This week we welcome a truly groovy couple to Chewing the Fat: Nick & Angela are a Dutch couple traveling around the world, looking for inspiration, awesome places, ideas, cultures and food. Together they run Sparrow in Space, a young web design & development bureau, as well as a really gorgeous travel blog.
In their own words: “We love to be inspired and traveling means seeing new things every day. We get our inspiration from the ordinary and the unusual, nature and culture, architecture and street art, people and animals.”
Angela believes anything is possible as long as you really want it, and spends a lot of her time daydreaming and sipping tea. She loves black dresses, wants to swim with whales and has a weird affinity for lists.
Nick has been wrecking computers since he was four. By now he’s done it so often he can fix almost anything, save for smoke curling up from your monitor. Nick loves coffee, music and does a very good dinosaur impression.
Read on as we grill Nick & Angela about whether fries should be dipped in mayo or ketchup, the important relationship between food & design, what might possibly wind up being the grossest “exotic edible” we’ve featured to date, and so much more!
We’re a big fan of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat the local cuisine of our destination. If you could only eat the food from one of the countries you’ve visited, which place would you choose and why?
We’re such huge food fans, it’s hard to pick just one country. We love Italian food, but when we were in Italy the food wasn’t that good (we probably shouldn’t have opted for cheap). We love Spanish and French cuisine. We also love all Asian cuisines, but we’ve been in Asia for almost 8 months now and we’ve had about enough noodles, rice and dumplings. We like good bread. And cheese. And salad. And pasta. So maybe Italian food after all.
If you really want us to answer the question we are going to cheat and pick China. Chinese cuisine differs from region to region and is so immensely diverse that there is probably something for everyone and every mood to be found. As long as you can handle the menu.
And the flip side: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food?
Every country has dishes that are not so great. However, Russia is not known for its great food at all and there is a reason for it. Russian food is dull. Potatoes, cabbage, meat, vodka. And dill. They add dill to everything (EVERYTHING). One of Russia’s most famous dishes is bliny, which are just nicely folded pancakes.
From all of the Asian countries we have visited so far, Cambodia stands out for not having such great food. We can’t think of any great dishes we had in Cambodia and we tried a lot. Our favorite meal was the home cooking of an adventurous man who lived near our hostel in Phnom Penh, he made killer pancakes.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
We have written a lot about China but not about this particular dish, and that may be because we’re still trying to forget it. One evening, we had no idea where to find some food, no one to help us because no one spoke English, Angela was getting cranky because she was hungry, everyone staring at us, you know the deal. We finally found a restaurant, we sat down without knowing what they served. There was no menu, they only served one dish. It smelled and looked really good. Once served we dug in. After a few bites Angela fished up a stomach and Nick realized the noodles he had been eating were instead veins.
More intestines came floating to the surface and made the soup look like something they serve you in a horror movie. We were hungry so we just fished out the few pieces of carrot floating around and couldn’t wait to leave our intestines soup behind.
Many travelers mention giving in to McDonald’s or other fast food cravings while on the road, do you have a guilty pleasure food you indulge in when traveling?
We try to eat whatever we feel like, instead of making fast food or any other unhealthy food something you should feel guilty about. If you eat and you feel guilty, you’re doing it wrong. If we feel like eating a doughnut, we eat a doughnut. It’s all about finding a balance. We believe that you should enjoy food, any kind of food you choose to eat. Food is food. Some things are better for you than others. And it’s up to you to make this choice.
At home, we always ate organic, non processed food, loads of veggies and fruit as well as organic meat, which is something we really miss. We wish we could indulge in this, far more than McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts or whatever. What we do on a regular basis, is eat sushi. We frickin’ love sushi. I think we eat sushi at least once a week.
If there were one food from back home that you could eat RIGHT NOW, what would it be?
Good, fresh, whole wheat bread with creamy butter and the best old Dutch cheese ever. And maybe add a little bit of stroop (a dutch version of syrup that the Dutch eat with their pancakes; Google it!).
Angela would like to add: Anything Nick cooks. He is an incredible chef and his food is still the best food I’ve ever tasted (To be honest, his brother Jesse is a chef and he is also an amazing cook. The three of us shared an apartment for several years and I really miss his cooking too!)
We’ve all seen the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction in which Vincent (John Travolta) tells Jules (Samuel L Jackson) that in Holland, fries are served with mayonnaise not ketchup. Since you’re from the Netherlands, please weigh in on this: in your opinion what is the optimal condiment to eat with frites?
Mayonnaise is the king of all condiments. How can you eat ketchup with your frites, you crazy Americans?
Ohh Frites…how we miss thee. Frites in Holland are a meal on their own. On days you don’t feel like cooking you hop on your bike (we’re Dutch, that’s what we do), peddle to the frites-shop, order fries and a snack, peddle back home, pour it on a plate, add loads of mayonnaise, and bask in the glory that is Dutch cuisine.
Most, if not ALL Dutch people like mayonnaise with their frites. But it does not stop there. We are both fan of mayonnaise and peanut sauce. You can also add sliced onions to the mayonnaise and peanut sauce making a frites oorlog (fries war). A lot of people also eat frites speciaal: mayonnaise, curry and sliced unions.
