Britsoc: The British Society of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Serving the British Expat community since 1920.

Archive for March, 2016

Beth’s Book Blog March 2016

Categories: Beth's Books, Books
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During my recent holiday in Colorado, I attended the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute with a number of Dutch book colleagues.  Two keynote addresses were particularly stimulating and I want to recommend the associated books.

small-data-the-tiny-clues-that-uncover-huge-trends-by-martin-lindstrom-1466892595Martin Lindstrom, an engaging and respected business analyst and international brand-building advisor, has written the bestseller Buyology and just published his new work Small Data. This book looks at the tiny clues which uncover big trends in a way which Big Data databases cannot hope to match.  Lindstrom interviews thousands of people in their homes, looking at those themes and things  which evoke emotion in consumers.  A vibrant, idiosyncratic and challenging book!

Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk (Watch it!!) on “power poses” has inspired tens of millions of viewers who are shown how to use their body language to unlock their own confidence.  41V8x8JjSDL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Her new book Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges  shows us the science behind Cuddy’s  technique – not “Fake it ‘til you make it” but “Fake it ‘til you become it.”  Presence is a manifesto for students and managers facing intimidating challenges, for young girls who need to bolster their self-esteem – in short, for all of us who need to get our minds and bodies working together to promote our ideas. Cuddy shared a personal anecdote with me about a son who spent five minutes every morning striking a power pose with his father and rediscovered for a brief moment the man he had lost to dementia.  A fabulous concept, a great read.  Watch our website for an announcement of Cuddy’s visit to Amsterdam.  We are working on it!!

9781770894143_edacd8ca-0aef-45b1-a5d6-aaa327c8278bThe Canadian author Patrick DeWitt, whose Booker short-listed Sisters Brothers brilliantly parodied the traditional Western, plays with the “folk tale noir” in the recently released comic novel Under Majordomo Minor.  The puny Lucien Minor, aka Lucy, leaves his Middle European village to seek his fortune in the gothic castle of an absent baron.  The story proceeds from one quirky scene of train pickpockets to a party of debauched aristocrats and a shakily satisfying tale of young love.  DeWitt writes with marvellous absurdity and strictly on his own terms.  Enjoy but expect the unexpected.

41Mqr37ywTL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Stefan Zweig, a prolific and popular Austrian writer (1882-1942) is perhaps best known now for his autobiography, The World of Yesterday. Penguin has just issued in its Modern Classics series a new translation of Ungeduld des Herzens which originally appeared as Beware of Pity and has been renamed Impatience of the Heart. This is a fabulously dramatic tale of a gallant and naive soldier who, with the best of intentions, lets his pity for  a young crippled aristocrat entangle him in a complex relationship in interbellum Europe. Zweig is a master craftsman and a great storyteller.

23209927At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen recounts the rather unlikely story of spoiled American upper class socialites who head to Scotland, determined to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster – and this in the midst of the WWII U-boat attacks on the High Seas.  While the plot is predictable – (the bored young wife, Maddie, learns about real life), Gruen’s skills as an author (Water for Elephants) manifest themselves and this turns out to be a page-turner.  Certainly the perfect airplane read!

All American Boys, a compelling and highlyUnknown acclaimed Young Adult novel by authors Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiely, erupts with a shocking incident of police brutality against the young African-American high school student Rashad.  Reynolds is the voice of Rashad and Kriely portrays the white teen Quinn who witnesses the attack and wants nothing more than to have life return to normal.  This exploration of racism focuses on the role each of us plays in building walls instead of bridges between our communities.  See the detailed review by the New York Times.

For teachers, read this in parallel with Ralph Ellison’s classic The Invisible Man and Ta-Nehisi Coates memoir of his father, The Beautiful World and his letter to his young son, Between the World and Me.


Beth Johnson is the owner of Boekhandel Van Rossum (Beethovenstraat 32 in Amsterdam). Beth writes about and sells a wide range of Dutch and English books for children, young adults and mature readers.

Beth would also be delighted to receive feedback about her book recommendations.
Send Beth a Feedback Email
Beth would love to hear feedback from you.


The Beer Hunter

Categories: Food and drink
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Proeflokaal Arendsnest

By Andy Symmonds

Most people will immediately think of Heineken if you introduce the concept of Dutch beer, and possibly some other pilsner style beers like Grolsch, but they are not likely to think about other styles of beer like Indian Pale Ale (IPA) or stout. At the turn of the 21st century, when Arendsnest opened this was very much the case, and at that time there were approximately 40 breweries in the Netherlands. This meant that finding an assortment of different Dutch beers was more of a challenge, but the team found diversity and Arendsnest was opened in 2000 by Michael Jackson (the chap who writes about beer, not the late recording artist of the same name).


