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Market Forces


One of the pleasures of self catering when travelling is being able to explore the wonderful markets in foreign cities, sigh over the produce and then take some home to cook. For a compact city, Amsterdam has no shortage of food markets. We visited many during our week in the city over Christmas and here follows a selection of those that gave us food for dinner and one that gave us food for thought.

 

Albert Cuypmarkt

Situated in Albert Cuypstraat, this market was a very festive place indeed a few days before Christmas. Although it sells all manner of goods including flowers, textiles and clothing, it was the food stalls we came to explore.  The bustling street was packed with shoppers and some of the friendliest stallholders I have encountered.

The food stalls provided everything you could possibly need for a feast and much beside. As you would expect in Holland, the cheese stalls were overflowing with local varieties from both cow and goat.  A long row of fish stalls displayed a vast array of fish and seafood; umpteen varieties of fish, boxes of oysters, smoked eels, crates of crab, lobsters – so much in fact as to make my favourite French fish markets look meagre by comparison. The poultry stalls were doing a brisk trade two days before Christmas with the most gigantic turkeys I have ever seen. Big enough to unbalance my bike. I loved the way the guinea fowl were sold with their tail feathers still attached, the plumage elevating the bird somewhat. A far cry from the plastic-wrapped variety to be found in the supermarket

The fresh haring stall did not tempt me. Some years ago on a visit to a Dutch seaside resort I first tried fresh haring from a mobile stall at the beach. I knew no visit to Holland could be complete without trying this local delicacy. With no offence to the millions of Dutch people and visitors who wax lyrical about this fishy snack, I found it to be one of the most unpleasant bites of food I have ever taken. Served cut into slices and topped with chopped onion and pickled cucumber, the haring is a matter of national pride.

As with so many local delicacies I often find that the casual visitor finds the dish to be an acquired taste.  At the market I got into conversation with a couple who were tucking in to their plates of haring and declared it to be delicious. Did I not like sushi they enquired? Indeed I do but this looked like sashimi of herring. Moving on.

Our favourite stall was yet another Dutch specialty called Poffertjes. Translated as ‘puffed up’, these are delicious little discs of batter that taste like pancake with a spongier texture. A special cast iron mould is used to make the poffertje shape.

A stream of batter is poured into the moulds and the poffertjes quickly puff up and brown slightly. They are then placed on a small white cardboard plate on which a slice of butter is waiting. The hot poffertjes melt the butter beneath them and are, in turn, sprinkled with icing sugar.

These morsels melt in the mouth, just the ticket for a cold, wet day.

Lingering at one of the chocolate stalls I was amused to discover a display of erect penises which were available in small, medium or large. Customers could choose between a white chocolate shaft with a dark chocolate glans and vice versa.

Alongside these were a selection of labia – these only in milk chocolate – and further along an array of breasts, milk chocolate topped with dark chocolate nipples and so on. Where else outside of Amsterdam would this edible erotica turn up in one’s Christmas stocking?

Boerenmarkt

Situated in the trendy Jordaan neighbourhood, this organic market is held on Saturdays on Noordemarkt. Although some clothing is sold the food is clearly the main attraction. There are many fruit and vegetable stalls – not sure whether there is a limit on how far the food can travel – but there was no sign of the exotic fruits available at the Albert Cuypmarkt so presumably not too many airmiles have been travelled. Quite a number of stalls sell vitamins and supplements, hemp seeds and the like. Some of the traders look as organic as their produce – natural, a bit rough around the edges and perhaps in need of a wash.

Lots of local cheese of every variety, a small fish stall with both Dutch and French oysters. I liked the herb stall with its large ceramic containers into the depths of which a small ladle disappeared and came back up filled with glistening green pesto. Pesto on sale was made from eitherbasil, rocket, coriander or tomato. Horseradish sauce, salsa verde and harissa also available.

We were really spoilt for choice when it came to choosing bread. Several stalls were crammed full of loaves, whole sections for sourdoughs of every description.

We settled on a stall called Le Perron that baked its bread on site. When I explained that we needed a large sourdough to toast and eat with mushrooms, we were directed to the appropriate loaf. Unfortunately they had sold out of the size we required but would bake us a fresh one and keep it until we returned. Perfect service. When we fetched our bread we were encouraged to feel and smell it before paying.

The bakery specialises in French style breads and pastries. The bread is sold in a waxpaper packet on which instructions are printed about how to store the bread. We had no opportunity to store it as our loaf was so delicious that, no matter its huge size, it disappeared in an evening.

This market is well known for its mushrooms and I was not disappointed. In fact, not since gawping at the mushrooms selection years ago at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, have I come across such a variety on display.

Portabella Paddenstoelen sold both cultivated and wild mushrooms. The cultivated are Dutch and the wild mainly from France and South Africa. Too many airmiles there surely, but when we are talking fresh porcini I am not going to argue. Twenty euro bought us bags of fungal feasting. What joy to choose – not unlike picking individual chocolates in an exclusive chocolatier.

Could not leave the stall without treating ourselves to a piece of brie with truffles. We were warned that it’s addictive and it sure would be if I lived in Amsterdam.

That night we ate delicately sautéed mushrooms on griddled sourdough (see Recipes) and finished off with brie with truffles. Oh bliss!

Dappermarkt

On a cold and drizzly morning a few days after Christmas, this local market in the multicultural Oost neighbourhood was a somewhat downbeat experience. Rather than being an exciting destination for food fetishists, it is a market for real people who need to feed families on budgets. Having shown my children around many European markets bursting with exotic and often pricey foodstuffs, it was sobering to remember that food is essentially about survival and is not, for most of the world’s population, a form of expensive entertainment.. The market is situated in an area populated by a number of ethnic minorities who have made their homes in the city – people from Turkey, Morocco, Suriname, Vietnam – so I had expected a colourful event, stalls glistening with olives and exotic spices. Instead it had a subdued feel, unusual in a market. There were no organic excitements here, little by way of exotic fruit and veg, no shellfish at the fish stalls There were two, sad looking Vietnamese stalls, one chicken shwarma outlet, a haring stall and a cheese stall or two.

In addition there were fish stalls and many selling fruit and veg. Always on the lookout for local delicacies we were drawn to a stall making fresh appleflap – a slice of apple fried in batter and sold around new year.

Rather greasy, it managed to turn a healthy food into an unhealthy snack. Perhaps on a warm, sunny day the market has a more enlivened feel, but on our visit the atmosphere was a bit like the weather.

Marqt

I had been keen to visit this market that is relatively new to Amsterdam. One evening I noticed a full–page advert in the local newspaper and realised that this is in fact a new supermarket chain. There are a couple of outlets in the city. We visited the one on chi-chi Utrechtstraat which is packed with upmarket retail outlets. Marqt is a large, airy space with high quality products many of which are local and organic or fair-trade. It has all the usual supermarket sections but looks more like a covered market. While many areas are laid out in aisles, the packaging is often trendy and the overall effect is food meets fashion. The vegetables may be organic but there are no knobbly, mud-covered vegetables here. The fresh produce is attractively displayed in gleaming piles.

Fresh breads and meals ready to take home, this is a lovely place to shop. I wondered how the prices compare to the regular supermarkets or to the Saturday Boerenmarkt. No cash is accepted. There is a cafe attached to the store called George.  (Marqt, Overtoon,21-25 and Utrechtstraat, 17).

Copyright 2012, Madeleine Morrow

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