Feeding Frenzy

By alison - January 14, 2004 (Updated: June 18, 2009)

I will call this my food blog since that will be the major theme of this installment. Many of you have asked questions about the food and market situation over here. Since we bought groceries yesterday, it’s as good a time as any to fill you in.

There are three ways to buy food in Amsterdam (and the rest of the country) and all of them seem pretty popular (At home we have a definite tendency toward the super market.)

  1. Supermarkets – these are similar in size to those at home but there are some fundamental differences which I will get to in a minute.
  2. Specialized shops – produce shops, butcher, fishmonger, Kaaswinkle (cheeseshop), bakery, etc. (I haven’t shopped in these too much yet but that’s my next goal).
  3. Open-air / farmers markets – There is supposedly a huge one in downtown Amsterdam on Saturdays which I hope to get to soon.

The supermarket we shop at is the Albert Heijn, which is a large chain here. We call it the Hamsterwinkel because the mascot is a hamster and he is in all the commercials. The major difference you notice when you first walk in the store is the amount of produce (I touched on this before a bit in my observations). There are things that you can get at home, but they are fresher, better looking and MUCH cheaper. There are things that you’d be hard pressed to find at home in summer, forget January. And there are things you’d never, ever get at home. If your produce is not pre-packaged, you put it on a scale, press the corresponding picture button and hit enter and it prints a barcode with the price. Very cool.

The meats are much the same as you would get at home with the exception of the sliced meats. This is the land of the sandwich. These people will put anything on bread (more on this in a sec). So there are tons of sliced meats. Then you come to the cheese. I don’t think I have to tell you how important cheese is here. I think I’ve already eaten my body weight in the stuff. I’m not complaining. The cheese here is amazing. They don’t do weird shit like dye it orange and there is any kind of cheese you can imagine. Gouda is by far the prominent cheese and comes in all ages and flavours. I’m a fan of the super old (oude) stuff but Andrew likes the young (joung) cheese. There is also a lot of goat cheese / feta. If you don’t like dairy, don’t come here.

The breads are all fresh baked. No such thing as wonderbread here (thank God). Lots of different kinds (I’m partial to the sunflower seed bread) and it’s available in half loaves so it doesn’t go bad on you. There are also many rolls and pastries.

Remember how I said the Dutch will eat anything on bread? Well for breakfast and lunch here, typically, you have the same sort of thing – an open faced sandwich (i.e. a slice of bread with something on it), eaten with a knife and fork. Ok, so the sliced meat and cheese I was ok with … then I saw some of the other stuff … A favorite (keep in mind this is breakfast in the land of the healthy) is chocolate and/or hazelnut spread with chocolate sprinkles … ON BREAD ?!? Ok, I like chocolate … a lot … but really, on bread??? Anyway there is a whole aisle in the supermarket dedicated to things to put on your bread. There are tons of flavoured spreads in jars, and different salady type spreads (tuna, salmon, egg etc) that you can get to spread on your bread. The Atkins diet isn’t going to take off here.

There is also an aisle of veggies and fruits in cans and/or jars. I can’t for the life of me figure this one out… And there loads of crackers (in keeping with the bread theme). Cereal selection is pretty limited. There aren’t too many chocolate coated, frosted, rainbow, marshmallow things here, thank God. And the usual assortment of household items and toiletries.

Finally my favorite section … The Indonesian / Asian food section. This gets a whole aisle and is dominated by a company called Cominex. I’ve found all sorts of yummy looking things that I can’t wait to try (as soon as I can get the instructions translated).

And here’s the other thing. They don’t just hand out tons of bags. You buy them and they are actually well made so you can use them over and over. It’s a great system, I think that cuts down on a lot of plastic waist. (Kitty litter disposal would cause a problem though).

So After the excitement of the grocery store yesterday, we went to Robert and Marie-anne’s condo for a traditional Dutch supper of Boerenkool met worst. It’s a mixture of potatoes, ham and some cabbage-like veggie that nobody knew the name of in English, with a sausage. It was very yummy and very filling. In combination with a lovely white wine and some illy espresso for dessert, it was a great meal. Their condo is beautiful and again very Ikea (but much more upscale than ours) and it overlooks the harbor. They have two cats, Bugsy and Felix who were a bit shy. We were given lots of Netherlands survival tips. And overall the evening, as Marie-anne put it, was very gezellig. This is a word that has no direct English translation but is closest to cozy or comfortable, with a bit of laid back thrown in. It is used in many contexts to describe many aspects of Dutch life.

The other thing about supper here, that you notice particularly when you eat at a restaurant, is that it is an event. You start early and you go late. You take your time and enjoy each course. You have some drinks before and coffee after. Then you sit and chat. You will not get a bill at a Dutch restaurant without asking for it because they do not want you to feel rushed in any way (that would be very un-gezellig).

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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