Archive for the ‘Cuisine’ Category

 (@Jonakallgren) | Published on March 11, 2014 at 20:23 GMT
Bitcoin Boulevard

It is the home of the Dutch royals, a number of international war criminals and, seasonally, to masses of photo-taking tourists, but the Hague in the Netherlands will soon be a hotspot for bitcoin enthusiasts, too.

At 17:57 on 20th March – the precise start of spring in the Netherlands – all of the businesses along two canal-side streets in the city centre will start to accept bitcoin.

In all, nine restaurants and one art gallery will take part in the scheme.

Unofficially the two streets running along the canal – Bierkade and Groenewegje – will also change their name to ‘Bitcoin Boulevard’.

Hard sell

The city of the Hague has been quick to jump on the project with the tourism office promoting the event and the city’s ‘Night Mayor’ – the official who looks after the city’s nighttime activities – due to make the first bitcoin purchase at one of the restaurants.

Hendrik Jan Hilbolling, one of the three organisers behind the project, says he had the idea for Bitcoin Boulevard after convincing his friend, who runs a restaurant on the street, to accept bitcoin for payments.

He discussed the idea with two other bitcoin enthusiasts, Peter Klasen and Henk van Tijen, at a bitcoin meetup. The three then set out to convince all the remaining restaurants to throw away their preconceived ideas, ignore the bad news spinning out of the Mt. Gox implosion and start accepting a cryptocurrency that some of them had not even heard of.

With some it was a hard sell, but one after the other the restaurant owners started seeing the advantages of bitcoin – such as the low transaction costs, the ease of payment for international guests and the promotional value.

As Hilbolling pointed out:

“In the end, who doesn’t want to be a part of a Bitcoin Boulevard?”

The canal may soon be thronged with bitcoiners
The canal may soon be thronged with bitcoiners

Bitcoin happy hour

Bitcoin enthusiasts won’t find it hard to spend their digital coins on the streets: there is a Michelin-star restaurant, a beer hall with more than 160 beers on offer, a café and a vegetarian restaurant.

The M Restaurant will also be holding a daily bitcoin ‘happy hour’, when all guests paying with the digital currency will receive a discount.

People with a bit of extra bitcoin in their wallets can also buy photography, paintings and sculptures from internationally known contemporary artists at the art gallery West.

At this stage, the restaurants and the gallery will not be using a merchant service. Rather they will display the QR code of their wallet on the bar and do simple bitcoin transactions from wallet to wallet. Hilbolling said, however, that this might change as the project develops.

Initially the idea was to conduct a two-month trial, but the businesses have said that if things go well they continue with the Bitcoin Boulevard concept indefinitely.

‘Not just for nerds’

The three organisers, who all have day jobs in the software sector, said that they will themselves not make any profits from the project. Instead, it has been a way for them to spread the word about bitcoin, get to know other bitcoin enthusiasts, and introduce the digital currency to the general public.

Henk van Tijen explained:

“This event is is not just for nerds like ourselves, but for the regular moms and pops, kids and students. The purpose is to make it for a more broad audience.”

To boost bitcoin spending there will be a competition held for the person that spends the most crypto-coin on the street and for the restaurant that has taken the most bitcoin payments. Both winners will be displayed on the Netherlands’ largest advertising screen, which sits over a highway near the city.

So, if you want to have your mugshot on display to Dutch commuters, load up your digital wallet and book a trip to the Hague. Michelin-starred food and international beer await you.


By MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF   January 15, 201410:52 AM

The U.K. has plenty of fresh produce available, such as these vegetables on display at a garden show in Southport, England. But these healthy options cost more in the U.K. than in any other country in Western Europe.

The U.K. has plenty of fresh produce available, such as these vegetables on display at a garden show in Southport, England. But these healthy options cost more in the U.K. than in any other country in Western Europe.

The Healthy Food Rankings

According to the advocacy group Oxfam, here are the easiest and hardest countries in the world to find a nutritious and diverse diet.


