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Expat Corner
This is the first of hopefully several articles we will publish containing useful information for expats in the Netherlands. When we have the time, we will attempt to write some ourselves. The following one was written by one of our oldest members, Davide, who was kind enough to allow us to post it here.

Cooking and Eating on a Budget in the Netherlands
by Davide

When I moved to the Netherlands last year, one of my first and main concerns was the food. While I had always had good to excellent experiences at various bistros and restaurants on my previous trips (Alkmaar being my favourite venue in this regard), I wasn't too sure what to expect from the local network of supermarkten, slagers, vishandel and so on. Coming from a country with a rather different food tradition (namely, Italy), I just didn't know whether I could adapt to the local products and ingredients as smoothly and fast as I wanted to. In retrospect, I think I was just nervous at the thought of having to navigate through a jungle of new items and prices. It took me very little time to realise I didn't need to worry at all: not only do I manage to do the groceries spending way less than I used to in Italy Ė I'm also extremely happy with the quality of the ingredients I buy and the dishes I cook! The Netherlands offer an incredible range of opportunities to those who like international and ethnic cuisines, with ingredients from virtually every single tradition easily and readily available.

It is very important to know where to buy every single product. Being on a tight budget at all times, factors like value for money or quality/price ratios play an important role in my grocery habits.

One of the first rules I learnt is: always buy meat at the butcher shop! Supermarkets are good for vegetables, fruit, canned tuna, cheese and dairy, plus frozen meals and other goods, but most of the meat I've bought at either Albert Heijn or Hoogvliet has given me nightmares! So I found a nice family-run slagerij that sells good quality poultry meat, where 200 grams of Kip Filet (chicken breast, either whole or in 'stukjes') won't cost more than 2,20 euros. Being rather satisfied with the quality (no comparison with the chicken breast I used to buy at AH), I asked the owner what made their goods so special. He answered that he would only deal in free range poultry whose meats contain no preservatives. While I find it a bit hard to believe, given the prices of free range chicken products at the various eco/bio stores, I have to admit that the quality of the slagerijmeat is ten times better than its supermarket equivalent, so I definitely won't complain.

Hereís one of my favourite recipes:

I just put some oil and water in a pan, then add half a small minced onion and a few pieces of yellow Surinaamse chilli pepper, and fry it all over low heat for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, I place the chicken breast (cut in small pieces) on a cutting board and add some salt and Knoflook Pepper mix (a mixture of garlic, pepper, oregano and other herbs). Then I put it all in the pan and stir it for a couple of minutes, gradually adding the Tandoori powder (23 spoonfuls will do). Add a spoonful of yogurt for a more creamy gravy. I usually use Magere Kwark, a lowfat yogurt available everywhere in the Netherlands (At AH, you get a 500 gram pot for 75 cents! If you're willing to pay more, you can buy a tastier, more nutrient equivalent at EkoPlaza for 2,30). You can also add some minced chives in the process. Just make sure you don't overcook it, or it may get a little rubbery. I keep cutting the pieces in a half with a ladle: when no pink bits are visible any more in the section, it means the chicken's ready and I take it off the burner immediately

Then I add the rice and the vegetables. I usually like steamed broccoli or zucchini. Now, the prices of these items can vary widely depending on the season and whatnot, (I used to get 500 grams of broccoli at ALDI for 40/60 cents in the summertime, now the price has almost doubled!), or I may just buy a pack of Bladspinazie (frozen spinach) at AH for 1,40 euro (500 grams). OR, I just grab a komkommer off the groente stall (60 cents max), and I'm good for a couple of days!

Now, where do I get the spices and rice? Most Turkish/Egyptian stores around the Netherlands sell an incredible variety of 'Kruidenmixen' (mixed spices), along with a nice selection of both local and international vegetables, cheeses and meat. Basically, I go to these places to buy my favourite tandoori mix (90 grams 1,45 euro), basmati rice (2.50 for one Kilo), plus the occasional Halal lamb chop (extremely tasty and tender, I usually get 250 grams for less than 3 euro) or Balkan/Turkish cheese (either Bulgarian Kashkaval or Turkish Halloumi, best served grilled, or covered in breadcrumbs and cooked in an oven, around 3 euros / 250g).

Total damage: approximately 3.80 euros (including rice, vegetables and all). Ok, it doesnít look too tasty in the picture, but I can assure you it was real good!

When Iím in the mood for a vegetarian variant of this dish, I just replace the chicken with Tofu. They sell a very good Tofu roerbakgehakt (pre cooked Tofu mince) at AH for 2 euros (180 grams). The cooking process is pretty much the same.

OR, I may fancy a nice fish meal. I tend to avoid the packed fish products they sell at supermarkets. True, the Albert Heijn Bio Zalm filet can be really good, but I only buy it when it is discounted (getting an AH BONUS Card is the second thing I did after applying for a BSN when I arrived here. And I still use the former way more than the latter!).

I mainly shop for fish at my town market. As a rule of thumb, I look for the busiest place, since it generally means the best deals are available there. I found some guys that sell some pretty decent Zalmfilet, and I usually get a 180 gr slice for 2 euros.

Then I just put some parchment paper on an oven tray. Then I place the salmon slice on it, dampen it with oil, and I finally cover it in bread crumbs. I also add some pepper and minced herbs, (parsley or chives being my favourite) plus a slice of lemon on the side. Then I put it in the oven at 170į, and within 510 minutes (depending on the size and thickness of the salmon slice) Iím ready to treat myself to a really nice seafood dinner. A hint of aromatic vinegar may just be the proverbial icing on the cake. Total damage: 2,80 euros (spinach included)

Of course, sometimes you just donít have the time to mess around in the kitchen. For those days, I suggest a trip at the nearest LIDL store. They have some nice Gravadlax Zalm marinated in dill sauce. (150 grams/3 euros, and it comes with a bag of mustard). In this case, your meal is ready in 1 minute, and it tastes pretty decent after all!


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