Hidden not far beneath the surface of every day I live, every trip I take, every move I make, is the desire to discover something new and delicious to eat. Such was the case last week as I travelled from Paris to Utrecht to Amsterdam, back to Paris and finally to Normandy.
My trip had a specific and absorbing goal, which was to see Fiona in her first month at University College Utrecht and make sure she had everything she needed. Hidden beneath the surface, however, was that old and familiar desire.
Let me qualify. My desire rarely extends to what I might find on a plate at a multi-starred restaurant, though I love to go to those. I mean, instead, something tied to place that has either been pointed out or described to me, or that I stumble upon all on my own.
My delicious experience began the minute I arrived in Utrecht. As I waited for Fiona I sat down on a quaint terrace over a canal and ordered coffee. Coffee in Holland is deep and delicious, unlike coffee anywhere else. It always takes me on a little voyage as I think of the Dutch explorer who, so many years ago, brought it back with them in the holds of their ships. It is always set off perfectly by a little butter cookie, sometimes fresh from the oven.
Fiona arrived and we decided to have appetizers. Naturally we chose bitterballen, little fried meatballs. One of the best-loved snacks in the country, a friend had insisted we try them. I thought, after I’d bitten into the last one, about what I’d said to myself after crunching into a silk worm at the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve done it, now I don’t have to do it again. The fries were terrific!
I’m not a snob, I would simply rather save myself for another Dutch specialty, lightly brined herring. I love these small, tender fish that are eaten just like that, held by the tail and dispatched in a couple of muscular bites, or tucked into a fluffy white roll à la Wonderbread, buried in onions, sometimes garnished with a sweet pickle, or for a finer moment, cut into small pieces and eaten with knife and fork. They are described as “strong” which is as far from the truth as can be. They are delicate, and delicious.
Another Dutch specialty that I love are broodjes, the sandwiches one can find in every cafe and restaurant, usually open-faced. My favorite is stacked with paper-thin slices of Oude Hollandse Kaas, nutty-sharp aged Dutch cheese, garnished with fiery mustard, tart pickles, onions.
A PERFECT DAY IN AMSTERDAM ENDS WITH STROOPWAFELS
We made our way to the organic market in central Utrecht, lured by the vegetables, the cheeses, and the buttery aroma of freshly made stroopwafels. Very thin waffle-like cookies held together with cinnamon-scented caramel, they are sold freshly made in trucks equipped with sizzling griddles. Fiona knew the best one, where the stroopwaffels are the size of a small pizza and the owner makes his own caramel from a recipe his grandmother bequeathed. They were divine.
These were just some of my Dutch tastes. Others included delicate little cinnamon butter cookies, perfectly aged, hard goat cheese, bread so heavy and full of grains and raisins it was a meal in itself.
Back in France, where everything is familiar and pronounceable, I found myself in front of Bashir, a Lebanese ice cream stand near the Centre Georges Pompidou. It was goûter time, that moment between lunch and dinner when you have a little “creux” or space in your stomach asking to be filled. I succumbed to a double cone of gorgeous coffee and almond ice cream, handmade with organic ingredients from a special Lebanese recipe, eschewing my other favorite, ashta, which is scented with rose petals and rolled in green gold pistachios. That would be for another time.
AND A DELIGHTFUL FRENCH DINNER WITH A FRIEND
Once home I was invited to dinner at my friend Edith’s. As I arrived she was just coming in from picking big, black figs off her tree that produces by the bushel because, planted as it is in the corner angle of two stone walls, thinks it lives in the heat of Tuscany. Dripping with honeyed juice, we enjoyed these with fresh walnuts from her tree and a glass of Cotes du Rhone, the perfect entry into a simple, Norman meal.
And thus goes the week of a food writer.