1. Netherlands

2. France, Switzerland

4. Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Belgium

8. Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg, Australia


121. Yemen

122. Madagascar

123. Ethiopia, Angola

125. Chad

The Dutch are known for their lax drug laws, tall statures and proficient language skills.

Perhaps we should add stellar eating habits to that list, as well.

The Netherlands ranked as the easiest country in the world in which to find a balanced, nutritious diet, the advocacy group Oxfam reported Tuesday.

France and Switzerland shared the second slot. And Western Europe nearly swept the top 20 positions, with Australia just edging into a tie for 8th.

Where did the U.S. land?

We tied with Japan for 21st place, despite the fact that we have the most cheap food available. Our friendly neighbors to the north, Canada, took the 25th position out of 125 countries.

A banana seller makes his way to the market in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. The small country in eastern Africa ranked last in terms of malnutrition in children.

Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

A group of researchers at Oxfam, an anti-poverty nonprofit based in Oxford, England, concocted the ranking scheme to measure the best and worst places to eat around the world.

We’re not talking about the density of Michelin-starred restaurants or whether you can get wild salmon versus farmed-raised fish at the grocery store.

Instead, the ranking considers whether families have sufficient access to fresh produce, nutritious proteins and clean water — and whether these options are affordable compared with less healthful options.

The team’s conclusion?

“Basically, if you arrive from Mars and design a food system, you probably couldn’t design a worse one than what we have today on Earth,” Oxfam’s Max Lawson tells The Salt. “There is enough food overall in the world to feed everyone. But 900 million people still don’t have enough to eat, and 1 billion people are obese. It’s a crazy situation.”

To compile the rankings, Lawson and his colleagues spent a few months analyzing eight reports from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. and the International Labor Organization.

A country’s score depends on how much food is available (so richer countries have an advantage), the nutritional value of that food and how diet helps or harms the nation’s health.

The team measured that last metric by looking at diabetes and obesity rates in each country. Not surprisingly, that’s where the U.S. stumbles: We ranked 120th out of 125 countries in terms of how diet influences health.

The problem is linked to poverty, Lawson says.

“Food is very, very cheap in the U.S. compared to most countries,” he explains. “But the fact is you end up with people malnourished in one of the richest countries because they don’t have access to fresh vegetables at a cheap enough price to make a balanced diet.”

At the other end of the spectrum are countries that struggle just to get enough food on each family’s table each day. Chad, Ethiopia and Angola ranked at the overall bottom of Oxfam’s list, in large part because of high malnutrition rates and the relatively high cost of foods in these countries.

“People think that hunger is inevitable, but that’s just not true,” Lawson says. “There is enough food in the world to ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry.”

The problem, in large part, is getting fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to people who need it, he says. “Even in countries with famines, there’s still often enough food. Someone is hoarding it, or it hasn’t been distributed.”

And that problem isn’t new. “Very famously,” he says, “during the Irish potato famine, the British were exporting Irish wheat to the U.K.”

Click here to read the original NPR article.


HOW many times have you considered your dining options and thought “Let’s go Dutch?” Not as in split the bill, but as in eat the cuisine of the Netherlands. And if you  were able to locate a Dutch restaurant in the United States — best of luck with that — do you have any idea what you’d find on the menu?

The Netherlands, as these questions suggest, has never been known as a culinary destination. Actually, that’s an understatement. For years, the gastronomy of this country has lagged woefully behind many of its European neighbors (think Denmark, for one). Which is puzzling, given that the Dutch once dominated the world’s spice trade. And nowhere is this puzzle more obvious than in Amsterdam, a city of beguiling streetscapes, gorgeous canals and really lousy restaurants.

What is a tourist in search of a good meal to do? In recent years, the answer has been to visit Dutchgrub, a blog written by Mark Schiefelbein, a 44-year-old native of Germany who moved here from Strasbourg, France, in 1999. “Amsterdam was a food wasteland at the time,” he said over lunch not long ago. “And I talked to people and they said, ‘Oh, it’s really improved.’ I’m thinking, ‘My God, how bad could it have been?’ ”

Very bad, is the answer. There were a few Michelin stars spread around the city, but those venues were, and remain, pricey and formal marathons of punctilious service and rich sauces. Mr. Schiefelbein was looking for inventive meals at reasonable prices, places you could visit a few times a month without going broke. The restaurants didn’t need to offer Dutch cuisine; that would have limited his list of recommendations to nil. Still, when he started Dutchgrub in 2007, he could get excited about only a handful of restaurants, and there was nowhere to find decent pizza or a burger whose patty wasn’t just plucked from a freezer.

