A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
There were many things I expected to love about the Netherlands. Windmills, canals, bicycles – I anticipated that I would find all of these to be wonderfully novel. However, I significantly underestimated the number of pleasing surprises that the Netherlands had in store for me. This entry details a few of the most agreeable.
I come from the North-East of England. A take-away favourite of my region, a dish so popular that it is practically a local institution, is the Parmo: a slab of processed chicken meat coated in breadcrumbs, lathered in béchamel sauce, lavished with grated cheddar and heated under the grill until heart-attack inducing nirvana is achieved. I tell you this so that you understand my inherent appreciation for artery-clogging fast-foods and can empathise with my unbounded joy upon the discovery of kapsalon. If the Parmo is the heavyweight champion on the fast-food scene, then kapsalon is the up comer getting ready to challenge for the title.
Kapsalon (literally “barbershop”) was dreamed up in 2003 by a hairdresser in Rotterdam. In a fit of gastronomic genius, this corpulent coiffeur asked, “Why should I have to eat my favourite foods separately when they could be combined in a single dish?” And so the kapsalon was born: a hearty serving of chips topped with a mountain of döner kebab or shawarma meat, slathered in Gouda cheese and heated until a solid mass of greasy goodness has formed. I am looking forward to exporting the idea – it may put a cat among the Parmo pigeons of my hometown.
One of my deepest held regrets is that in the UK we only eat the bundles of deliciousness known as pigs-in-blankets (mini sausages wrapped in bacon) at Christmas. I have never understood why we would deprive ourselves of such culinary marvels 364 days of the year. So you can understand my delight when I found slavinken in the supermarket. My joy was twofold; firstly, that pigs-in-blankets exist in the Netherlands and can be eaten at any time of year without anyone batting an eye, and secondly, that they are huge, at least five or six times the size of the ones at home. I felt similar elation when I learned that it is perfectly normal to have sprouts as a vegetable accompaniment without any deference to the festive season, but I fear my personal passion for sprouts is not one shared by the vast majority of our readership.
There is a clear food-based bias in my writing so far, and I must confess, I am a food devotee. I could quite easily spend the rest of this blog entry waxing lyrical about poffertjes, oliebollen and frikandellen, but this isn’t a food blog. Moreover, I would be doing the Netherlands a disservice by implying that their culinary tradition is the only source of unexpected joy that I have encountered here. It most certainly is not. No, the font from which pleasure springs eternal is Boer zoekt vrouw.
Boer zoekt vrouw
Every Sunday, my flatmates and I gather around the television and wait with baited breath for the weekly instalment of Boer zoekt vrouw, or “Farmer wants a wife”. The premise is simple; five farmers are looking for love. Hopefuls from across the country write them letters, which the farmers read and then use as a basis to select ten admirers, a group which they gradually whittle down through a series of dates. The top three then go to live with their farmer of choice for a few weeks, while the farmer gets to know them and decide which one he (or she, as the case may be) would like to have a relationship with. In any other country, this would be a recipe for the worst kind of reality TV. The contestants would be narcissistic, stupid or otherwise flawed, the farmers would be laughable, country-bumpkin stereotypes, there would be constant fighting and name-calling, the activities would be embarrassing and the entire show would be staged to incur the maximum possible degree of vulgarity, with no respect at all for the participants. Apparently there is a UK version of the show. I have never seen it, but I am almost certain that it will correspond to this description.
However, Boer zoekt vrouw somehow manages to rise above this reality TV tendency toward the vulgar and succeed in being a rather charming show. The show ambles along at an unhurried tempo. We watch the farmers and contenders engaging with life on the farm, learning how to milk cows and feed the animals, and going about their mundane daily routines, all against the verdant backdrop of the Dutch countryside. Scenes of dishwasher-filling and meal-preparing are interspersed with conversations during which we get to know the characters. Normally, these conversations would be the time in the show when you get to see the worst of personalities and decide who you really hate, but it is very hard to take even a mild dislike to anyone in Boer zoekt vrouw, as they are all so consistently open, pleasant, and generally normal. As the show progresses you can’t help but become genuinely invested in the characters; you want the farmers to find love, and you wish the participants not chosen all the best in their future romantic endeavours off-screen.
Discovering that reality TV need not just be about having a good laugh at poor, desperate people with so little success in their lives that they need to resort to a television programme created purely to humiliate them has been a revelation. Boer zoekt vrouw has single-handedly rescued my opinion of the genre.
I am only eight weeks into my stay here in the Netherlands, and I’ve already been caught unawares by a number of fantastic surprises. I am sure this list will continue to grow over the coming months, and I look forward to sharing every new discovery with you.