Sunday Market

Westerpark more so than other parks in the city of Amsterdam, is a real culinary epicenter. On any given weekend there seems to be at least one market or festival with handcrafted goods and food stalls nestled in the park. I spend a lot of time reviewing the food truck scene here but Amsterdam has an equally thriving “food tent” scene I’ve been discovering as well. Where the truck scene is largely a place for comfort food and the easily identified bite, the tent scene has more exotic ethnic foods that draw you in not just with the cuisine but with the creation process. Last Sunday I forded my way across a city of mist and fog for the Sunday Market event.
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Very Silent Hill, right? There was incredible fog last week across the Netherlands. This is one of my favorite features of Dutch fall so far.

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Westerpark isn’t just a park with trees and nature, but it also used to be home to the westergasfabriek coal gas plant. All of the buildings you see here were part of the gas factory until it ceased operation in the 60’s.

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So creepy and cool. This event was held both inside and outside of the old gas factory buildings that run through Westerpark. It was probably the largest event of this kind that I’ve attended at the park. Now for food!

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Smoked eel sandwich from De Lekkerste Paling. Smoked eel is considered something of a delicacy in the Netherlands. It’s often found cured and has a flavor somewhere between ham and salmon, and just like those two foods it has beautiful fat. This food isn’t a favorite of mine exactly, but I’ve never seen it so fresh. The guy was sitting right by the tent cleaning the eels and they were smoking them in a rack right there. How could I say no? I got a simple paling brodje. The way the fat from the fish melts into the bread is really something.

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Fresh apple cider. The taste of fall.

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Who doesn’t like tasty buns?
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I love seeing people cook.
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My friends from Pinch! I attended their dumpling dinner after the Markt van 1001 Smaken because their asian fusion dumplings were soooo good.
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Freshly friend falafel. I love the display here and these guys were all in traditional outfits.
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The next step in my dumpling quest and my pick for the best food at the Sunday Market, Pierogi.
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Sonia and her mom make these traditional Polish pierogi fresh and boil them right when you order. Fresher than fresh!
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They were offering four fillings: Pumpkin with ricotta, meat, sheep’s cheese with potato, and mushroom with cabbage. All were totally incredible. I highly recommend looking these ladies up at your next food festival!
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Restaurant Review: Batoni Khinkali

I’ve sung the praises of the Asian ethnic cuisines available in Amsterdam on this blog in the past. Another unexpected, and quite pleasant, aspect of Amsterdam’s culinary scene is the opportunity to try foods from other parts of Europe that I’ve had no previous exposure to. Over the last week or two, one new food idea has been forcing it’s way into my imagination: Khinkali. I first heard about this dish at a Fusion dumpling pop up dinner hosted by the excellent Pinch. Khinkali are Georgian version of dumplings. Existing somewhere between pierogi and Chinese soup dumplings, khinkali possess the hearty doughy substance of the former and the half-soup half-meat filling of the latter.

After hearing about this dish for the first time, it was suddenly all over the place. A group I am a part of on Facebook posted that a new restaurant had just opened in Amsterdam specializing in Georgian food. This restaurant is Batoni Khinkali.

So I rolled over to Oost with my friend Zivile on Saturday night to try this place and this dish, khinkali. Lucky for me, they were also doing a one day special dish, Atcharuli Khachapuri. More on that later.

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We started with a selection of hors d’oeuvres. Here we have something like a pesto ball, a hummus ball, and a rolled grilled eggplant with sauce. If you know anything about me, you know I raved about the eggplant.
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This khinkali! We had three different types: mushroom, cheese, and meat. You grasp the dumpling by its purse handle and bite into a side like a soup dumpling. You suck out the juice and then eat the entire bottom. The cheese were our favorite, with the meat and mushroom after that.
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Atcharuli Khachapuri. This was the one day special at Batoni Khinkali and it was really something special. Basically a bread bowl filled with salty cheese, (like cottage cheese almost) butter, and a raw egg. You stick a fork in it, mix the insides together into a dip, and tear off parts of the bowl to dip in it. Rustic, delicious, and yes, somewhat yonic.
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Bonus! On our way out, the nice fellow working the counter suggested we try this dessert. What appeared to Zizi and I initially as fudge is actually boiled down gelatinous grape juice. It is mellowly sweet and has a texture somewhere between pudding and flan.

