Only one more week and I’ll be on my way to the Netherlands! Todd arrived at our apartment in Maastricht today and from his description it sounds gorgeous. It’s a pretty new building as far as Europe goes (late 1800s, I think), and not cheap by any means, but its right in the old part of town, near the medieval center. I can’t wait to explore, and as it’s a pretty small city that should be easy to do mostly on foot. Which is good because (gasp!) I don’t know how to ride a bike! And I know a total of about three words of Dutch, and can’t pronounce any of them. I am woefully unprepared for this trip, I know (though most everyone apparently speaks English, so I should be ok there at least).
One thing I am quite excited about is the four different outdoor markets Maastricht has to offer. Outdoor markets are a very European thing, and they are all over the place in London, where I enjoyed exploring and discovering new ones. The U.S. has its share of outdoor farmer’s markets, but while in London every market had at least a few food stalls and stands with fresh produce (the variety on offer depending on the market’s size), most of them, like the famous Portobello and Spitalfields Markets, are similar to flea markets, offering a range of goods from clothes and jewelry to books and antiques, even electronics and pet supplies. Some, however, focus entirely on food. Needless to say these were my favorites, and I was lucky enough to have a small food market set up for most of the year in the square near my student housing every Saturday morning.
As any Londoner who is into such things will tell you, however, the greatest food market in the city (and the greatest market I have been to yet, anywhere) is Borough Market, under the London Bridge on the south side of the River Thames. Open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the thing is huge, with probably over a hundred vendors selling gourmet food of every kind imaginable. Most of it is pretty expensive, but it’s good quality and usually sourced and produced from within the UK, and the best part is that almost every stall hands out a plethora of samples. I confess that, being on a tight budget, I rarely actually bought anything: instead I roamed the market and stuffed myself on tidbits of cheese, sausage, jams, Middle Eastern dips and spreads, chocolate, and numerous other goodies (this is where I first tried blood sausage, and like it!). Yes, I am a shameless freeloader, but what can I say, most poor college students are! I did usually spring for a cup of hot and spicy mulled wine, however (still usually the only way, besides sangria, that I enjoy red wine, and especially delicious at nine or ten in the morning!), as well as my favorite candy, good versions of which I have only found at London food markets: Turkish delight. Those of you who have read and/or seen The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will know what I’m talking about: it’s a chewy, jelly-type candy, softer than a gummy candy but firmer than gelatin, coated in powdered sugar to keep it from sticking together and commonly rose-flavored, though at Borough Market there were two stalls selling it in a wide variety of flavors. I usually stuck to citrusy types like lemon, orange and pomegranate. Delicious! It was also fun just to wander around and look at all the cool things on offer, some of which is quite exotic: the fish stall with all kinds of odd creatures, impeccably fresh, the meat stall with wild game like whole rabbits and pheasants hanging, a stall specializing in ostrich products (!), and another selling burgers made out of bison and wild boar and venison. Very cool stuff hard to find anywhere else.
One week my parents and sister came to visit, and on Friday I took them to Borough. My mom and I shared a falafel wrap for lunch, while my sister and my dad tried a sausage roll and a meat pie (forgot what kind, chicken or pork or something). I bought a box filled with different kinds of Turkish delight for Steph, and then we loaded up on bread and cheese for later snacking in their hotel room (there are several bakeries that have stalls there (one has giant brownies, like really, the size of bricks, only much tastier), as well as cheese stalls, all of which are excellent. However, there is a permanent cheese store down one of the streets near the market called Neal’s Yard Dairy, which has several other outposts, and is one of the best cheese stores I’ve ever been in. Their cheese is worth a splurge, with some interesting varieties, and the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. Update: They actually got started in Covent Garden, where their original store still is, and also export their cheeses overseas, including to Cow Girl Creamery in the San Francisco area. Good news for us West-Coasters! I also know that Whole Foods, at least the one near my parents' home on Long Island, carries a few selections). We actually ended up losing part of our purchase when we left a bag somewhere during the rest of the day’s travels, which was distressing, but we managed to hold on to the best stuff, including a jar of the most intense fish pate I’ve ever tasted. I forgot what vendor it came from – maybe someone with Italian products? Or Spanish? – but only my dad and I liked it (both of us being fans of really fishy stuff, apparently), so we barely made a dent in it and after they left I enjoyed it in small doses for another month or so.
Having access to markets like that is one of the things I miss most about London, so I am excited to go and see what Maastricht has to offer. Of course these markets will be much smaller but who knows? I might find some great stuff, and this time I’ll actually be able to afford some of it!