In the ensuing period both Arendsnest and the Dutch beer industry have grown from strength to strength, and there are now approximately 400 breweries to choose from. Arendsnest offers a fine selection with 30 beers served draught at any point and more than 100 beers in bottles. Some of the beers are regular fixtures but there is also a very regular flow of new beers being served through the taps, with changes so frequent that you could almost try a new draught beer every day (an interesting challenge…).


If the prospect of beer doesn’t really appeal then there is also a selection of other Dutch drinks, notably a selection of jenever and whiskies all distilled in the Netherlands. The only non Dutch drink in the house is Fritz Kola (a cola drink, just in case) and this comes all the way from Germany.


With so much to choose from identifying a favourite is never going to be easy, but the Mooie Nel from Brouwerij Jopen in Haarlem is one of the more popular beers at this fine establishment. This is a lovely smooth IPA with three types of hops, and is so inspiring that there may be a visit to Haarlem soon to trace the beer to its source. Arendsnest also has a house beer called Bald Eagle that is brewed in partnership with Brouwerij Kees and is usually available through the taps but sadly it was not on sale when we visited (but we were reassured that it will be back very soon – a temporary surge of demand over supply). The bar staff are very knowledgeable about beer so if you’re slightly daunted in the face of so many beers to choose from just ask. There should be something to meet the taste of pretty much anyone and you might find something new or even a new favourite


P1010478If you like the combination of good beer, different bars and an element of challenge then you could try the Morebeer Tour. This nicely connects the four bars that are part of the same group as Arendsnest, all specialising in craft beers but each with a slightly different approach. These bars are the Arendsnest, the Beer Temple, Jopen Proeflokaal Amsterdam and Craft & Draft. The challenge with this tour is to order at least one beer in each of the four bars in one day and you get a free T-shirt in Craft & Draft. The order of the tour appears to be as it is written here, so starting at t’Arendsnest and working your way south through the heart of Amsterdam. This is something to look forward to as the weather starts to warm up and you can expect to see at least one more of these T-shirts around Amsterdam in the not too distant future.

The Beer Hunter team would like to thank Rickert for being and extremely helpful patient while answering our questions. This is a man that knows his beer.



Proeflokaal Arendsnest, Herengracht 90, Amsterdam


Beer Temple, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 250, Amsterdam


Jopen Proeflokaal Amsterdam, Lange Leidsedwarsstraat, 6 Amsterdam


Craft & Draft, Overtoom 417, Amsterdam



Britsoc Chairman’s Corner March 2016

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Hi Everyone,

As we stutter in to spring I have a great event for you in association with Timothy Oulton which is our exclusive G&T and Whisky tasting.  A great way to welcome in the spring.  There are only 50 spaces for this event so get your tickets now. Due to a supplier dropping out we have been able to drop the ticket price for the event to 20 euros.

G&T and Whisky tasting evening
Timothy Oulton Amsterdam

Gentlemens-evening-Amsterdam-store-3-1Soon our Shakespeare’s birthday party at Greenwoods will be announced you will have to be quick with that one as well.  The announcement will be via our Facebook and Website.

I have been trying to find a nice venue to have a garden party for the Queen’s 90th Birthday this year.  At the moment it is looking difficult.  If any of you out there have a good idea please feel free to contact me.

At some of our events such as this we need help from volunteers with First Aid experience (EHBO). At the moment we are a little short of people.  If you have a current qualification then I would love to hear from you if you would not mind being involved.  If you wish to get this training then I’m considering paying for some people to do this on behalf of the society.  I will need you to commit to at least one event per year, but you would have the EHBO certificate paid for by us.  The Red Cross run the course in English if that is a worry for any one.  Again let me know if you are interested?

In February we managed to arrange a discount for all our members at Greenwoods Keizergracht.  I hope to be able to also announce another special deal this month.

I regularly get approached for English speakers for Schools and other societies like ours.  I know personally a few people who can give an interesting talk but I know there must be more of you out there.  I would like to create a database of speakers which, should someone approach me, I can connect you together.  If you would be willing to offer yourself as a speaker then please contact me with a small CV and abstract about what you can talk about.

On a similar note there are many enterpreneurs with the Expat commmunity.  If you are offering a service then you may like to join our classfieds section on our website.

I’m looking forward to the final of the Six Nations.  I’m an England supporter and so far we have not looked that impressive but with the Wales/Ireland draw put the cat amongst the pigeons.  Good luck to all the UK teams left in contention.  Watch out for the rugby 7’s in Amsterdam this May for a good day out.



A new way to play cricket

Categories: Cricket
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Amsterdam League Launching in Spring!


Last Man Stands is a global cricketing competition that currently has over 50,000 players and 4,500 teams across Australia, England, Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, America, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the U.A.E., and now the Netherlands. We run 8-a-side T20 leagues and tournaments, that can be completed in 2 hours on a week night. This makes it perfect for those looking to get back into cricket but not give up a whole Saturday or Sunday. The games itself are full of action, and there’s also no setup for either team. We take care of the field, umpire, ball, live scoring and we even get your team shirts organised. All players and teams get ranked globally on our website (, so you can compare yourself to your mates in Amsterdam and around the world.

