Friday, April 8, 2011

Happy Friday!

Friday is market day in Maastricht’s central square (appropriately called the Markt), when a large food/flea market takes over a portion of the area (there’s also one on Wednesdays, but much smaller). The goods on offer are pretty typical, with lots of produce (white asparagus is in season; I’m interested in seasonal cooking, but these just look like enormous mutant albino asparagus, so I’m not particularly keen on buying them), meat and fish, as well as specialty goods like olives, baked goods, and cheese (lots of Gouda, of course!). There are also vendors selling prepared foods to eat right in the square at little temporary tables you stand around, and most of the meat and fish stalls either have pre-made dishes for sale or (and this is particularly true for the fish purveyors) will cook what you buy to order. Fried fish seemed to be popular with the shoppers.

Todd and I struggled and shoved our way through the mobs of browsers on the way to the Jumbo (pronounced “Yumbo”) grocery store, located under a shopping mall, which was also quite crowded. There are several grocery stores in our area, and they’re nice because most of them, even the smaller ones, have a bakery and cheese/deli area where you can get quality fresh goods, not just packaged ones, and often they’ll have samples out. I’d say that the supermarkets have as good quality food as some of the specialty stores around here, often for a better price. We buy most of our groceries there*, but I still like visiting the smaller cheese stores, delis and bakeries though, just because it feels very European. We live right next door to a little bakery that is featured in our guidebook because it still uses a watermill to produce its goods. I have yet to buy anything there (too many other tempting places further afield), but their tarts look scrumptious and there is a café attached, so I foresee I visit in the near future. Just to give you an idea of the type of shops around here:

Cheese and tarts, don't they look delicious?

Most of my favorite shops so far are located across the river in the newer, less touristy part of the city (but still only a 10-minute walk away). The other day I bought a little round of goat cheese from a cheese store across the river (the one in the top photograph, actually), and it was scrumptious: very soft and pleasantly tangy but still mild, a perfect compliment to the sun-dried tomato tapenade Todd picked up at a deli near our house. I’ve also been prowling the bakeries, working my way through the various sweet things on offer (but not the one in the bottom photo yet). So far we’ve sampled a lovely little round tart of apples and almond paste, as well as a cherry streusel bar (cherry, apple and apricot are all typical fruit varieties in the baked goods here). My favorite treat so far has been a kind of sweet raisin bread, filling with a gooey mix of brown sugar and cinnamon and dusted with powdered sugar. It comes in round loaves, but I just bought a half and am still working my way through it. Up next: a lovely looking but very expensive little pear and lemon cream tart from a bakery/cheese shop around the corner (I’m sure it will be worth the price, as I asked the woman for her recommendation and she said it was her favorite: I’ve found this to be a useful way both to make out the best things from a selection and to ingratiate yourself to the shopkeeper, never a bad thing, especially here, where sometimes the proprietors can be a little less than welcoming!)

*A funny story about this: it’s a bit difficult here to buy milk, as many different dairy products come packaged in nearly identical cartons, and of course everything is in Dutch. Obviously melk is Dutch for milk, but it’s not so simple – the first time Todd tried to buy milk for his Krokante Muesli (a type of granola that is ubiquitous here), he ended up with buttermilk (which according to him tastes pretty good if you add sugar to it!). The second time, he came home with half-and-half (which he has been using on his cereal anyway, bleh!). The confusion is not limited to milk: he tried to buy orange juice and wound up with some sort of drinkable orange-flavored yogurt, which is actually not bad. This last time though (when I was with him, of course!) I think we finally got it right! We’ll find out when the half-and-half is used up (again, bleh!).

Update: Nope, it's buttermilk again! Turns out regular milk comes, not in refrigerated cartons, but in unrefrigerated glass bottles, which don't expire til some time next year. Todd says this means the milk is probably irradiated (sp?). I say it means it is highly suspect. I guess my spoiled American self wants cold, perishable dairy products, what can I say?

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