The situation is improving, Mr. Schiefelbein said, and he has carefully charted the progress. His “Best Amsterdam Restaurants” list now has six entries. One is modern French (Marius), one traditional French (Madelief) and one is a mix of Mediterranean and Asian (Blauw aan de Wal)  while the others are hybrids. The latest addition is Wilde Zwijnen, which translates as Wild Boar, and is as close to Dutch cuisine as you’ll find on Dutchgrub’s list. A recent menu included an appetizer of fried catfish with ravigote, and sweet and sour cauliflower. One of the entrees was croquettes of goat cheese, potato and hazelnut with carrot coleslaw, spinach and beetroot. There was also this offering, which, to American ears, sounds plucked from a diner in “The Hobbit”: “Fishfrom Urk.”

“I work with a guy who has one boat,” said Frenk van Dinther, the chef at Wilde Zwijnen, who has a shortened version of the restaurant’s name tattooed on his forearm. “He basically tells me what I’m going to cook. Him and the vegetable man. They have more say over my menu than I do.” The chef was taking a break from the kitchen one evening as rain drove diners off the sidewalk and into the restaurant. The interior design of the place could be called austerity chic: a lot of exposed brick and simple furniture, with a few hanging plants and some elegant wall hangings. Mr. van Dinther said that a lot of Dutch patrons, who have come to expect more frippery when they venture out for a meal, find the look threadbare.

“They see it as some kind of barn,” he said. “Americans and Germans get this place. A lot of Dutch don’t.”

The problem may be that Wilde Zwijnen reminds the Dutch of the utilitarian ethos that has dominated its cuisine for decades. It wasn’t always so, writes Karin Engelbrecht, a restaurant critic for Time Out Amsterdam. The Dutch, she explains, cooked with élan until  the start of the 19th century, and you can tell from still-life paintings of the era, which showed off tables piled high with delectables. A peek at cookbooks dating back a few hundred years reveals dishes like mussels with saffron and ginger, and roast goose with turmeric root. Meals were lavish, multicourse affairs that started with leafy greens and ended with pastries and hippocras, a wine sweetened with cinnamon and served warm.

Then, as the Dutch started to lose their colonies — mostly to the British — and population growth started to strain resources, the country’s golden age ended and a new frugality took hold. But what really set Holland’s kitchens on a path toward stodgy was the popularity, starting in the late 19th century, of huishoudschool. A type of domestic-science school, it taught girls to ditch the herbs and spices and produce meals that favored nutrition and cheapness over flavor and pizazz. “It became all about, what do you need to feed yourself and stay healthy?” Ms. Engelbrecht said in a phone interview. “Recipes weren’t about using those lovely spices that we created the sea routes to India for. Those were nice to have, but you didn’t need them to survive.”

That keep-it-basic approach endures. One of the more ubiquitous dinners here is stamppot, which is potatoes and vegetables, mashed and boiled in a pot, with some kind of meat tossed in. And that is sumptuous compared with a typical lunch. “I work with small Internet start-up companies,” Mr. Schiefelbein said, “and when lunchtime comes, somebody goes around and collects a few coins and somebody heads to the supermarket around the corner and gets some slices of cheese and sliced bread. That’s what people have for lunch.”

We were eating a bit more lavishly as we talked that afternoon, at a place called Gartine in the Centrum section of the city. “A lot of what you see now is local ingredients with an international twist,” he said of the lunch, pointing to a dish of trout tartare on slabs of crusty wheat bread and a side of French fries. “It’s a pâté, which is clearly a French influence. The French would use tuna. Here they use trout. And there’s a side of mayo for the fries. Don’t order ketchup here. They’ll look down on you.”