LastManStrands2Our very first Dutch league will be launching in April, with matches taking place during the week at Qui Vive Cricket Club at Sportpark de Eendracht, Bok de Korverweg 4 Amsterdam. Please save the 16th April 2016 to come down to the LMS open day at Qui VIve CC to get a taste of things to come.

In the future we will also be looking to launch in other cities and holding tournaments as part of our ‘Race to Cape Town’ for the 2017 World Championships.


Register your interest
In the future we will also be looking to launch in other cities and holding tournaments as part of our ‘Race to Cape Town’ for the 2017 World Championships.
Or email Simon for more information


Postcard from India

Categories: Cooking Coach, Food and drink, Travel and holidays
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India: My Food Mecca

By Karen Vivers


IndiaPaneerCurry Paneer Curry

India: My Food Mecca

Tips from my first visit to India:  What to eat, where and how.  As well as some general travel tips.

I suppose every foodie has their own Mecca, and mine has to be India.  I know, I know, you’d probably expect it to be France or Italy.  Of course these places have a fantastic culinary tradition, and I don’t know where I’d be without either of them, but when it comes down to it, I need spice.  I need the firey heat of chili and the warming sweetness of cinnamon, I need the freshness of coriander and the fragrance of cardamom.   These are the things that make my culinary world go round.  Although I’ve been eating and cooking with spice for years, I always felt like I missed a bit of basic background knowledge.   I needed to go to the source, I needed to eat curry in the land of its fathers.  You may think this is a little over the top, but I firmly believe you cannot cook something until you have eaten it.  You need a starting point, something to aim for, and eating, tasting, smelling the food is what works for me.  Not only that of course, but observing the circumstances in which it is prepared and was created, gives my own food much more depth and meaning.  It gives me confidence in my recipes.


Fruit Sellers on Brigade Road, Bangalore

Fruit Sellers on Brigade Road, Bangalore

Planning my pilgrimage has not been without its challenges.  I’ve been skirting around it for years, choosing the Middle East instead of going right to the heart of it.  And I learnt so much about spice in places like Jordan and Oman – how to use it in the most unexpected ways, creating not only flavours but those hypnotic aromas that Arabic countries are so famous for.   So why has it taken me so long to get to India?  Well, you see, India is huge, the lands are vast.  The culinary traditions are hugely varied, where should I start?  Then of course there is the ultimate dilemma for a greedy cook.   What if you get sick?  What if I get sick and can’t eat any more?   I needed to think about this carefully.


Hindu Temple, Russell Market, Bangalore

Hindu Temple, Russell Market, Bangalore

Then fate intervened, as it so often does.  Around September time I was thinking about planning a trip somewhere warm in January to escape the bitter Northern European winter, get away from the biting cold and the never ending darkness.  Something to get me through the no man’s land between the celebrations of Christmas and New Year and the start of Spring Time.  Just at that moment an email popped into my mailbox from an airline with an offer for Bangalore.  Bangalore, I thought, hmmm …  Straight on to google and I could see that a flight to Bangalore would open up South India to me.  That was it, decision made, my starting point would be Bangalore (or Bengaluru as it’s now known) and then I’d head down to the ancient spice capital of Cochin and then to the fishing areas near Kovalam in Kerala.


Fast Food in Bangalore

Fast Food in Bangalore


Breakfast Combo in Bangalore

Breakfast Combo in Bangalore

To get the most out of our short stay in Bangalore we decided to hire a private guide.  I of course turned to the company I work with – Tours By Locals – I told Hermie, our guide, that I would really like to focus on food during our time together and our first stop was Russell Market.  The market was originally built in 1927 by the British and still feeds the city today.  You can get everything here.  The vegetables are amazing.  There is also a part of the market that not only feeds the city, but organises all of its catering too.


Lunch at Rasovara in UB city, Bangalore

Lunch at Rasovara in UB city, Bangalore

In one small square there are dozens of tiny stores, packed to the brim.  Each has its own speciality.  There is the linen place, full of crisp, clean soapy smelling tablecloths and napkins.  Quite a contrast to their surroundings where the smells are rather more pungent.  Then there’s the bloke who has glasses, next to him cutlery guy and their neighbour the fella with the crockery.  Mostly they hire out to venues for the huge Indian weddings that last three days and have a thousand or more guests.  Big business the linen people tell me.


Russell Market Vegetable sellers

Russell Market Vegetable sellers

We visited the market on a Monday when there is no fish or meat (or at least very little), at first I was disappointed, but ended up being quite glad.  I don’t consider myself squeamish when it comes to butchery – I’m too greedy for that.  But when I saw the state of the live chickens and ducks in this place, I really had to force myself not to clasp my hand to my mouth.


