Monday, January 07, 2008

The rundown on Aruban food

We were really excited about our Aruba vacation and looking forward to checking out the food, beaches, and culture.

The big discovery of the trip was that Aruba is not a foodie destination. It's great if you want filet mignon, lobster or shrimp--or all three at once--as they appear on pretty much every menu, regardless of whether the cuisine claims to be Italian or French or Aruban.

The default cheese is Gouda. Want a cheeseburger? It comes with Gouda. A grilled cheese sandwich? Gouda (and also, possibly, pineapple slices). It's sold in enormous wheels in everyday grocery stores. It's touted in the stores for cruise-ship visitors (as "queso holandés"). I'd rather find Gouda on everything than Kraft slices, so this was a big plus.

One of the default appetizers is escargots, which are meatier than their US cousins. The butter isn't as intensely garlicky, but the finished dish is topped with parmesan, which gives a nice edge to the dish.

The default restaurant bread comes smothered in garlic butter.

The local beer,
Balashi, is a pretty good pilsener, not surprisingly similar to (but less skunky than) Heineken.

The low amount of rainfall and the unforgiving terrain (limestone and coral) means pretty much everything edible has to be imported. Most of the packaged goods available in supermarkets, again unsurprisingly, are Dutch, including many forms of sausage, more enormous wheels of cheese and strange things like canned parsley.

The Dutch influence also means the pastry section is pretty good; we picked up this thing, called a tompoezen; much like an English vanilla slice, but with a generous shot of fresh cream hidden inside the custard.

There's also a strong Indian/Indonesian influence, with many fast-food places offering shoarma and satay alongside hotdogs and bitterballen.

(Did I mention the bitterballen?)

The filling, I discovered, is meat in a bechamel sauce. That explains a lot.

A food apparently specific to the Dutch Antilles is the pastechi, which is similar to a Cornish pasty or an empanada, but with a much lighter, shorter pastry (which apparently requires milk and baking powder).

Wandering around downtown Oranjestad, we discovered the Pastechi House, a small storefront operation that promised fillings from chicken to chorizo to salt cod. Sadly, only the basic varieties were available when we arrived, so we settled for a couple of beef, a cheese and a croquette. A good Aruban lunch.

Our one major culinary missed connection involved these things. They were at the hotel's breakfast buffet, right next to the museli and cornflakes and Kellogg's mini-boxes, and we couldn't figure out what they were. One was chocolate, one was fruit.

Were they cereal? Did you just add milk? Did they go on top of cereal? Unable to figure it out (and afraid to ask and risk gales of derisive Dutch laughter) we didn't pursue the matter further. And then, in the grocery store, we found them. Boxes and boxes. And a clear indication of their raison d'ĂȘtre.

By then, we'd eaten our last breakfast, so had no opportunity to experience this brilliant invention ourselves.

Oh, and it's hard to find decent coffee. Here's a picture of The Worst Coffee in the World Ever (accompanied by the only thing that could mask the taste).

If you see this coffee, do not approach it. It's a dangerous and unforgiving criminal.

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Blogger Laura Matthews said...

I read this line:

"...but with a generous shot of fresh cream hidden inside the custard..."

with the same intonation as Jeff Goldblum's line in Independence Day...

"I found a code... hidden inside our own satellite system..."

with the "inside" said very creepy.

just thought I'd share that. I still can't understand why you're so slim.


7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog looking for a tasty photo of 'bitterballen' and would like to solve your mystery of the 'vruchtenhagel'. It is typical Dutch (I am Dutch, so I know) and it is topping for your bread, used in the same manner as peanutbutter or cheese. I know that you wrote this in 2008, but if not solved yet: by this.

Saskia, Amsterdam, Holland

10:53 AM  

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