Why don't I start with the work aspect. I had a week to solve a client issue they were experiencing. I won't go into any details, but it's safe to say they were not happy and I was there to try and fix it. So I was already stressed. As I literally took a 40 hour flight from door to door in economy class and then went straight to the client site after landing, I was not the most rested.
Upon landing at Schiphol Airport, I was greeted by the torrential rain and extremely cold weather. I hate cold so it wasn't a good start. I went straight to the hotel, out in Zootermeer and quickly had a shower and brushed my teeth before heading to the client site. I lived off adrenalin for the first day before I completely crashed in the hotel that night. The hotel isn't exactly the prettiest and my view out of the windows made me feel like a prisoner.
Below you see a shot of the client site where I went to troubleshoot the issues each day.
And my wonderful view out of the hotel room.
I worked 16-18 hour days on the first 3 days, and thankfully found the problem on the 3rd day so the pressure eased immensely. From that point on, I got to enjoy Holland a bit. So I managed to convince the guy who I was working with from Holland to take me around one day. My enthusiasm for food was rubbing off on him by the end of the week.
Let's start our food journey at Zootermeer where I was situated. I was at the Golden Tulip Hotel, which was conveniently near Zootermeer station. Apart from that, it was a non-descript hotel which was nice enough for work purposes. You wouldn't be going there for pleasure that's for sure. They had a restaurant which was where I ate 3 completely forgettable meals. I thought the meals were reasonably priced (we do pay comparatively expensive prices for food in Australia) until I went out and found out it was a total rip off. Luckily work paid so no skin off my back, except for eating bad food. One sample dish I had was this monstrosity of Mixed Grilled Meat. The meat wasn't good I tell ya.
The town of Zootermeer itself is rather small and I managed to see most of it on my walks around it over a few days. On the first walk, I thought I was walking on the footpath (which you can just see on the left side of the photo) only to find out I wasn't walking on the footpath. The big wide perfectly paved path was for cyclists. No wonder people were ringing their bells incessantly at me and looking at me weirdly. Only when I asked the guy I was working with did he laugh heartily and tell me the footpath is to the right of the bicycle path. It's only know that I have read up more do I findout how obsessed with bike riding the Dutch are, hence the beautiful path for bike riders and the less beautiful path for people walking.
The main town of Zootermeer was pretty dead by 7pm. It consisted of a few streets with some shops and a few restaurants.
I managed to sniff out what looked to be the most happening restaurant, called Bo En Ro near the lake, which looked to be where all the rich people lived. The food on the menu was modern, the ubiquitous cuisines at a lot of restaurants which is a fusion of many things. They tried to do new style small sharing dishes. It was ok, not the worst but not the best. I had a Scallop and Pork Belly dish, a Roast Lamb dish and a Creme Brulee dessert. All dishes were quite good, technically executed quite well but lacked some pizazz in the flavour stakes. A pleasant enough meal, but again I found out later how expensive it was despite my initial thoughts of the price being reasonable.
I got to visit Den Haag (The Hague) twice, once with the guy I was working with, and once by myself via train. I did get lost on the train home as I got confused between what a Sprint train is and what an Inter-city train is. One is an express and doesn't stop at all stations. I think that was the inter-city train which I took by mistake. Again, you learn something all the time.
Den Haag itself was a really pretty town. I couldn't get over how beautiful the old part of the town looked with the classical facades on the buildings. We drove around and I saw the old town as well as the harbour area for which the town is famous for. Numerous restaurants were near the harbour, all serving something seafood related.
For lunch, my work mate and I went to a place called HK Visspecialiteiten, which Google translator tells me is a fish specialty shop. We ate a variety of seafood dishes, of which some are pictured below. Everything was freaking delicious and so fresh, and this is the type of local cuisine that I hope to eat. Simple but fantastic. This gave me hope that I could find good food in Holland after my hotel experience.
On my second visit to Den Haag, I walked all around the town at night. It was so pretty to see everything up close. There were so many amazing looking boutique art, books, sculpture, toy shops that I wanted to slowly browse through had they been open. If I'm ever back, I'm definitely going through all those shops.
For dinner, I Googled and saw good reviews on a place called It Rains Fishes, so off I went. It again looked to be a restaurant serving modern style food. I went with the set 4 course degustation, but had ordering envy when I saw the table next to me get the salt baked whole fish. Anyway, my meal was very good. The Seafood Starter was simple and refreshing and very nice. The next two dishes of Mussels in Wine and Seared Cod were great. I loved the Cod with the samphires, which I had never tried before. The fish was stunning and beautifully cooked. The samphires really added good flavour and texture. Lastly, dessert was again Creme Brulee. This one was much nicer and creamier, but mine's still better. Instead, the biscuit sandwich was really yummy. This meal was expensive at about 50 Euros I remember.
I visited Rotterdam with the work mate who I met. It was his home town so he knew all the places to show me. It was again a very lovely looking town. We walked around all the streets where he explained all the various buildings and sites. Two things caught my attention in Rotterdam. Firstly, the parking was excessively expensive, which outraged me as I hate unnecessary parking fees. Secondly, they had these stand up exposed urinal things that men could use out in the open. Wow, I guess the Dutch are less shy. It's weird but I guess if I was busting (which I constantly am) I would be super thankful for those urinals.
