Sunday, January 13, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

Thanks to my recent trip to Holland, I'm still enjoying the fruits of a quick shopping trip to the local supermarket chain called Albert Heijn.

I stocked up on two things I remember fondly from my youth and they both say a lot about Dutch cuisine:

1. Hagel Slag:

It's not as bad as it sounds, though the second word should get the search terms buzzing.

Hagel slag, pronounced somewhere between how it's spelt and an old man clearing his throat, is a breakfast favourite of Dutch children (and some adults). It's essentially chocolate sprinkles, as we might use more normally in baking. But when I was little, if we had any in the house, we all used to carpet our toast with the stuff.

I bought three packs of the stuff in Holland and I'm already on pack number two. It can't be good for you. But I'm trying to eat less during the rest of the day to allow myself this nostalgic treat.

And imagine what else I could have bought! In addition to Hagel Slag, you can also get different types of chocolate toppings and something called 'Gestampte Muisjes'. That is a white sugary aniseed powder and, literally translated, means 'Crushed Little Mice'.

Which is not so appetising.

2. Zoute Drop:

In England, and around the rest of the world, we eat sweet licorice.

But in Holland, Germany and Scandanavia, they have a whole alternative licorice thing going on. Yes, they have sweet, but they have plenty of Salty Licorice too. And not just pleasantly piquant, but full on shock tactic salty.

I remember being about 8 or 9, and my mother would give me a huge piece of drop shaped like a large diamond. It was so salty it would blow your head off. I would take most of the day to eat it, and carry it around on a clothes peg like a twisted, dark sort of lollipop.

The strangest thing? Not a single English friend I have has ever enjoyed the taste of Salt Licorice. They all try, they're all game. They see me with a pack of the stuff and after I've just polished off my tenth piece of drop within as many minutes they suggest they might like to try one after all.

I hand them a piece, only to always see them spit it out, pursing their lips in disgust and squirming in their seat.

Zoute Drop. It's an acquired taste.

And like a drunk claiming he can out-Vindaloo anyone at the curry house, I am happy to take you all on. I can do the saltiest of the salty, the sharpest of the sharp.

I can even do Dubbel Zoute Drop... these little things are so powerful they are engraved with the initials 'DZ' to avoid any case of mistaken identity.

And do you know what they call the soft, sweet licorice in Holland? The wimpy, big-girl's blouse variety?

Engelse, or English, Drop!

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