What I told my friend at the end of the meal was basically, “Wow, that really felt like home cooking.” and that is a HUGE compliment from me. This food was made with love, and I felt like I was eating in a Georgian couple’s living room rather than a restaurant. I promise you I’ll be back to Batoni Khinkali and I’d recommend anyone to check it out.

Feastivals Field Trip: Spain Vacation Part II – Zaragoza

The second stop in my holiday was the town of Zaragoza or Caesaraugusta as the Romans called it. Oh, those Romans. So original.
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Zaragoza is the capital of Aragon and an excellent place to stop on my way to the Basque country. There is a beautiful little old town area surrounding the Basílica del Pilar. I’ve seen a lot of old churches but this one is up near the top of the list as far as size and beauty:

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I had two excellent meals in Zaragoza and both at the same place: Casa Emilio. This amazing little hole in the wall has been around for seventy years and is run almost entirely by Emilio himself. I went for lunch (sadly without my camera) and it was so good I went back for dinner. I walked right in both times, sat down, and Emilio came right over to greet me. The man spoke no English but I could tell by the menu that there was a rotating list of daily dishes. You got three courses of amazing Aragonese cuisine with wine for 10 euro. These meals were so good that I’ll be thinking about them longer than many of the other pricier sups on my trip. Emilio tried to ask what I wanted and I simply waived at the menu, “Whatever you think Emilio. Bring me what you like.”

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This place has been a popular spot for locals for a looong time. I was told it was even a popular spot for revolutionaries plotting Aragonese independence during the Franco years.
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Mixed smothered vegetables cooked waaaaay down.
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Some cut of pork kind of like a German pork knuckle. It was a rich braised piece of meat on two sides of a blade of bone. On the side are smothered potatoes and onions.
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A butterscotchy caramely pudding topped with a soft almost-melted cookie and accompanied by fresh figs.

Feastivals Field Trip: Spain Vacation Part I – Madrid

Hola amigos!

Sorry for the lack of updates over the past two weeks but I have been in Spain sans laptop for a glorious holiday abroad. Over the next two weeks I’ll be bringing you pics and notes from my trip in this format. My trip had three major destinations and two smaller stop. The three major: Madrid, San Sebastian, and Barcelona will each get a post detailing my exploits and eats. The two smaller day trips to Zaragoza and Bibao will probably be combined into one post.

“Why Spain?” you may ask. In the summer of 2008 I went on a two month backpacking trip across Europe to celebrate the completion of my college studies. On that trip I went all over western and eastern Europe. The only major country I did not visit was, you guessed it, Spain. It’s time to rectify that mistake.
We will be starting with the capital of Spain, glorious Madrid!

Day 1: Arrival

Madrid sits mostly on a large flat dusty plain at the center of the country. It’s surrounded by vasts stretches of, well, not much. As I flew over this central area of Spain I noted the tress and fields below were all planted with exacting order like pins on a board with exact spacing between each tree. Quite an interesting effect from the air. This trip was my first time using AirBnB for lodging and the place I stayed in Madrid was a great way to start the adventure. It was a single apartment all my own with kitchen facilities, ample space, and a nice bed situated right in the heart of the city just south of the main square, the plaza mayor. I arrived in the midst of a massive market day. All around my apartment were stands and stalls selling antiquities and art.
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My old friend Angela is now living and working in Madrid along with her boyfriend Luis. We had agreed to meet for drinks and tapas at a bar some half hour walk from my apartment so I set off through the city on a leisurely route to meet them.