Mr. Schiefelbein has dark hair, parted in the middle, and wears a pair of dark glasses that could pass for welder’s goggles if they were a little heavier. He started Dutchgrub, he said, because he kept writing the same e-mail to friends, and friends of friends, who came to Amsterdam. Why not just post it all online? A hint of exasperation still wafts off the site — “I live in Amsterdam. A city that prides itself with food from vending machines” it says on the home page — but it’s clear that options here are expanding. One sign is that Mr. Schiefelbein has bumped some pretty fine restaurants off his recommended list. That includes De Kas, which is on the edge of a lush park east of the center of the city; it’s in a former municipal nursery that now looks like a greenhouse designed by a starchitect. (In this case, the Dutch designer Piet Boon.) The emphasis is on fresh ingredients, some of them plucked from a garden in an adjacent room.

After a meal at De Kas, every restaurant will feel a little cramped. The ceiling in the dining room is about 26 feet high and the tables are nicely spaced apart. The three-course $62 prix fixe menu recently included an appetizer of creamy sauerkraut with roasted parsnip, carrots, brussels sprout leaves, and a carrot and mustard dressing. The main course was slow-cooked pork belly with a side of lentils and Granny Smith apples, and a confit of white onions. The guiding principle here is to keep it simple and focus on the ingredients. The results have won raves from diners and critics alike.

But  Mr. Schiefelbein says the place has slipped recently. “I’ve been there a few times and been slightly disappointed in some of the dishes,” he said. “You get a lot of restaurants in Amsterdam that put the focus on looking great instead of the food. De Kas has beautiful design, it has tablecloths, they have thought a lot about presentation. But the food isn’t there.”

Fair warning, Amsterdam chefs. Mr. Schiefelbein is watching and the man is not easy to please. He will not even enter a restaurant selling what he believes is a telltale sign of mediocrity: dorado with any kind of lemon sauce. “If I see that, I stay away,” he said. “It’s part of what I call the Jamie Oliver menu. Don’t get me wrong. I love Jamie Oliver. What he’s doing is brilliant. I have all his books. We cook a lot of his stuff at home. But what he’s good at is simple dishes and when I go out to a restaurant I’m looking for something a little more ambitious.”

Original article found here.

Original New York Times article here


The walls of all three branches of this Amsterdam mini-chain are lined with portraits of cows. In the black-and-white photographs, some lie in repose with their ilk. Others stand solo. One stares directly at the camera, looking unperturbed by the flies on its face. Said Justus de Nijs, one of Burgermeester’s three owners, with characteristic Dutch candor: “Here are the cows. Have a nice burger.”

He confirmed that these cows actually supplied the beef for burgers served at the restaurants, though these particular creatures were probably butchered shortly after Burgermeester opened its doors in 2007. Talk about getting to know your food.

The idea, Mr. de Nijs said, sprang from the simple desire for a good burger, a rarity in Amsterdam, as in many European capitals. The beef comes from Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, a French breed, although these cows are born and bred in the Netherlands — “Dutch citizens,” as Mr. de Nijs put it; his compatriots are these days are concerned about issues of immigration and citizenship.

Though the menu changes seasonally, and there is a specialty burger of the month, there is always a basic beef burger, as well as more luxurious avatars — one with truffle, egg and pancetta; a tuna burger made with American albacore; and two varieties of lamb burgers, including one with chorizo and jalapeños. The veggie burger on the winter menu is made with red lentils. (Mr. de Nijs is still tinkering with the spring menu.)

Sides include corn on the cob and arugula salad; in the chain’s most iconoclastic gesture, there are no French fries. Mr. de Nijs believes that they would make the restaurants smell like a greasy spoon.

In a country where bread is served with every meal, I was delighted to be able to order a burger on a pretty heap of salad greens, with cherry tomatoes on the side and — this being the Netherlands — a swirl of mayonnaise on top. (Note to Dutch cooks: mayonnaise is not adult food.) My 2-year-old daughter pilfered my cherry tomatoes and most of my husband’s tuna burger and refused to share her pint-size glass of purple forest berry milkshake. She briefly glanced at the cows on the wall and said, “Moo.”

