Dutch Apples and Pancakes
Delft is small. Its roads are small, its canals are small, but its people are tall (the Dutch are the tallest race in the world). There aren’t many cars in this tiny southern Dutch municipality, and the ones that are present are the diminutive SmartCars that can clock in almost 50 kilometers to the liter. The majority however, gets around on bikes.
Delft owes its name to the word ‘delving’, digging the oldest canal, the Oude Delft. Located halfway between Rotterdam and The Hague, the place reminds me of Venice with its brick streets and numerous canals. Swans and ducks share the same swim space that’s oftentimes spoiled by algae. The houses are so tiny and at floor level that I can actually peek in the windows ”“ not that I’m a peeping Tom, mind you. It’s so quiet here in Delft that I can hear my shoes rustling the leaves as I walk. Occasionally the grinding wheels of a bicycle in dire need of an oiling pass me by.
The city center retains many of its old and historical buildings. The center of activity is the Markt (no, that’s not a typo), the largest market square in the Netherlands. It has spectacular views of the town hall and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church, where most of the Dutch royals are buried); the outdoor cafés on the Heilige Geestkerkhof meanwhile, give an excellent view of the leaning Oude Kerk (Old Church), a Gothic church whose most recognizable feature is a 75-meter-high brick tower that actually leans about two meters from its center.
There are plenty of unique shops in and around Delft. One of the most delightful, for me, is the Oil & Vinegar store. A treasure chest of all the olive oils, vinegars, and accompanying accoutrements are sold here. There are even little nibbles of bread and cheese sticks to better taste the liquid wares. I come away with a bottle of white balsamic vinegar that has been filled up for me from the many vinegars on tap.
Today there’s a farmers’ market going on at the Markt Square. Excited by the sights and sounds of a local activity, I dash from stall to stall, alternately admiring and dreaming. At one stall, I’m fortunate to witness the Dutch fondness for raw herring and the special way it’s eaten. Raw herring is gutted, salted, and then frozen, a process that thereby affects its taste and tenderness. Think of our local kinilaw (ceviche) if you will, this is the Dutch version. Herring is a powerhouse of beneficial fats and fatty acids, and the Dutch feel that eating it in its raw state has a positive effect on the circulatory system. I stare, transfixed at this Dutch gastronomic tradition that is perhaps the culinary counterpart of offering foreigners our balut (unfertilized duck embryo).
The fine art of herring consumption or haringhappen begins with the fish being held by the tail and “downloaded” head first into one’s gaping maw. This is done with the head tilted back slightly. The soft flesh is chewed/nibbled on, swallowed swiftly, and then another bite is taken (in the same head-held-back pose, mind you) until the fish bones near the tail are reached. This is a good idea since herring vendors don’t want to have to reach over and pull fish bones out of the throats of unsuspecting tourists.
As the men eat herring, I watch, filled with a mixture of much fascination and utter mortification. Beside me, my Bin is muttering, “Parang ”˜di ko kaya yan Lor,”(I don’t think I can do that), at which I take his hand and we move on to something more easily palatable:
Fried cod and mussels. Cooked to order, the seafood is crunchy, its juice still tasting like the sea water from which it was caught. It’s cold today however, about 13°C, so our food doesn’t stay hot for long. To go with it, we’ve got some of the patat (fries) smothered in mayo that are a Dutch favorite and now, ours too.
Later into the day, the sun shyly peeks out from its cloud cover and we stop to have some koffie outside, sitting under the shade of giant trees and shuffling our feet on the fallen leaves. Life can be so peaceful and unhurried.