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There was an even more massive market day just around the corner from the antiquities market surrounding my apartment. I wandered through sun-drenched streets teeming with stalls selling all manner of nick-knack.

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Arriving at the bar, I had my first proper tapas of the trip. Little did I know that my friends had even more in store for me.

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This is the matadoro, and old slaughterhouse rebuilt and repurposed by the city as a mixed used art and events space. These kinds of repurposed spaces are all the rage in Spain now, and I will have a few more to show you in upcoming posts. Knowing that I write this blog, my friends brought me here because THERE WAS A FOOD TRUCK FESTIVAL THAT DAY. Amazing! I’ll have a bonus feastivals post for you soon with a full review of the matadoro food truck festival!

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We ended the day with a walk along the beautiful river walk area of Madrid. The weather was perfect and the city’s residents were out in force enjoying one of the last sweet days of summer.

Day 2: My First Spanish Food Tour

I got up early to haul it down to the plaza Mayor for a food tour of the central part of Madrid. This would be my first experience with traditional Spanish cooking, and it would set the culinary standard for the rest of my trip.

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The first stop was a traditional Spanish coffee house and chocolateria. If you see the plaque above, this is a special designation given to any establishment that has been in continuous operation for over 100 years. Basically, if you see this plaque, the place is both old school and amazing. The story goes that the pastry chef of the king wanted to finish his royal service and open his own place. The king both agreed to his request for a permit AND assigned the royal decorator to plan the place. The resulting bakery is rich with marble, gold leaf, and mahogany. Spanish hot chocolate is thick rich and very dark. I love it.

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Our second stop was a recently renovated market near the center of the city. Here we sampled vermouth, marcona almonds, and olive skewers with with quail eggs.

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This was a bonus stop. This is a convent for nuns that aren’t supposed to have contact with people outside. What you can do is go inside and use a rotating wooden platform to send money in. A moment or two later the platform begins to rotate again and out come cookies!

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Probably the most interesting dish of the tour. This is an oxtail stew wrapped up in a package of dough and fried. This was then topped with a roasted red pepper and balsamic reduction. Really delicious dish.

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Another plaque for another amazing restaurant. This place makes a traditional stew cooked in a clay jar over an open fire. This one stew produces a range of amazing dishes served as separate courses at the restaurant. We got to tour the kitchen to see how it’s made and try the first course, broth with angel hair noodles.

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La Dispensa De Carmen is a traditional Spanish lunch place for workers who can’t prepare a full meal at home. In Spain, lunch is the biggest meal and many workers return home for it. This is a place to get something “home cooked.” We got some meatballs and empanadas (filled with tomato, tuna, and egg).

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Jamon Imberico. This is maybe the signature food of Spain. People of Spain may disagree amongst themselves about many things, but they all agree that they love the cured pork. We tried three varieties of Jamon: Serrano, Iberico, and Bellota.

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This bar was my first encounter with one of my favorite new dishes of Spain: Tortilla de Patat. This is basically an omelet of potato and onion but boy is it good when it’s done right. This place is one of the best, and I can tell you now I’m going to do my best to find the key to this simple dish in my own kitchen.

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If there’s one dish that is “the dish” of Madrid, it is Bocadillo de Calamares or the fried calamari sandwich. Fresh fried calamari topped only with lemon on a soft baguette style bread. This is a delicious reminder of the po-boy sandwiches from back home.

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Our last top was for turron. Turron is basically hard toffee or almond bark. Not my favorite thing in the world, but basically THE traditional Spanish sweet.

After my food tour I spent the rest of the day doing some sightseeing just wandering around town.

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My third day in Madrid was my last but I did manage to get to Chocolatería San Gines in the morning for churros and chocolate. This is THE place in Madrid for churros and they did not disappoint.

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Feastivals Fieldtrip – Maastricht – Preuvenemint

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Welcome to the first Feastivals Field trip! What is a Feastivals field trip you ask? Well, there are plenty of food festivals around Amsterdam where I live, but sometimes I hear about an event outside of town either in the Netherlands or in a European country nearby that draws me. The very first Feastivals field trip it to Preuvenemint in Maastricht in the Southernmost Dutch province of Limburg.