It seemed an apt tribute to Mr. de Nijs’s emphasis on transparency. “You would be a hypocrite,” Mr. de Nijs said, “to say you’re not eating cow if you’re eating cow.”

Burgermeester ( has three locations: Albert Kuypstraat 48, Elandsgracht 130 and Plantage Kerklaan 37. Lunch for two (plus a grazing toddler) is about 30 euros, or just under $40 at $1.32 to the euro.


A growing trend toward seasonal, homegrown produce is helping to reinvent Dutch cuisine


In much of the food world, seasonal cooking means succumbing to nature’s whims. Local soil dictates what’s on the menu, even if that means no tomatoes for much of the year, and hardly a trace of the tropics. The seasonal ideal, however, runs into what can be called natural opposition in the Netherlands, where the best-known local produce is the hydroponic tomato, grown in heated industrial greenhouses without a speck of soil.

At a typical Albert Heijn supermarket, the country’s dominant chain, there is essentially one season: refrigeration. In chilled, shiny aisles, plastic packages of strawberries, bell peppers and tomatoes of every conceivable size show off the best of Dutch greenhouse technology every day of the year. Marjan Ippel, an Amsterdam food writer and food trend analyst, is not impressed.

“Even now in summer, supermarket tomatoes are hard and tasteless,” says Ms. Ippel, who grows her own vegetables in her houseboat’s nearby floating garden. This year she has begun to organize what she calls “underground farmers’ markets.” Using Twitter, Ms. Ippel brings together local microproducers who want to bypass supermarkets entirely.

Ms. Ippel is part of a growing number of Dutch foodies who are taking a hard look at the country’s booming agriculture industry, where nearly two thirds of all fruits and vegetables are produced in greenhouses without any soil.

“A grass-roots movement is growing in the Netherlands,” says Willem Treep, a former employee of Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch food-industry giant. In 2009, Mr. Treep and his Unilever colleague Drees Peter van den Bosch, left the corporate food world behind and started a local produce distribution network in central Holland.

“We have strict rules for what kind of produce we sell,” says Mr. Treep, 35 years old. “It has to be locally produced in the ground,” which means, he explains, grown in an area 40 kilometers from a point of sale. “We draw a circle around a supermarket,” he says, explaining how he matches farmers with stores.

Another corporate renegade is Quirijn Bolle, who worked for Ahold, the Dutch supermarket conglomerate and owners of Albert Heijn and Stop & Shop, an American grocery chain. Two years ago, Mr. Bolle opened an upscale supermarket called Marqt in Amsterdam’s trendy Oud West neighborhood, where he tries to specialize in offering exactly the opposite as Albert Heijn. Now he has three stores, located in Amsterdam and Haarlem, and he anticipates opening 20 more across the country.

“There are still farmers in Holland,” says Mr. Bolle, contrasting traditional methods of planting in fields with heated greenhouses. “They are smaller, and they pay a lot of attention to growing. We started Marqt for them.”

For many of Holland’s seasonal food advocates, an important source of inspiration comes from chef Jonnie Boer, whose three-star Michelin restaurant, De Librije, located in the small city of Zwolle, uses produce, fish, and meat from the Dutch heartland as the building blocks of a radically inventive cuisine.

“We do it the old-fashioned way,” says Mr. Boer, of his collaboration with a local farmer, who provides nearly all of his fruit and vegetables. “With soil,” he says.

For Mr. Boer, whose restaurant made its fist appearance this year on the celebrated “S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, compiled by the U.K.’s Restaurant magazine, the wider discovery of homegrown Dutch produce has led to the growing interest in Dutch fine dining. The Netherlands now has over 90 Michelin-starred restaurants, only slightly fewer than gourmet bastions like Belgium and Switzerland.

“Ten years ago,” he says, “Everyone was saying that the Dutch don’t have a cuisine, they don’t have good products, they don’t have good cooks. I knew it wasn’t that way.”