Early Morning Cochin Railway Station

Early Morning Cochin Railway Station

From Bangalore we took the night train, an adventure, of course we booked first class air conditioned which sounds quite fancy, but in reality is basic.  Basic and pretty run down.  At least we had some personal space which is the real luxury in India.  After a bit of hectic chatter and confusion about platforms we found our train with the help of a smart looking I.T. professional heading home for a few days well earned rest.  In our carriage, taking in our surroundings the locals were taking us in too.


Cup of Sweet Coffee on the Train

Cup of Sweet Coffee on the Train

There still doesn’t seem to be many European faces taking the Indian trains and so we were a bit of an attraction.  The conductor appeared to welcome us personally and told us about his 25 years on the trains in a form of English that I had trouble following.  He was only interrupted by the boys selling ‘chai’ and coffee and all sorts of biryani’s and chapatis to make sure we got through the night without going hungry.  I’ve never subscribed to the hype at home about chai.  I have no time for the usual suspect coffee chains making a big marketing fuss about a drink which is essentially builders tea.  Builders tea is what we in the UK call tea that is strong, maybe a blend of Assam and Darjeeling, has been stewed until it is almost black in colour then lots of sugar and milk are added.  Tea drunk by builders.  But here in India I was more than up for it.  We purchased two cups for 10 rupees each (so little I can hardly convert it back to Euros), sipped the sweet stuff and settled in for the night.  It’s easy to get lost in the romance of the trains in India, to get mesmerised by the vastness of the network and what they achieve each day.  However, I wanted to point out that after our journey I read an article in an Indian newspaper about the working conditions of India’s train drivers.  They work 12 to 13 hour shifts with no breaks.  NO BREAKS, not even to use the bathroom or eat.  Their trades union is trying to change this as they say that it is the explanation for the high number of accidents, not to mention the higher than average incidences of suicide amongst train drivers.  To date the government is not budging on making improvements for train drivers.


CochinViewOur destination was Cochin.  This spicy city is 650 km from Bangalore and 12 hours on the train.  Located on the coast facing the Arabian Gulf, it has a long history in trade.


Cochin Ferry Terminal, view from Brunton Yard Hotel

Cochin Ferry Terminal, view from Brunton Yard Hotel

Especially the spice trade.  As tired as I was when we arrived, I couldn’t wait to get out and walk the streets.  They say that India smells, in fact, they say that it stinks, and yes, sometimes it does.  But this a country of enormous contradictions, and sometimes the way that India smells is fantastic.  Charcoal fires, tandoori ovens, ayurvedic oils and of course spices.  On stepping out of the rickshaw it didn’t register with me straight away.  It took a few minutes to name the scent.  All I knew was that this place smelt amazing, of course, that’s it, the air was full of the smell of ginger.   And in Cochin the streets are literally paved with it.  Merchants are busy with tonnes of the stuff, packing it, weighing it,  haggling about prices for it.


Worker at Ginger Merchants

Worker at Ginger Merchants

Countless dark little doorways open to reveal a wealth of ginger roots piled up inside.  Just as I was being seduced by the scent, I started to sneeze, and again.  I looked up through watery eyes to see a frail ancient lady drying her long black pepper on jute sacks along the pavement.


IndiaPepperLadyI had turned the corner of the ginger street and moved into pepper town.  After inhaling myself almost high on spice I headed for a collective run by and for women who have been abandoned by their husbands.  This little organisation is based above a place they call the ‘Ginger Factory’ and helps these ladies establish some financial independence.

The Ginger Factory in Cochin

The Ginger Factory in Cochin


Not so much of a factory, more like a storage space.  In a warm room, cooled only by some lazy fans, a tiny smiling lady from Cochin let me smell all kinds of intoxicating spice mixes.  For vegetables, for meats, for fish, even for tea and coffee.  You’ll understand I didn’t hold back and have bought enough spice to start my own market stall!


Packing Ginger into Jute sacks at the factory.

Packing Ginger into Jute sacks at the factory.

On the way home, our rickshaw driver (his name was ‘Happy’) stopped at his local sweet shop.  The base of  these bite sized sweet treats seems to be milk, or condensed milk, sugar and maybe some semolina or other flour, of course spices, with the addition of maybe a nut or two, cashews or pistachio’s being the most popular.


Sweet Shop.

Sweet Shop.

The brighter the colour the better, the sweeter the better and the very best sweets are topped with edible gold and silver.  Most of which seemed to be inspired by Gujurati recipes.  The Gujurat region comes up quite a lot when talking about food.  I got the impression that the region is held in high culinary regard throughout India.  When people talk about it I got the idea that it is seen as a refined area.  I mean, Ghandi came from there, as well as a number of India’s more popular Prime Ministers.  I tried a few Gujurati dishes and the use of jaggery (an unrefined light brown sugar) and tamarind (a taste that is reminiscent of some kind of orange and vinegar) gives the food a subtle sweet and sour flavour.  Under Happy’s instruction, we filled a box and ate them with him parked on the side of the road in his rickshaw, he joked with each bite that he shouldn’t eat so many as he was getting fat (there was nothing of him).


