Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gebakken Kibbeling en Zwarte Piet

It's that time of year again. I'm not talking about the post-Thanksgiving mega-sales bash shopping shindig that all the poor sods in the US have to endure, because that's also here, although to a much lesser extent (this is Holland, and the people are Dutch). I'm talking about the other things that make this season endurable--nay, enjoyable, even, if you're like me and hate cold wind and rain.

Allow me to preface by saying that the days here are short come the winter--during the winter solstice, the sun doesn't rise until after 8 am and goes down a little after 4 pm. And that's if you're lucky enough to see the sun at all, which is rare enough in general in the Netherlands and a freak meteorological event during the winter. So if you're prone to depression like I am, well, shit.

The other thing about Dutch winters is that they're not really cold, compared to an East Coast winter. Snow is a rarity; the Elfstedentocht was last held in 1997. You don't get that crisp, bracing cold, but rather a damp, soul-sucking kind of cold that makes you think that spring is some kind of a cruel joke. Especially if you're caught out in the middle of nowhere and it starts pouring suddenly, as it is wont to do.

However, there are a few good things about this season, and they make everything better. Well, less miserable:

Fried fish: Gebakken kibbeling is sort of like fish sticks: chunks of fish, floured, and deep-fried, served hot with a little cup of mayonnaise-like sauce. Strictly speaking, not purely a cold-weather treat, although it's the author's opinion that cold noses and warm fish complement each other perfectly. They're better than fish sticks because you can tell that the fish chunks are actual pieces of formerly-swimming beings.

Fried bread: Oliebollen and their various permutations are also immensely popular. These are seasonal--you can't find Olibollen for 10 months of the year, and they only start selling them in November. By "they" I mean the people who make their living selling these things. They're basically beer-bread dough, with raisins, deep-fried. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and eat. Various permutations include appelbollen, which is what it sounds like, and a few others that I'm forgetting at the moment. Personally, I'm not really a fan of these, but a few on New Year's Eve brings in the New Year like nothing else.

Waffels: For whatever reason, these are far far far more prevalent in Maastricht than in the rest of the Netherlands. Fresh-made, sprinkled again with powdered sugar--they're a treat, although how the hell one eats them without lookingl like you've just snorted some bad blow is beyond me.

And thank God for Sinterklaas: December 5 is the traditional gift-exchange day, although more and more people do as the Americans do and exchange gifts on December 25, probably because it makes more sense to have a lavish party when you've been granted a vacation rather than just a mere afternoon so that you can pick up your kids--as is the case almost everywhere. Still, Sinterklaas gets its fair share of presents and advertisements--it's treated as a prelude to Christmas by the merchants, and with a mixture of zealous adherence and indifference by the Dutch: zealous adherence if you're new to the country and they want to teach you how to do a proper Dutch holiday season, and relative indifference by everybody else. But it is relatively safe to say that most people don't start going overboard for Christmas until after Sinterklaas. That is, while the advertisements for Sinterklaas are prevalent, they're not the ONLY thing floating around, whereas after Sinterklaas, Christmas becomes the ONLY thing that one sees.

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