The Field Trip:

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Straddling the Meuse river, the city of Maastricht lays claim to being one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. Since the time of the Romans, it has been an important center of religion, culture, and strategic value to Northern Europe. It even holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the European Union and the Euro as the Maastricht Treaty was drafted here.

The Feastival

The 34th annual Preuvenemint

Declaring itself the largest eating festival in the Netherlands, how could I possibly say no to going to a brand new (to me) city to check it out. My first impression was confusion. This is not a food truck style affair. Instead the festival grounds were a mass of tents each representing a local restaurant or brand.  Each tent did indeed have food, but the menu at each tent was a small collection of tastes from the larger menu of the restaurant the tent was representing. Each tent also seemed to have a sizeable kitchen capable of producing much more elaborate fare than what I’m used to at an outdoor event.

The amount of square footage each tent occupied dwarfed what each truck would take up in a food truck festival and each was filled to the brim with bars and high top tables. This was quite confusing to me until I started talking to locals to get an understanding of what this festival is all about. While food is, forgive the pun, on the menu, this is much more of a drinkers event. When I came back to the square in the evening the place was slammed with locals dressed to the nines yucking it up and drinking waaaay more than they were eating. To each their own of course, but I came for the food.

The Contenders

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The Noms:

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A “water cocktail” called the Dragon Bite. It’s becoming a trend that I start the day with a drink, and this concoction of dragonfruit, watermelon, and crushed ice was quite nice.
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Tartar van Zalm (Salmon) from Haselderhof. This light, zesty salmon tartar was surrounded in a cloud of foam comprised of chives and creme fraiche.
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A two meat shawarma from 2Taste. This was a “gold standard” shawarma, not amazing but satisfying. This was my third dish at the event and while not disappointing, it steered me back toward more “fancy” cuisine like the nice salmon I had before.
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Landhoen met saus van tom kha kai from Le Bon Vivant. I tender mound of pulled chicken meat and greens topped with a reduced soy sauce. In the corner there is a cream, like butter, with all the flavors (coconut, lemongrass, lime, fish sauce) of the classic Thai chicken soup tom kha gai.
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Flammkuchen met gerookte Livar ham from Vanille – Flammkuchen! As I’ve declared before, I think this is the next big food in the food truck scene. A deliciously thin German-style pizza topped with white sauce, thin sliced onions, and ham in this case. I’ll admit I prefer the classic lardons (bacon pieces) over the ham because the whole piece of ham often comes away when you try to eat this, but it was very well prepared.
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Bonus shot of the flammkuchen preparation station.
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The “Chocolate Ball” dame blanche from Vivendum and Toutafait – A chocolate sphere containing vanilla ice cream atop a bed of crushed cookie topped with a melted chocolate sauce. This beautiful dish was hampered by the fact that the sphere wasn’t sealed very well. It immediately separated into two half spheres when I tried to open it, but it was totally tasty.

The Winners:

Best Food:

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As the movie Ratatouille teaches us, the best food is food that evokes memory. This dish blew me away because it included an element in the form of the tom kha kai cream/mouse/dream that just rocked my world. I often cook this Thai soup at home and I know its flavors very well. This dish delivered on transforming that dish I love into something profoundly different. Also, it was topped with fried chicken skin. Fried chicken skin is basically cheating. I’ve got my eye on you Le Bon Vivant.

Best Presentation:

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Just look at that. Molecular gastronomy isn’t exactly my bag, but look at it. My grandparents wouldn’t have even recognized that as food. De Haselderhof.

Best Tent:

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Best tent goes to Fameus. I love the visual theme of the Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls. The most confusing aspect of this is that this ISN’T a Mexican or Spanish restaurant — It’s Italian. Confusing, but beautiful. Such is art.

