On the streets of Leides

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.

Wall poem

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.

2 keys

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.

Traditional dutch door designdoor handle

This city has many claims to fame: it is the birthplace of Rembrandt (the famous painter, born 1606); 

Rembrandts birthplaceRembrandt's plain

has a world-class university and cheese ( flavoured with cumin seeds) named after it,  both home –  Leidse kaas ; and away – “nøkkelost (“key cheese”) from Norway

  Leidse Kaas

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.

By the rivers of BoatNavigating the waters of Leiden So dutch - water and bicycles

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!

And some for me Butter market signFish market sign Red currants

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;

Marinated olives  Cheeky salesmen

You’ll also find beautiful flowers (bloemen)- loads of tulips and even rarer sights

Tulips - typically dutchBloemen

Beautiful blooms

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!

Sweet basil Sweet basil Purple basil

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!

False truffles Mushroom stallFresh shitake mushrooms Oyster mushroomsSign for roasted garlic Bulbs of roasted garlic

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.

Rounds of farmers cheese StroopwafflesEgg cookies Drop and other candy

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!)

BitterballenBorrel hapjesCondiments with our hapjes 

You can sit sometimes and watch the world go by, or take funny pictures… 

Faces in glass

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.

StrawberriesAsparagus- 'White gold'

You’ll also hear catcalls for ‘Hollandse Nieuw Haring’ (pickled herring),

Haring season beginsand advertisments to match.

Dutch Haring lady

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).

How to eat Haring

And oh, some regular people eat their haring in a more sedate manner – with chopped onions in a bread bun!

 Haring 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.

Dough ready and rested Ball on griddle Slice it open_1Slice it open_2 One piece in hand Fill with treacle syrupPut pieces together, again Gently press to seal Waffle, to go

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.

  Stroopwaffles Crumbs of stroopwaffles

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.

Coffeestar sign Carrot cake Triple hot chocolate The dregs of my hot choccie Carrot cake, deconstructed

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.

Dille & KamilleLittle bits and bobsJust a few  

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

wijszonen Coffee scalesCoffee beans Gift tea samplesTeacups Kusmi teaTea flowers Teapot

Choco lokal is a great little shop which stocks fantastic handmade chocolate and little knick knacks

Chocolate first aid box White choccie ballsLapsung Sauchong choccies Lemongrass choccies

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.

Till then…..

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

On the banks of....the canal


  1. Unfortunately Choco Lokaal is no longer in business (I don’t know why she quit.) There’s a new chocolate store called The Chocolate box. It also makes its (quite good!) chocolates by hand.

    Bitterballen are called that way, because people originally ate them while they drank a bitters (alcoholic beverage with herbal essences; has a bitter flavour).

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