Kerala Backwaters

Kerala Backwaters

With our luggage full of spices and our bellies full of curry it was time to catch the train again, this time to Trivandrum, Kerala’s capital.  The reason why we headed way down almost to the most southerly tip of India was of course the promise of those Kerala spiced coconut curries, but it was also the beaches.  I’m very sorry to report that after much investigation, most of which took place in the back of the noisiest rickshaw ever, the sad truth is, the beaches are just not very nice.  They are packed and pretty dirty.  Around the edges burn endless fires, people trying to rid themselves of plastic and all sorts of other toxic trash in the only way they know how.  Little rivers of black liquid, I suspect oil based, snake their greasy, sticky way around the sand.  There was no way I would be putting my tootsies anywhere near that black sludge.


Kerala Spices

Kerala Spices

After much questioning of locals, seasoned India travellers and various travel professionals we gave up and retreated to the hotel pool.  Which was beautiful by the way, I’m not complaining, but just didn’t understand where all those white sandy beaches, empty and pristine as depicted in the travel brochures were?  Not in India is the answer.


Uttapum rice pancakes and chutneys for breakfast.

Uttapum rice pancakes and chutneys for breakfast.

The food more than made up for the lack of beach.  I couldn’t get enough of the classics like King Fish Curry – probably Kerala’s most famous.  The sauce (or gravy as the Indians refer to it) is coconut based and is flavoured with Kerala spices.


Prawns marinated in Kerala spices and served with grilled pineapple.

Prawns marinated in Kerala spices and served with grilled pineapple.

You hear a lot about ‘Kerala Spices’, it’s a mix they use in the south.  It varies, but as far as I can tell (by consensus) it usually contains: Coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cloves and sometimes bitternut.

The thing I loved most about the Indian people is that they talk about food all the time.  If you ask them about their country or the regions, they immediately start with giving you food references.  They want to know where you will be eating and what you will be eating.  The understand their food, they all know how to cook it, they understand spice.  Who wouldn’t love that!


Egg Curry at Brunton Boatyard, Cochin

Egg Curry at Brunton Boatyard, Cochin

There is so much to Indian cuisine, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I’m home now, armed with a flavour memory, a pile of scribbled notes from cooks and chefs and locals, some cook books that I just couldn’t resist buying and of course all those spices.  Can’t wait to get cooking.

I’ve put together a little list of things that I learnt along the way, general tips and of course some ideas of where to eat should you ever find yourself in Southern India.

General Travel Tips

Visa – this is a complicated process.  I’ve travelled quite widely and this visa was the most time consuming to arrange.  Make sure you get the right instructions as there are a few dodgy websites out there and give yourself as much time as possible.

Train Journey – if you have the chance I’d recommend a train journey.  However, book first class air conditioned (it’s cheap) give yourself a lot of time to get to the station and to negotiate it.  Also, take toilet paper.

Flights – we found out that Air India very often cancels flights.  If you do book with them, make sure you are flexible in your time and/or your onward connections.  Again, give yourself a lot of time.  I would suggest a day between an Indian internal flight and your connections.  Check the internet regularly for schedule changes.  There are plenty of other airline options, like Indigo Air, we heard that they are very reliable and stick to timetables.

Wi-Fi – This can be hit and miss.  Hotels tend not to have it as standard and often want you to pay (I’m talking even 5 star hotels).  You end up constantly signing in for service.  In some areas the connections are not great.

Rickshaws and Taxi’s – rickshaws and taxi’s are basically on the make.  You can’t avoid it.  If you don’t look like an Indian you will be scammed.  They take you to their friends shops, you know, the usual, even if you specifically give them an address.  They’ll want to ‘show you the sights’.  It’s very common to be presented with a list of places to visit as soon as they have you in their vehicle.  It’s not that bad if you have time and you don’t mind, I mean the amounts of money we are talking are so minimal.  However, if you need to be somewhere, best to get a car with chauffeur.

Leave Plenty of Time:  This goes for absolutely everything, from getting to the airport to paying a bill.  They will get you there, but they are bogged down in paperwork, regulations, hierarchy, bureaucracy and of course traffic.

Noise:  India loves noise, it’s difficult to escape it, they even shout at each other.  And with all their religions someone is always in the middle of some kind of festival.  They pump up the music so loud that it vibrates through you.  We even woke to a religious festival with drums, flutes and Indian style dance music going on from 5.30 am to 9am – yes, I said a.m!

Hotels:  I would advise to book the best hotel you can afford – it’s worth it.  Look for somewhere that has been recently renovated and make sure it will offer you some peace and quiet.  You’ll need it.  A day out and about takes it out of you.  Whether it’s the noise and confusion or the dirt, dust and heat, you’ll be glad of a little oasis to retreat to at the end of the day.

