Saturday, October 20, 2012

Border Crossing

The other day, a friend of ours came to visit us and cook with Karel.  Said friend has a car, and recommended that we go to Germany to get the ingredients for dinner--a scant 20 km from where we live--because things were cheaper there.  Karel, having had the experience of living in Belgium, had spoken ardently of the Carrefour there, and informed me that Kaufland was a similar place.  In any event, as soon as we worked out the logistics, he was practically bouncing with excitement.  I now know why.

Kaufland is the closest thing I've seen to an American supermarket since I've been here--or hell, even a British one.  It's a sad testimony to the constraints of the Dutch palate when you can go to Germany and be amazed at the variety and freshness of the produce there--and I'm not just talking about 65 different kinds of apples (although they had those, too).  But it wasn't just the produce.  The gazillion types of bread, pastas, and grains like millet that I haven't seen in ages, all sold at amazingly low prices.  I found a 1 kg loaf of bread for €0.71--and it was "good bread", too, not full of things like dextrose and milk powders and what-nots that you find in cheap bread here.  Just flour (two different kinds), water, salt, and yeast.

I ended up being unable to resist the low prices and cleared out the entire stock of organic, whole-wheat spaghetti--there were only 4 packages left, and at €0.85 each, a steal compared to even regular, generic spaghetti in the Netherlands. Oatmeal was half the price, although that is probably due to the fact that you can't get generic oatmeal in the Netherlands, only Quaker stuff.   Bird feeder suet balls (there may be a future post on Cat TV) were 6 for €0.75.  Up until now, I hadn't thought that Dutch prices were that bad--I mean, sure, I knew it was a bit expensive to live on this side of the border, but at least it wasn't, say, France.

Karel had a field day with the booze--most of his massive haul for the day came from sparkling wine (in preparation for New Year's and Little Its) and other assorted alcoholic beverages.  He also went a bit overboard with some smoked meats, and miracle of miracles, we even found maple syrup there--I was convinced it was fake, but a quick look at the ingredient label confirmed that it was, indeed, maple syrup.  We spent a bit extra on things like chocolate and Karel bought a ton of juices (even though I pointed out that they were actually more expensive than their Dutch counterparts, as they were sold in 1 L packages and not 1.5 L).

Still, I don't think the Albert Heijn needs to worry too much about losing a steady customer.  It's impossible to get to Kaufland without a car, and while gas is much cheaper in Germany and the parking is free, it's still quite a trek.  (You can take the bus to Kleve, but Kaufland is a good several kilometers from the city center.)  Buying things like fresh dairy and meat would require bringing a cooler along--it's a 40-minute drive.  A lovely 40-minute drive, through lush German/Dutch countryside, complete with cows and sheep and quaint little farmhouses.  But still--you can forget getting ice cream.

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