaint town with a thriving centre, canals, cute little bridges and windmills. Scattered around the city are a 101 wall poems, in different languages. Illustrated below…one poem in dutch.
Its ‘logo’ is that of ’2 crossing keys’ - said to be the keys to the gates of heaven held by Saint Peter, after whom a church in the City centre is named.
You’ll see beautifully decorated doors and facades in a typical ancient dutch design and a fairly common sight today(even in the larger cities), dotted and interspersed in the 21st century landscape.
This city has many claims to fame: it is the birthplace of Rembrandt (the famous painter, born 1606);
The thing that takes me often to Leiden is the wonderful market held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Saturday market is almost twice the size of that on Wednesday, sprawling over and across the bridges and framing the canal at its very centre.
There has been a market on this site for at least 900 years. Various testaments are evident in the surrounding street names – Botermarkt, Vismarkt and many more!
It is a market of general wares – clothes, shoes, household items, food, flowers etc. Personally, I go for the fantastic food stalls – one after the other of (local) seasonal produce and exotic foods, cheese, Dutch sweets, fresh bread, seafood and much more.
Some stalls are open on one, the other or both of the ‘market days’. On both days, you are bound to find row upon row of fruit and veg., fantastic Mediterranean stalls (with olives from Spain and Italy) and even cheeky salesmen;
You’ll also find beautiful flowers (bloemen)- loads of tulips and even rarer sights
As expected, there will be your Asian stall or two…with herbs and spices from the East. It was here I finally got to see all three types of Basil found in Asia!
And then, I stopped by the Mushroom stall….a long table loaded with mushrooms and truffles and roasted garlic which I had never seen before. I didn’t realise it was a french specialty!
There are the usual suspects of Dutch fare: year-round favourites – drop (and other candy), stroopwaffles (syrup waffles), Real farmers cheese (with the words boerenkaas or boeren ambacht), Bread and other baked goods.
Load of snack stands, restaurants and bars serving up the full gamut – from ‘small chops’ to 3-course meals. A typical appetizer sampler will include some traditional dutch faves – Kaas souffles (Cheese souffles) – basically cheese stuffed pastries (as opposed to what most people describe as souffles) and bitterballen (why they are called bitter balls escapes me because they have no hint of bitterness. The are basically croquettes in balls!)
You can sit sometimes and watch the world go by, or take funny pictures…
In spring, your eyes will be assailed by row upon row of Holland strawberries and White asparagus, the ‘queen of all veg’ for the lowlanders.
You’ll also hear catcalls for ‘Hollandse Nieuw Haring’ (pickled herring),
The Dutch eat these in a very special way: first the head is chopped off and then it is held up high (with pride), gently lowered down the throat, and chwallowed (chewed and swallowed) in one fell swoop. Just one of the many things you have to be born dutch to understand (another is a love of drop - salty sweets which are literally the ‘black gold’ of the Netherlands).
And oh, some regular people eat their haring in a more sedate manner – with chopped onions in a bread bun!
In the summer, it will be berry madness and in the autumn – winter, you’ll find the likes of Samphire and other seaweeds at the Vishandels (fish shops) along with winter staples like curly kale.
I caught a demonstration on how to make stroopwaffles (syrup waffles) and I’ll be trying this at home soon so watch this space. The freshly baked waffles are a lot larger than the pre-packed ones, and they also come in minis.
Stroopwaffles waiting to be bought are expectantly waiting on some freshly brewed coffee. If you ever make them or buy them, here’s a tip on how to eat them, the dutch way. Make a cup of coffee and set a waffle above the top to soften the treacle filling (assuming that the waffle is at least larger than the diameter of your cup or mug :-). Then eat. Delicious. You’ll also see bags of crumbs wrapped up – perfect for stirring through ice cream, sprinkled on custard and…. please let me know what other recipes you can come up with.
As if the sights and sounds of the market are not enough to delight any and everyone, you’ll also find really nice tea & coffee shops, people-watching cafes and kitchen stores in the neighbourhood. I had the best triple hot chocolate in a little cafe called ‘Coffeestar’ and one of the nicest slices of Carrot cake, ever.
One of my favorite shops is Dille & Kamille (Dill & Chamomile). They stock a delightful assortment of spoons, whisks, knives, bowls, jars, bottles and much more, all in a variety of sizes and shapes. In addition, they have tea and wines, herbs and spices, plants, Dutch cookery books and more. I’ve only ever been to the shop on the market days and its usually busy, but not so busy you can’t comfortably wade through.
There’s also the fabulous Wij & zonen (Wijs & sons) tea and coffee shop, purveyors to the queen. I got some white tea flowers there and chocolate sticks
Choco lokal is a great little shop which stocks fantastic handmade chocolate and little knick knacks
I always have a fantastic time when I go, and can hardly wait to go again. As many times as I’ve gone, I still feel like I haven’t soaked it all up. If I discover more on my next visit, I’ll be sure to share it with you.
Wednesday 9am – 5pm
Saturday 9am – 5pm
On foot: 10-15 minutes walk from Leiden central station
By Bus: Bus 45 from Leiden central station, stop – Breestraat