Alcohol: The government is trying to crack down on alcohol use and so is making it very difficult for restaurant owners to have a licence to sell it.  There are even ‘dry days’ each month.  I am not sure however if this relates only to Kerala or if it is throughout India.  Hotels that cater to foreign guests have licenses.


Tandoori Kebab

Tandoori Kebab

Hygiene and Staying Healthy

So, here it is the first thing everybody says to you when you tell them you’re going to India.  Aren’t you afraid you’ll get sick?   And yes, I was.  For all my eating and cooking, I actually suffer from some stomach issues so if I get a dickie tummy it can turn nasty.  Before I left I did a huge supermarket sweep style buying session at my local pharmacy as well as getting stocked up on all sorts of alternative, homeopathic remedies.  I bought antiseptic hand wipes and gel.  What I decided was that it was up to me to minimise my risk.  So, I decided to start with my own personal hygiene and use common sense:

  • I didn’t drink any tap water or what they call filtered water. I only drank from bottles with a glass or straw.  I checked that the seal on bottled water was unbroken.
  • I didn’t use any ice.
  • When ordering juices or yogurt drinks (lassies) I checked with the staff if any water had been added.
  • I washed my hands frequently. I used my wipes when water wasn’t available.
  • I tried to be very aware of touching my face, especially my mouth and nose area.
  • I also kept my shoes either outside or in one place near the door so that I didn’t drag in all sorts from the streets. I tried not to put my bag down on the floor, especially toilet floors.
  • I carried toiled paper with me, especially when travelling around.
  • I minimised my intake of fresh salads (just in case it was washed in not so good water). I didn’t eat fruit like apples and pears – only items that had been peeled.
  • When choosing where to eat I looked at the people preparing and serving the food – were they clean? Did they use plastic gloves?  Hair nets?  Often you can see where they are preparing the food, so this gives you a good idea too.  Where are they washing the dishes.?
  • The seasoned travellers advice seems to be to go vegetarian when in India as the risk of getting ill from a badly cooked vegetable is practically zero, but meat?   I didn’t go completely vegetarian because I was in the area of India that eats the most meat and fish.  Although, I hardly ate any meat, and only some fish.  Purely because the vegetarian options were so delicious, varied and plentiful I really didn’t think about it.
  • Don’t get too comfortable. It’s tempting to ease up on your rules if you survive a few days without any symptoms, but keep it up.

I am very pleased to report I didn’t get sick at all.  In fact my sensitive stomach was calmer than it has been in months.

If you are unlucky and get some tummy troubles, I spoke with other travellers who said that the best remedies are available at Indian pharmacies, better than our western pills.


Lady Working with pepper in Cochin

Lady Working with pepper in Cochin


Normally, when you see a heading like this it’s to help us travellers not offend the locals.  In this case I suppose my reason for mentioning etiquette around food is to prepare you for some rather non-European habits as well share some observations that I found interesting.   The food is of course amazing, the variety, the colours, the aroma’s, the flavours.  Indian food, South Indian I suppose I’m talking about here has evolved over centuries and incorporates a vast knowledge of the use of spice.  Meals are prepared lovingly and with skill, some taking hours to get just right, some literally days.  So many meals are a feast of lots of different curries.  But when it comes to eating, that’s a whole different story.  It’s quick, fast, over and done with.  There is no ceremony around meal times.  All that wonderful food is wolfed down in seconds.  There is no time to enjoy it, it seems anyway.  I guess in a busy country of 1.2 billion people there is always something you need to do, somewhere you need to be.  Everything in India seems to take and age, except eating.  Most people will eat with their hands, and if you want to do this there is no taboo any more about which hand you choose to eat with.  Don’t feel like you are expected to eat with your hands though, cutlery is normally provided, if not, just ask.  There is something that I couldn’t get used to and that is that burping doesn’t seem to be rude, people (men mostly) let rip.  Not only during a meal but even when they are talking to you, mid-sentence, no apology, not even a discrete hand to cover their mouth.


Mouth refreshers served at the end of meals. A selection of sugar coated spices like cumin mixed with fresh spice and dried ginger.

Mouth refreshers served at the end of meals. A selection of sugar coated spices like cumin mixed with fresh spice and dried ginger.


What to Eat and Where

You can eat anywhere at any time in India.  There is a constant supply of street food and simple restaurants serving local and regional foods around the clock.  A lot of the street food is deep fried and many of the restaurants vegetarian.  The places I have listed below are a little more up-market (in general), but by no means less authentic.  The reason I have listed hotels is that they tend to give you the time to savour the food and also the opportunity to ask questions about how they make it.  I continually pestered chefs and waiting staff for recipes and cooking tips, everyone was incredibly knowledgeable and generous.