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

In South Louisiana we have a phrase, Lagniappe, that people use when they give you just a little more — a little something extra. I loved the dish I had from Le Bon Vivant so much that I returned to Preuvenement later the same evening to taste the rest of the dishes offered by chef Chef Björn Dijkstra.

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Braised lambshank with Kruidenkorst.
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Tartar of herring with tafelzuren,
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Dutch shrimp with green beans and fois gras.
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LIVAR procureur with French cafe butter sauce.

Kwaku!

1973486_596543700431314_1712653855_oLeading up to the creation of Feastivals, I attended a number of food festivals in and around Amsterdam that inspired me. With Amsterdam locked in the salty nautical embrace of SAIL this weekend, It’s a good time to look back at one of my favorites, Kwaku!
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Prior to moving to the Netherlands, I had little exposure to the Indonesian, Surinamese, and Antillean cultures. The Dutch empire at one point extended around the world and involved itself in many cultures including these. The time of empire is now long past, but walking around Amsterdam today you still see the footprints left by the subjects of the old empire on their capital. Music, fashion, and (very near and dear to my heart) food are all touched by these peoples from near and far.

Kwaku presents itself as a Surinamese festival, but I found representation there from many corners of the old Dutch empire and beyond. Additionally, when I tried to find the seams between each group, it was often difficult. One booth might sell a food that is traditionally Indonesian, but prepared in a Surinamese way for example. Hiding amongst all of this were stands for many types of Caribbean food I didn’t even expect to see like Jamaican Jerk BBQ and traditional shaved ice. I think the word of the Surinamese poet Dobru might summarize this phenomenon  best:

ONE TREE

one tree
so many leaves
one tree

one river
so many creeks
all are going to one sea

one head
so many thoughts
thoughts among,which one good one must be

one God
so many ways of worshipping
but one Father

one Surinam
so many hair types
so many skin colors
so many tongues
one people

Let’s get to it.

The Contenders:

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Everywhere I looked at this feastival there was food, food, and more food. So many of the food stands were basically selling the same thing. Not since my time at home with the food festivals of Louisiana have I seen so much overlap from tent to tent and booth to booth. BBQ, bara, sweets, fish, and the curious mix of sausage I’ll introduce you to later were the big favorites. With any of these, there were at least five tents you could choose between.

The Noms:

Bara - Surinamese Fried Bread
Bara – a kind of fried bread made from lentils with an almost curry-like flavor. This dish apparently has Hindustan roots but is amazingly popular amongst the people of Suriname. Served with lots of different toppings including the mashed potato, mango chutney, and tomato paste pictured here.
Kip Pastiche - A chicken hand pie in the Antillean tradition. Moist, savory, and delicious. By fav the most popular dipping sauce was Thai sweet chili sauce.
Kip Pastiche – A chicken hand pie in the Antillean tradition. Moist, savory, and delicious. By fav the most popular dipping sauce was Thai sweet chili sauce.
Cashew Marzipan Ball - An Antillean desset. This is a sweet ball of marizpan and crushed cashew. Many different types of nuts were offered with cashew and peanut being the most popular.
Cashew Tentalaria – An Antillean dessert. This is a sweet ball of marizpan and crushed cashew. Many different types of nuts were offered with cashew and peanut being the most popular.
Bloedwurst, Fleeswurst, and Flodder
Bloedwurst, Fleeswurst, and Fladder – This was the one dish on offer that actually intimidated me a bit. Bloedwurst and fleeswurst are both basically soft sausages stewed in a rich broth of onions. Fladder? – tripe of some sort. If you don’t know what tripe is, I wouldn’t go look it up… unless your adventurous. I intentionally avoided googling fladder until I finished eating all of it.
Gember Bier
Gember Bier – A delicious but potent homemade ginger beer made just for the festival. What you see inside are whole dried cloves floating in the juice.