If you want to order a fries with mayonnaise in most fries-shops you order ‘patatje met’, which translated is ‘fries with’, it’s that common. It hasn’t been that way for long though, just a scant half a century ago, ordering a ‘patat met’ meant you would get fries with piccadilly sauce which is kinda gross. We can’t imagine or hunt down the when, how or why of this change, it’s lost in the annals of history.
Other favorite Dutch snacks include croquettes, frikandel (a meat-stick, rumored to have been made of anything from horse to rat), kaassoufflé (it’s fried cheese with a crust, best consumed on a white bun with peanut sauce), bitterballen (literally: bitterballs, tiny croquette balls), berenhap (literally: bearbite, sliced meatball on a skewer with onions, fried of course).
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you’d make sure we tried? Any hidden restaurant gems that most visitors overlook?
Our last hometown, Haarlem, has some amazing restaurants. One of our favorites is Spaarne 66, not a hidden gem but well worth a visit. The English menus are the best, on the back they say ‘I’m a tourist’, and it’s hilarious to see a whole row of tourists reading their menus with that on the back. You should also visit Meneer Paprika (Mister Bellpepper), Nick has worked here for years and the two ladies running this place are some of the coolest people ever and their sandwiches and toasties are great!
What you should definitely try if this is your first time in Holland, is frites with mayonnaise of course! It will blow you away. Get a ‘rundvleeskroket’ with it. There isn’t a lot of traditional Dutch food we’d recommend as it’s quite bland. Most of the good stuff you can get in restaurants in the Netherlands has at least some contemporary Belgian, French or Italian cuisine mixed in.
Nick has made some rather grand boasts about his culinary prowess, especially when it comes to patisserie. In your opinion, where can you get the best pastries in the world, and what are some Dutch desserts that visitors must try? What’s the most challenging dessert you’ve ever tackled at home? Have you ever tried your hand at creating stroopwaffels?
Actually, Nick studied to be a patissier for a year when he realised he didn’t like this getting up early business. But he can still make amazing pastries, pies, cakes and cookies. (You see, it’s actually Angela doing the boasting, I’m usually modest about it.)
The best pastries in the world were the pies we had at Gerbeaud in Budapest. It’s a very traditional bakery who have taken their pastries to a very, very high contemporary level. What they make is very hard to recreate if you would just get the recipe, it takes actual skill.
Most Dutch desserts are like our food: bland. Most of the restaurants again get their dessert inspiration from the French or Italian cuisines. If you really want a Dutch dessert, try to find a restaurant that serves ‘hangop’, it’s very old-fashioned, and it tastes great.
Making stroopwaffels is something most Dutch bakers don’t even do, they just buy them from a bakery that specializes in them. It’s quite hard with all that sticky hot syrup, and very specialized. I’ve never tried it, but I might one day, if I ever get ambitious about it. The hardest thing I’ve made at home are probably chocolate soufflés, which was before I started studying to be a patissier. They sagged miserably.
There’s an old adage that we eat with our eyes first—how much do you believe this is true? Do you believe that there can be artistic merit even in humble street food, or is this something people only say about fussy, fine dining?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So I guess it all depends on who’s watching. It’s a mix of things really. A dish can look beautiful and taste awful which ruins the point of making it look good. Another dish can look awful and taste great, which we’d rather have than the former. Then there’s the kind of dishes that have the best of both worlds, in any level of dining out (I’ve seen some great looking Pad Thai), and that’s the best.
Cooking is an art as well as a trade, go and ask any chef worth his knives. You want your stuff to look great as well as taste great. It comes down to feeling for what you’re doing and if you’ve got that, you can apply it to whatever you make. So yes, I believe there can be artistic merit any food, even in humble street food.
We love the feature on your site in which you highlight restaurants and cafés that you believe have especially inspiring or enjoyable aesthetic qualities. Have you ever been tempted to include a place that had great design merits but only middling food? What cities or countries have you felt have a surprisingly high number of chic/innovative/design-conscious eateries? What are some of the coolest features you’ve found in restaurants while traveling?
Some of the cafes we have featured don’t always have the best food, but might have delicious coffee, or an amazing toilet. We always try to mention when it’s not really worth eating there. But if the concept is good, the food is usually up to standards.
Sometimes we pick something just because it has a great concept. In Phnom Penh is a place called Chuck Norris Dim Sum. Everything had Chuck Norris on it and the overall look was so much fun. The food was not that good, but we still had a great night. There was even a unicorn on the menu!
Bangkok is one of our favorites, followed by Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai has one of the coolest places we have ever been to. Penguin Ghetto. If you name your cafe Penguin Ghetto, you’ve already won in life. We are now busy discovering all of what Kuala Lumpur has to offer us. We’re hoping it will be just as cool as Bangkok.
A big thanks to Nick & Angela for taking part this week! I don’t think they’ve convinced Tony to give up his beloved ketchup, but they’ve certainly given us a lot of food for thought (pun totally intended) about Dutch snacks we need to try when we make it to Europe!
Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! You don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.