We, well I, got to do some shopping in their main shopping strip. There were lots of nice shops, with many of the same brands that now dominate globally.
One of the things I had wanted to try in Holland was Poffertjes as I had tried those in Melbourne. I definitely enjoyed the ones we had at Dutch Diner. The poffertjes were soft and completely covered in icing sugar, which really works. We also had Crepes with Hagelslag, which are chocolate hundreds and thousands basically. The Dutch love hagelslag and they come in so many varities that adults buy and eat with numerous things. I love it. Whereas you would be laughed at eating hundreds and thousands as an adult in Australia, here it's perfectly normal.
For dinner, we went to a place called Dudok, which was a completely terrible meal. I take all the blame as the work mate was going to take me to an Italian restaurant that he frequently visits and who make fresh pasta. But I'm like "that's so boring, can't we go somewhere else". So when we walked past this hip looking place with heaps of people, I suggested we try it. Dudok turns out to be full of style and no substance. Hipster looking waiters serve equally hipster looking clients. The food is suppose to be French, but is instead shit. My Duck with Lentils was one of the worst duck I've tasted. It was pink but yet tasted raw and was really grainy and bloody in taste. Even the lentils were crunchy. The Steak with Chips that my work mate had was again awful. Hard chewy steak with super starchy limp chips. If I sound like I'm being harsh, if you tried the food, you would think otherwise. For the prices they were charging, it was robbery. And me being the cake lover that I am thought we should try some Apple Pie as that may be better. Boy, even that was bad. The pie pastry was raw and the apple crunchy. So if you by chance ever happen to be in Rotterdam, do yourself a favour and skip Dudok, unless you want to go there to be seen by other people who go there to be seen.
Favourite Dutch Treats
So, if you've managed to make it this far through this long post, I've got some treats for you. More accurately, some amazing Dutch treats that you must try if you go to Holland.
Herring, this small smelly fish are totally adored by the Dutch. I do like sardines so I thought I must give these herrings a try. Typically, a raw herring is covered in onions and you grab it by the tail and then pop it straight into your mouth. I think during May to July, this particular herring is referred to as a "Hollandse Nieuwe" Haring, but someone please correct me if I'm wrong. I ate my herring, and far from being disgusted from it as some people may, I found it the most wonderful thing. The flesh is firm, which I like. It has a flavour that I liken to a cross between an oyster and raw fish. I absolutely loved it and really like the onion flavour on it too. I've since bought pickled herrings here in Melbourne but it's not quite the same as eating a fresh one. Anyone know where you can buy such herrings in Melbourne as I totally miss it?
Oliebollen are these fried donuts which are eaten on New Year's Eve traditionally. I say forget New Year's Eve, these beauties should be eaten all year round. Unlike a donut, I found it less fluffy and more dense. I was super lucky that there was an Oliebollen truck in Rotterdam. Apparently that truck moves around constantly. I tried the traditional flavour oliebollen with sultanas and heavily dusted with icing sugar. What a total mouthful of awesomeness. I've bought a packet mix for Oliebollen recently and hope to try making them. I hope I can emulate how delicious I remember it tasting. Again, anyone know somewhere that sells Oliebollen in Melbourne?
My favourite items of the whole trip, and my current addiction was introduced to me by Esurientes. She recommended that I try out stroopwafels, and I've never looked back since. Basically a stroopwafel is two wafels that sandwich a caramel. It is simply stunning. They're made fresh in Holland at some places but otherwise, the next best thing is packet stuff. I've tried a few brands now but seriously, none of them even come close to the Gouda Gilde brand. The Gouda Gilde stroopwafels just have the most amazing aroma, perfectly balanced in flavour and sweetness. The caramel is slightly chewy but won't break a teeth and it stays a soft texture unlike some other ones that become like bricks. They are not sold in Melbourne, or any Australian websites. Thanks to TheIndolentCook who informed me they are sold on Typical Dutch Stuff website but the shipping is very expensive. If you can afford it, I'd highly recommend you buy some to try. I still wavering as to buy them from the website or not. Once I finish my last pack, I'll need to make a decision.
The way to eat them properly according to me is a 4 step process.
1. You have to open up the packet and really smell the amazing aroma that comes out. I just savour that smell before I do anything else.
2. I then put the stroopwafel over a glass of my favourite hot tea. Leave this for a minute or two to let the wafel and caramel soften.
3. Take a small bite of the stroopwafel. The flavours of the rich caramel will marry with the wafel's cinnamon flavours to produce the most amazing taste.
4. Take a small sip of tea to help cleanse your palette ready for the next aromatic bite of the stroopwafel. Now just keep repeating steps 3 & 4 until you finish the whole packet of stroopwafels haha.
So there you go. That ends a brief, but in the end, thoroughly enjoyable work trip of Holland. I can't wait to go back to try out even more food and see even more sights. It wasn't on list of places I wanted to visit but now I really want to go back. It's such a beautiful place and the small sampling of food I tried was so good.