The Winner(s)

Fladder

O

M

G

Simultaneously one of the most wonderful and bizarre things I’ve ever tasted. The combo of bloedwurst, fleeswurst, and fladder (often just referred to collectively as fladder) fresh from a pot of broth and onions sliced a la minute and served with an ultra-spicy sauce the color of a caution traffic sign is just magical. Let me present to you the four stages of fladder consumption.

Intimidation
Intimidation
Anticipation
Anticipation
Acceptance
Ecstasy
Ecstasy

Spek and Bonen Festival – Utrecht

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On Saturday I braved the very real threat of bad Dutch weather to make my way by train down to Utrecht for the Spek and Bonen Festival. The location in a parking lot on the other side of Utrecht Centraal (the side you’ve probably never been to) underwhelmed in comparison to the parks of recent excellent festivals, but the food did not disappoint. My good friend ZhiZhi and her cousins in tow, we sought to eat our way across that parking lot, and boy did we.
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The Contenders:

L'aubergine Caravan - Curry Up2015-08-15 13.08.27 2015-08-15 13.07.43 2015-08-15 13.07.27 2015-08-15 13.07.18 2015-08-15 13.07.07   Kreeft and Co.  Crêpe Centraal Red Dog Gourmet Hot Dogs Couscous Caravan 2015-08-15 13.04.31

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The variety and visual appeal of the trucks at this festival impressed me. In many cases each felt like a small camp, with its own setup and often an on-display cooking setup. I’ve seen several of these trucks before, but there are still plenty that I have yet to eat at.

Noms:

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A cone of fries to start from Fritez. I am a vlaamse frites fanatic and I’m always down to try a new cone of fries. These fries we’re pretty gold standard Dutch fries, but the truck loses a few points for a lack of variety of sauces and no onions (an essential Dutch fry topping).
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Fresh coconut! Who doesn’t love fresh coconut juice? This came from Dames van het Verboden Fruit. When you finished the juice you could even bring it back and they would scrape out all the yummy coconut flesh for you!
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Mussels with a side of fresh vlammes frites from Kreeft and Co. As ZhiZhi commented throughout this festival, “There are so many vegetables!” Indeed, the mussels stood out (in a good way) for having a lot of good veggies steamed together in the pot that made their way to the tray. The fries were almost identical to the ones from Fritez.
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A burger with pulled pork from STACKS. Not bad as burgers go. It even had a little cracklin with the pork. I only really got a bite, so clearly it was popular.
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Kibbeling from Viswijf. I’d never heard of Kibbeling until I moved to the Netherlands but it’s somewhere between the fried fish I’m used to in South Louisiana and English Fish and Chips. In my opinion it is far superior to the latter, and this stuff was no exception.
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A tuna salad from the Aubergine Caravan served in half an avocado. As you’ll see with another dish below, this truck has the most beautiful food of the festival.
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Like the tuna salad above, this also came from the Aubergine Caravan. This is their “sexy small bites” dish, a slice of grilled eggplant skewered with a fried dough puff topped with an avocado baba ganoush. Eggplant (aubergine) is probably my favorite vegetable, so I was amazed and wondered.
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Churros! from In Beslag Genomen. How can you go wrong with churros? You can’t.

Favs of the Day:

For Taste:

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Probably the best Kibbeling i’ve ever had came from the Viswijf stand. I live right next to the Albert Cuypmarkt wherein the best Kibbeling place in Amsterdam is, and the kibbeling from this stand competes and yes, may even best, the best kibbeling I’ve had to this point. Best of all, it’s all made fresh. Breading, sauce, fish, it’s all amazing and everyone in my party raved about it.

For Looks:

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L’Aubergine Caravan takes the (very well decorated) cake. Just look at this beautiful food. And the truck too!

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For the Truck:

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Stan and Co. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this. The concept Stan & Co. were trying out here was to do an entire pop up fixed menu restaurant in the middle of a food festival. To top it off, they were cooking using nothing but fire and smoke. Kudos to you guys for being inventive. I didn’t get to stay for dinner, but I absolutely will next time.