  • Rasovara at UB city: Normally, I avoid Shopping Malls like the plague.  But our foodie guide to Bangalore said we really should try this place.  In the middle of a food court in a modern middle class mall, you’ll find Rasovara restaurant.  Just sit down and everything will be done for you.  There’s no menu.  As soon as you sit, the food starts coming, and it doesn’t stop.  I am not lying when I say that they bring at least 30 if not closer to 40 different small portions.  It’s like tasting your way around India.  From weird salty but at the same time sweet drinks to bread, soups, curries, rice, sweets, they keep coming.  The waiters continually walk around with their serving pans laden with all kinds of vegetarian delights (not that you miss meat here at all).
  • All Day Breakfast: I’m not exactly sure what to call this place I can’t remember the name, but it’s a sort of fast food / street food kind of establishment.  It’s on the M. G Road diagonally across from the Oberoi Hotel under the metro station called Trinity.  There are pictures of all sorts of snacks, go for a combo plate which costs about 75RP and has some sambar, semolina both savoury and sweet, chutneys, rice pancakes and a sort of savoury doughnut.


  • The Tasting Menu at the Indian Restaurant in Le Meridien Hotel: The hotel is a bit dated but the restaurant offers a great menu where you can try the best of Kerala cooking and beyond.
  • Brunton Boatyard Hotel: This is a beautiful colonial style hotel. Perched on the waterfront where the ferries come and go.  Even if you are not in Cochin for the food this is an absolute oasis, is decorated with lots historical artifacts and is brimming with history.  Rick Stein made a stop here to find out how the chef prepares his famous mutton curry.  I didn’t have that (sorry Rick) I went for the paneer curry and an egg curry, both of which were delicious and cost about €7  each.


  • Villa Maya, Trivandrum: This restaurant is situated in an old Dutch Colonial House, absolutely beautiful. The cuisine is Indian, but here they try and give a more fine dining twist and you will find some European influences there too.  I say ‘try’ because I just want to manage your expectations.  It is not what we would call fine dining by European standards.  I’m not trying to criticise or belittle, it’s just a fact.  Ask the staff to show you around the building, they’ll gladly give you a tour.  When we were there this restaurant had no license to sell alcohol, but they have some really nice fresh juices that work with their food.

Some Dishes to Look out For

  • Appam: A fermented rice pancake often eaten at breakfast time.
  • Dosa: A super thin and crispy crepe style pancake eaten at breakfast but also on the side of many meals.
  • Paratha: A flaky bread eaten with curry.
  • Sambar: A smoky lentil dip served with dosa’s and breads
  • Kerala Beef Fry: Hot and spicy beef dish.
  • King Fish Curry: Fish curry in coconut milk.
  • Biryani: A curried rice dish.
  • Paneer Curry: Paneer is a fresh cheese.
  • Mutton Curry: Slow cooked mutton in spices.
  • Braised Spinach: Lightly spiced and flavoured with garlic.
  • Fish cooked in banana leaf: Marinated and cooked over coals.
  • Avial: Mixed vegetables in Coconut.
  • Paal Payasm : Rice Dessert with spice and cashew nuts.
Happy’s neighbourhood in Cochin.

Happy’s neighbourhood in Cochin.







Dutch Mustard Soup | Cooking Coach | Mar 2015

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By Karen Vivers

 Dutch Mustard Soup

At first, when I heard about Mustard Soup, I thought it must be a joke.  It must be just a name surely, because of course you can’t make soup out of mustard – can you?  I began to wonder if we were talking about a version of the mythical ‘stone soup’.   I watched others eat it and it didn’t look appetizing, a sort of muddy sludge.  What I didn’t know at the time is that the Mustard Soups I had witnessed were ones from a packet.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I tried it in the safety of a friend’s house.  As he set the plates of mustard soup down, all I could do was make the same anticipatory noises as my fellow Dutch diners and hope for the best.  As I dove in for my first mouthful, I got mentally prepared and told myself to be polite and  not to grimace if it was awful.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  This was proper Dutch Mustard Soup, the way it was supposed to be.  Creamy and light with a background of mustard flavour – delicious!  I wouldn’t be without this recipe.

I really like to serve this as a starter to a fish based meal, but of course it is a great precursor to meats too.

You will notice that some of my ingredients are not quite Dutch, I have adapted this, if only slightly, to my own taste.

