Monday, January 20, 2014

Wait, what?

According to Oxfam, the Netherlands is the country where it's the easiest to eat a healthy diet.  And this is where you cock your head and tell me that the study has got to be messed up.  The Netherlands--where the potato is king and fried fish a staple?  Where frites come in packages bigger than my head and the produce in the supermarket regularly looks like it died six months ago?

Actually, yes:  now, the Dutch might not be the healthiest people (though they probably rank up there)--just because you have access to all kinds of healthy food doesn't necessarily mean you'll eat it.  But in terms of accessability and affordability, it is really easy and cheap to eat good fresh food.  You just have to know where to find it, and to be savvy enough to know what's a good deal and what isn't.

Because what the expat guides never tell you is that the best place to find the best food isn't the supermarkets.  Don't get me wrong--supermarkets are great, and they have everything you need and you can just pick your stuff and go, and the fresh produce is typically underripe and more uniform.  But if it's good food for cheap you're looking for, then you have to hit the markten, where a whole different set of etiquette applies.

And this, I think, is what turns off a lot of  more affluent expats: You have to talk to the kramen people.  You have to tell them what you want, and trust them to get you something that's not bruised or ruined.  You have to trust that they're weighing stuff correctly, and adding the numbers right.  There are no screens, no way to check their math, no receipts.  You have to pray that they bag the stuff properly (they do, though strawberries are always tricky).  And despite the free-for-all, there is a certain order to how you are helped, and there are things you can pick yourself and things you can't, and if you're new it can be quite daunting to figure out.

There's also the smaller neighborhood tokos, where things might not be arranged in any logical order and where the produce labels are usually in at least two other languages, and none of them in English.  Our butcher, for instance, carries halloumi, but if I didn't already know what it looked like, I'd have never known.

But it's all fresh food, and most of it is pretty cheap, and while none of it would hold a candle to the produce section of your average Whole Food's, it is easily accessible and affordable.  Whether you actually want to eat it, on the other hand...

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