(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
I’m now back in Kingston after a very enjoyable trip to France, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands. I still intend to do a wrap-up post but first I am going to take the populist approach and write about food. I didn’t include too many food pictures in my day-to-day posts, as I realized fairly early on that I would have enough for a post devoted solely to food. I’ve noticed that food also tends to draw the most blog comments and personal e-mails.
Sometimes food can be a tasty history lesson. Two examples on this trip were Tibetan food in Luxembourg and Indonesian food in the Netherlands. Tibet is not currently an independent nation. However, the idea of Tibet as an entity has been kept alive in several ways. Many Tibetans have fled home to establish new lives elsewhere and a significant number have established restaurants specializing in Tibetan cuisine. My wife and I have eaten Tibetan food in Montreal, Toronto and Northampton (Massachusetts), among other places.
So, even if you couldn’t place Tibet on a map, you may still be familiar with the Dalai Lama…or Momo dumplings! I really enjoyed my Tibetan meal in Luxembourg City and I’m glad that I can now also share a photo of my Bhutanese cheese soup. Bhutan is an independent country but it is very small and I do not think that there is a very large Bhutanese expatriate community. Bhutan occasionally makes the news because its leaders have taken a rather unique approach to tourism and economic development: the number of visitors is very strictly limited…and the nation has determined that “Gross National Happiness” is more important that “Gross National Product” (hence the restrictions on the number of tourists).
I have fond memories of eating Indonesian food as a child during my family’s visits to the Netherlands. It was so colourful and tasty; virtually every town had at least one place where you could get Indonesian food. I didn’t really understand all of the nuances at the time, but the main reason for this proliferation of Indonesian restaurants was that Indonesia was once part of the Dutch colonial empire. In some ways, the Dutch adoption of Indonesian cuisine mirrors Britain’s adoption of (East) Indian cuisine. Much as I associate Indonesian food with the Netherlands, I also associate Indian cuisine with Britain.
There are quirks, however. I’m not sure exactly why, but most restaurants serving Indonesian food are also described as being “Chinese”. The food served doesn’t really match up with this Canadian’s perception of Chinese food, but the naming convention remains in place.
Even though I could happily eat Indonesian food several times a week, it doesn’t seem to be that trendy in the Netherlands these days. Like many other people, the Dutch have taken a liking to showarma, doners and kebabs…foods that became commonplace in western Europe partly because of the economic migration of guest workers in the late 20th century. The fresh flavours of Thai food are also very popular with the Dutch (see photo at the top of this post – which is from a “Chinese” restaurant in Zuidlaren). But what struck me most was the proliferation of Spanish restaurants (generally focusing on tapas) and Argentinean steakhouses.
The Netherlands has had a new king since 2013. His wife is Argentinean and she is quite popular with the Dutch. Indeed, most of my relatives believe she is the reason that tapas bars and steakhouses can now be found in any decent-sized Dutch town. Her popularity may not last forever but, in the meantime, eating tapas or Argentinean steak seems to be almost a patriotic act in the Netherlands.
And what of “traditional” Dutch food? I regularly ate krokets (croquettes) as a snack, loaded up on various types of excellent Dutch cheese on sandwiches, and ate hagelslag (“hail”, a type of chocolate sprinkle) whenever possible for breakfast. Only in the Netherlands can adults enjoy this food without guilt. It’s great to start your day with some buttered (as an adhesive layer) bread and a thick coating of dark chocolate hagelslag.
Next time on the blog – a Dutch recap and my next destination!