Preparation Time:  less than 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4 people

Ingredients for 4 Servings

150gr / 5.3 oz. bacon lardons
40gr / 1.5 oz. plain flour
40gr / 1.5 oz. unsalted butter
1 x liter / 1.7 pt. (UK) / 2 x pt. (US) chicken stock
100ml / 3.4 fl. oz.  single cream
1 x medium sized shallot chopped very finely
2 x large cloves of garlic chopped very finely
2 x tbsp of grain mustard
2 x tsp of English Mustard
½ a fresh nutmeg grated
Salt and pepper
Freshly chopped spring onion to dress


  1. Fry off the bacon in a frying pan until it is cooked and crispy, set aside. You can drain off any excess oil by placing the bacon on some kitchen paper for a while.
  2. In your soup pan, add the butter and heat until melted, then fry off the garlic and shallots gently so that they soften but don’t take on colour. This should take about a minute.
  3. Then it’s time to make the roux which is the base of this soup. Add the flour and stir quickly into the butter mix with a wooden spoon until coated, then add the stock and whisk through with a metal whisk.  Keep going until the soup starts to thicken.  This should take about 7 minutes.
  4. On a medium heat, add the cream, mustard and nutmeg. Stir through and then check for seasoning.  You may find that you don’t have to add any salt and pepper as the mustard can be salty as well as the stock.
  5. You can either add the bacon to the soup, or as I like to do sprinkle a little over each serving with some spring onion or chives.

Tips and Variations

  • You may have noticed that there are a couple of ingredients that are not authentic in this recipe, the English mustard is of course one of those. I like to use it as it gives an extra depth as well as colour.  Nutmeg is also my own personal addition.  I think it works well in this roux/cream soup it also adds a little to the depth of flavour.
  • I would always recommend good quality stock to make soups as this is will affect the flavour greatly. Try and go to your butcher for this or some supermarkets do nice ones too.  The stock cube tends to just be a little bomb of salt and trans fat.
  • This soup is nice served with some rye bread, perhaps with some Dutch mature Gouda (only if you can get the real stuff though), if not, I like Emmentaler with some fresh tomato.

Karen Vivers, originally from Scotland, has lived here in Amsterdam since 1997, and has set up the Cooking Coach to help inspire people to get back into the kitchen.  The basis of the cooking lessons are easy, tasty, healthy recipes.  Each course starts with a free introduction session, to make sure that you only cook what you like to eat.

As well as cooking lessons, Karen offers Culinary Tasting Tours in Amsterdam, is a passionate food blogger, writer, author of “Love Food, Live Healthy”  and works freelance as a Business Consultant, specialising in small and medium food businesses, helping them get started, grow and deal with commercial challenges.


Love Food, Live Healthy is ideal for those of us who really enjoy our food, but want to eat consciously without compromising on flavour. Packed with over 100 recipes, this book has lots of practical cooking and healthy eating tips. Designed for cooks of all skill levels, whether you love cooking or just love eating! 

The Cooking Coach 

Love Food, Live Healthy

Mobile : 06 1424 0009



May 4 and May 5: Remembrance Day And Liberation Day In The Netherlands

Categories: Milestone Events, Netherlands 2013, Special Occasions, Worth looking out for
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The entire nation comes to a complete and silent halt for two minutes.  

By John Richardson

May 4 and  May 5 are two very important days in The Netherlands:  Remembrance Day and Liberation Day.   Below you will find information regarding these two days. Those of you who are new to the Netherlands should take a moment to read this information.

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Will Donald Trump win the Republican nomination today?

Categories: Politics
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By David Van Reybrouck, Brussels


It may very well be that Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination today. And it may very well be that he wins the US presidential election later this year. And it may very well be that this has far less to do with the peculiarities of his person or the oddities of the American political system than it has to do with a dangerous road all Western democracies are taking, i.e. reducing democracy to elections.


Donald Trump is not the first, nor the last. In fact, his tactics, language and performance are not different from the ones deployed by the likes of Silvio Berlusconi or Geert Wilders: monopolizing mass media attention around a handful of provocative statements, dividing public opinion in cohorts of likers and dislikers, making sure that the campaign is not about the campaign but about themselves, using wry humour as a form of profiling against the establishment to which they nonetheless belong.

Though I am deeply concerned about what might happen to American democracy should Trump take office, to a European eye his entire campaign looks frustratingly familiar.


Donald Trump is not an oddity, but the very logical outcome of a democratic system that combines the 18th century procedure of voting with the 19th century idea of universal suffrage, the 20th century invention of mass media and the 21st century culture of instant feedback made possible through social media.


In a world where democracy boils down to periodical voting after a campaign dictated by commercial mass media and corporate sponsoring, elections are not helping democracy, but might quite simply be killing the very essence of democracy.


Elections were once introduced to make democracies possible. Now, they are in the process of becoming the worst obstacles to democracy.


Where is the reasoned voice of the people? Where do citizens get the chance to obtain the best possible information, engage with each other and decide collectively upon their future? Where can citizens -democracy was about them, right?- where do they get a chance to shape the future of their communities?

Not in the voting booth only. Isn’t it strange that the most civic of our duties is performed in the solitary penumbra of the voting booth? Is this the place where we are at our best? Without even talking to each other? Without listening to experts? Without necessarily knowing what is at stake? Without being invited to move beyond our individual gut feeling?


It is not about Donald Trump, this Super Tuesday, it is about us. It is about the question whether we really believe that democracy is government ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’. Are we willing to rethink the way we organize our democracies? Or shall we just watch its terminal phase?