In 2008, Mr. Boer opened up a nearby luxury hotel, housed in a refurbished 18th-century women’s prison, and an adjoining restaurant called Zusje, where many of De Librije’s experiments migrate after a season or two on the menu. Within six months of serving its first meal, Zusje received its own Michelin star.

A standout seasonal dish now on offer at De Librije is a dessert called “Gin & Jonnie,” which relies on the trace of sweetness in local cucumbers.

Even though he is the leading voice of Dutch seasonal cooking, Mr. Boer doesn’t want to give up on greenhouses entirely, deferring to that other traditional local product — Dutch ingenuity.

“There is no value in not using a greenhouse,” he says, speaking in the private dining room of De Librije. “‘Local’ in Holland means greenhouses.” He is also open to new varieties of seeds, not just heirlooms, like many seasonal advocates.

“We have found a new beetroot,” he says, “When you eat it raw out of the greenhouse, it tastes like a cherry.”

Holland’s other three-star Michelin chef, Sergio Herman, also relies on personal connections with local farmers to find the best produce, and he will also go into the greenhouse as a way to maintain local food sourcing in the winter months. At Oud Sluis, Mr. Herman’s restaurant near the Belgian border, not far from Bruges, you can find tropical fruit on the menu in winter, but the rest of the time, local fruits and vegetables have pride of place.

After recently discovering the carrots of a Dutch farmer near Amsterdam, Mr. Herman was moved to invent a new dessert course called “Bugs Bunny,” which features carrot cake, carrot ice-cream, and carrot chips flavored with cumin. “The taste is so different,” he says of the carrots. “If you eat them one time, you will never eat the other ones.”

Greenhouse technology is not to blame for a lack of taste, says Olaf van Kooten, a professor of Horticulture at the Wageningen University, the leading agricultural research institution in the Netherlands. The problem, he says, is that industrial growers sell their products by the kilo, so there is an incentive to increase the level of water, which can dramatically decrease the taste. He refers to the “watery tomato strike” in Germany in the 1990s, when Germans, who make up Dutch agriculture’s largest market, rebelled against the products coming out of Dutch greenhouses.

He says that Dutch horticulture has managed to create the most productive greenhouse technology in the world, but that it is only now coming around to developing ways of increasing actual taste. He believes that the growing trend toward seasonality among selective consumers may lead to an even wider Dutch demand for better tasting produce.

Greenhouses are the star attraction at the Amsterdam restaurant De Kas, which actually means “greenhouse.” The restaurant, which opened 10 years ago, is also an important trendsetter in Holland’s seasonal cuisine movement. Housed in the city’s former municipal greenhouse, the stunning interior is presided over by potted fig and olive trees, and guests are encouraged to walk through the restaurant’s private greenhouse, where heirloom tomatoes and several kinds of basil regularly appear on the single set-menu meals.

In season, up to 80% of the restaurant’s produce comes from its own greenhouses and gardens, says owner Gert Jan Hageman, a chef who gave up his Michelin-starred Franco-Italian-style restaurant in Amsterdam to open De Kas. But Mr. Hageman isn’t averse to serving tropical fruit in winter, or looking for the best new seed varieties coming out of Dutch horticulture.

Marije Vogelzang, who opened a new Amsterdam seasonal restaurant this summer, called Proef, draws the line at tropical fruit. “We never use anything like pineapple or coconut or avocado,” she says, noting that her original ambition was to source all her food within five kilometers of the restaurant. However, she adds, “One thing that I cheat on is lemon. I love lemon in every dish.”

A conceptual designer, Ms. Vogelzang initially used food in her installations. A catering business then led to the new restaurant, where even the cocktails are seasonal, she says, citing this month’s “Full Frontal Flower Shower,” featuring local elderberry syrup, gin and fresh peas and edible flowers.

“I wish the restaurant was in California,” she says, admitting that “Full Frontal Flower Shower” will soon have to come off the menu, in spite of its popularity. “It’s such a shame when summer has passed.”

Find the original Wall Street Journal article here.