All things Dutch and wonderful

When I first visited a local supermarket in the Netherlands, I complained that the only soy sauce was the wrong kind. The bottle was too small, and the soya sauce was Indonesian. I honestly thought I would starve.

Thirteen years later, I walk or cycle to the local Nettorama or Aldi supermarkets and marvel at the variety of goodies I will miss when I make my final departure from this country. I should say that it’s not just the content but also the convenience of shopping for affordable goods.

I don’t need to drive or travel far to find the basic groceries for a meal. Besides the usual chain supermarkets, exotic fresh grocers line the nearby street of Kanaalstraat, where side streets are named after former Dutch colonies in Indonesia. The cheapest Sauvignon Blanc is euro 2.69 from Chile. I have tried enough low-priced wines to know that quality is not correlated with price. A liter of milk is 49 euro cents. I can get 30 large eggs for euro 2.99.

Over the years, I have taken a liking to Dutch herbal teas, old farmer’s cheese, sunflower seed bread, and licorice candy.

Dutch teas and sandwiches

In my first year at Utrecht Conservatory, I not only had to adjust to becoming a non-traditional student and learning a new language but also living in a house under constant renovation. Noticing I was struggling to contain my cold and cough, a Dutch gentleman asked if I’d like to try sterrenmunt thee. The herbal tea soothed my throat and I’ve pined after it everytime I was sick. However, I have not seen it sold abroad.

In fact, I was sick 50% of the time in 2004. The dust from indoor renovations, cigarette smoke from other passengers waiting for the train or bus, and the changing weather all contributed to my ill health. Although I looked forward to studying music full-time at a conservatory, I didn’t expect it would be vastly different from other degrees I had pursued previously. Neither had I expected the Netherlands to be the most foreign country I would ever live in.

And so it’s a wonder that I made it through not one but three house renovations, all the while pursuing my music degree: the corner house in Bussum, the monument house in Utrecht, and garden house with two tatami mats and floor-heated terracotta tiles. I learned enough Dutch to shop for a house, join group fitness classes at the local sports club, and carry on every day activity as a local resident. Once or twice a week, I cycle to the central market to sample old farmer’s cheese that’s hard and pungent, buy a loaf of freshly baked bread, and indulge in a portion of piping hot kibbeling (deep fried fish). On Saturday afternoons I would attend a free concert at the dome church near the market.

Yesterday, I turned on the heating for the first time for it had fallen to 9 degrees Celsius. As I type this, I am sitting under direct sun grateful that no clouds have interrupted my train of thought.

My favourite place under the Dutch sun

I will miss cycling on these well-marked cycle paths on predictable flat surfaces. Traveling within the Netherlands is easy. There are many options for public transport as well as free transportation. The other day, I cycled to the central station to catch a train at the next station for a local bus to a small village where a string trio was to perform in a large church. After the concert, my friends and I caught a bus to a train station and changed to a metro and then a tram in Amsterdam. There is no need for a car.

Below is a preliminary list of things to take with me:

  • Sterrenmunt thee
  • Zoutout thee
  • HEMA dropjes
  • Oud Boeren kaas
  • Fig jam and other exotic fruit jam

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