HYDERABAD: Holland greeted me with a stormy weather but compensated with hot chocolate (with lots of cream on the top!!) and stroopwafels. Well, both the weather and the irresistible food are typically Dutch. While in Holland, one has to take the weather with a handful of salt and grab the goodies with both the hands.
In a scenic drive of fewer than 30 minutes from the Amsterdam airport, we reached a beautiful Country Estate – ‘Landgoed Duin & Kruidberg’ (try pronouncing it!).
This lovely property ensconced in the woods has turned from the once princely hunting grounds to five- star hotel, restaurant and convention centre all rolled into one: it has an interesting history and many exciting tales to tell. The fairy tale Old-Dutch style monument takes one back to the 17th century when many Amsterdam traders boasted rural estates like this. Its oldest known owner Hendrik Reijnst was with Dutch East India Company.
The estate changed many landlords from governors to ministers to politicians; it became a hunting lodge; underwent changes from baroque to typically British. What impressed me most was its priceless art filling every corner. Its four beautiful period rooms were my favourite haunts as I would walk through them or recline in a seat and sink in the old world charm. My room had a pretty view of the pond where ducks were swimming the whole day. On the way to the Brasserie in the basement, I would often stop at the statue of Moses and give him an admiring look, silently appreciating the sculptor.
My introduction to Dutch cuisine happened rather interestingly. In their Michelin starred restaurant De Vrienden van Jacob, the chef sent me a starter that tasted like our much loved “masala vada”, one of the many gems from the South Indian “evening tiffin” repertoire. When I enquired after its history, the young, enthusiastic waiter went to the chef and came back with the recipe: it is made of buckwheat and powdered macadamia nuts, deep-fried to a golden brown.
Then came a “sago papad” like fritter, which reminded me of home, of the heavenly rasam, hot rice, melted ghee and potato chips: the waiter went to and fro again to get me the info – it is made of the stuff used for the outer cover of spring roll. That’s all, I didn’t bother him anymore, though he looked at me questioningly after serving each course – I relaxed and enjoyed my first Dutch meal that ended with the most delicious and sinful chocolate-caramelised banana combo with peanut butter. I threw caution to the squally winds outside and indulged without an iota of guilt.
That afternoon, as a storm raged with the gustiest winds, we set out to visit Zaanse Schans (another tongue twister?), which is a unique mill village that brings together many important elements of Dutch heritage from the Zaan district. Numerous mills and historic houses have been collected here and restored to their former glory. Along with the Old Dutch crafts like clog making, cheese making, and pewter casting, it provides a good impression of Netherlands’ rich history. We had a memorable tour of this place: more memorable because of the weather. Fighting against a cruel gale, holding my upturned umbrella with all my might, I saved myself from being blown away by the strong winds!
As we strolled past, clutching the flying umbrellas of course, the 18th and 19th centuries were brought to life and the smell of fresh bread wafted across. Entering the 17th-century cheese farm “Catharina Hoeve” was like stepping back in time. Dressed in the traditional Dutch costume, a charming lady demonstrated how the world famous “Gouda” cheese is produced in accordance with a very Old Dutch recipe. We tasted different types of cheese after gaining considerable knowledge on the subject of Dutch cheese. The farm shop was set in a charming ambience – I bought lots of cheese and some souvenirs to take back home.
The De Vrede warehouse from the 18th century now houses a clog maker’s shop and clog museum. In a fun-filled demonstration, the handsome young man with a winning smile showed old clog making craft that magically transformed a plain block of wood into a lovely wooden shoe. The accompanying clog museum houses the finest collection of antique clogs in the Netherlands, accumulated over the years, including many unusual specimens, like authentic carved bride clogs, work clogs, and the famous Hindelooper church clogs from 1675.
To take back home, I bought many pairs of tiny and very pretty clogs made of porcelain and wood: quite different from the usual fridge magnets which either end up fighting for space on an overcrowded fridge door or sit wrapped and unnoticed in the kitchen shelves.
In this Dutch location, there were several working windmills producing paint, oil, wood and mustard, attractive little shopping streets lined with authentic, green painted wooden houses. This is certainly Holland at its best!!
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)
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