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Sunday
Jan232011

Dutch Salsa

I would like to thank the people of the Netherlands.  They have many great aspects including, but not limited to: Heineken, orange soccer uniforms, close proximity to Belgium, windmills, close proximity to Belgium’s beers, and tons of smiling people on bicycles.  However, none of these are why I am so happy with them.

It’s because of their kindness.  They are kind enough to have spread their Spar grocery store throughout Hungary.  This, in itself, doesn’t sound that kind.  It is, though, because it brought a sort of missing link back into my life. 

I’m obviously talking about chips and salsa.

Chips and salsa is one of my favorite snacks, and it’s something I used to eat all of the time.  I always knew I could pull the salsa jar out of the refrigerator any time of the day or night.  The salty, crispy tortilla chips would then be furiously dipped into it and shoveled into my mouth.  It was glorious.

However, since arriving in Hungary, this tradition has ceased to exist.  Tortilla chips are rare and salsa is virtually unheard of.  I did find it in the international food aisle at the British owned Tesco, and I was very excited to see that my fellow English speakers had my back.

Unfortunately, this joy was short lived because were a lot of numbers in the price.  Far too many zeros for me to risk buying a food that is frighteningly misunderstood in this neck of the woods.  What if I paid the high price and it turned out to be ketchup?  That would be like a French person seeing a bottle of California wine labeled as Champagne.  The only difference is that the French guy would still get to drink a good bottle of wine.  I’d just have gross ketchup.

Yesterday, I was shopping in the Spar at the local mall, the Csaba Center.  Not only does it occasionally have ground beef for sale, but it’s open on the weekends – until 8 and 6 PM.  The other grocery stores don’t usually have any beef, they close much earlier on Saturdays, and they don’t even bother opening on Sundays.

This Saturday evening is when I discovered the salsa.

m not sure whose idea it was to place it as the first thing in the aisle, but that person should get a promotion and a raise.  If it’s an attractive woman, and she’s reading this, I’d like to ask her to send me an e-mail so I can take her out to dinner.  Perhaps we can find a Mexican restaurant.

This is getting off topic.  There were three types of salsa on the shelf.  I was very, very worried because it was actually called “Salsa Sauce” – this is sort of like seeing a bottle of water that’s labeled “Water Drink”.  If it’s that specific, is it really salsa?  Maybe it’s just something that’s pretending to be salsa.  I had to know.

It was next to the tortilla chips of which there were three flavors:  Natural, Nacho Cheese, and Spicy Pepper (not sure about this third one, it was something like this).  Natural seemed like the best choice.  I threw them in my basket and practically ran to the check-out.  A strange feeling had come over me, it was as if this was a meant for a different person, like a king, and the store people would take it away if they knew I had it.

I should mention that both the chips and salsa were Spar brand.  That’s slightly important to explain how nervous I was.  I ate at a Mexican restaurant in Amsterdam one time, and it was pretty awful.

Most people don’t jog home from the grocery store, but most people didn’t just buy their first chips and salsa in Hungary.  Even though I was about to go out for a filling Hungarian meal, I had to know what they tasted like.  I ripped them open, dipped in a chip, tossed it in my mouth, and it was…

Well…

It was sort of…

I don’t know how to explain it…

There’s probably a good word, but I can’t think of it.  On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being incredible), I’d give it a 5.  This increases to a 7 or 8 because of the lack of competition.

I bought the Hot flavor, and it does have some spice to it.  It’s fairly thick (which I like) and it has chunks of peppers and things in it.  The biggest problem is that it’s sweet.  I don’t like sweet salsa.  Someone probably  does, but that person isn’t here right now.

The chips are too thick, but they hold the salsa and that’s as much as I can ask for.

This wasn’t the highlight of my weekend, but it was close.  You must remember that it’s the little things that keep you happy in life.  To that end, I’m going to go eat a few chips and visit the Spar before it closes.  I wonder what other amazing secrets my Dutch friends have hidden in there.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Hollandia

It’s pretty self-explanatory what country this is the name of.  I want to go visit Belgium and it’s beers again soon, and while I’m there I think I’ll pop up to Holland and thank them in person.  It’s the least I can do.

Reader Comments (15)

"The only difference is that the French guy would still get to drink a good bottle of wine." Excusez-moi? In California?

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrench

If you find Reese`s, let me know. And even though Spar is originally a Dutch invention, they don't sell Vla, which really is a pity.

And I agree with the French: They are very snobbish about their wine, but please don't tell them that you have good wine in California, it might kill them (death by laughing). :-)

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRigó Jancsi

Salsa in HU is pretty awful - even in American themed restaurants. They start with ketchup as a base, and go from there. So the awful outcome is a given, basic and unavoidable.

You can make your own, or perhaps you could commission your favorite restaurant's chef to make it for you. The internet has lots of salsa recipes, one of your colleagues could translate it to hungarian . The only ingredient you cannot find in HU is cilantro. In reality, it's a singularly AWFUL herb, however, a (very) small amount actually works, and is necessary to round out the flavor.
Can't figure out why this horrid tasting herb works in salsa, but it does, and is still a mystery to me.
Since jalapeno peppers are hard to find, you may have to experiment with green bell peppers, the pointed yellow hungarians, and the narrow hot green ones, in some kind of combination, to get close to the flavor.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternetuddki

French,

This is exactly the sort of comment I expected from this statement! As I am not French, Californian, or a wine connoisseur I cannot say which is the best - I like them from both places. Je suis désolé.

Rigó Jancsi,

Likewise about Reese's. I have a small, imported stash, but it's almost gone. I had to look up Vla because I'd never heard of it, but now I would love to try some! Do you know of anywhere to get it in Hungary?

About the wine, the French wouldn't even hear me if I said the wine is good in California. It all tastes the same to me (wine of decent quality, that is). But, their stubborness keeps them in a great place to give a hard time about, and I'm glad you enjoyed it with me!

Alex

January 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlex Hoskinson

Rigó Jancsi;
CA actually has some excellent wines, comparable to French,
Perhaps not in those hyper expensive Bordeaux Grand Cru chateaux brands, (Lafite, Margaux, Latour, etc), but in the mid-field they compete well, especially the smaller CA vineyards.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternetuddki

Netuddki,

Salsa even suffers in the United States, the further you get from the border. I agree with you about cilantro, it's absolutely horrible! I don't even like it in salsa if I can taste it, so the minimum amount is best, in my opinion.

Is there a name for the narrow, hot green peppers? They remind me of jalapenos because of their shape, color, and level of heat. I think Hungary is the country in Europe with the best chances of making salsa because of all the different peppers that are so common.

I also think a good Mexican restaurant would make a lot of money in Europe if placed in an appropriate area (just like a Hungarian restaurant in the United States).

Alex

January 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlex Hoskinson

For comparison of French to California wines, there was a notable wine tasting contest in Paris 1976 known as the "Judgment of Paris". It was a wine competition where French judges did blind tasting of top-quality chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from France and California. Much to the shock of the experts, California wines rated best in each category. A 30th anniversary re-tasting in 2006 had similar results. A movie ("Bottle Shock") was made about the contest.

Also,in my opinion, cilantro tastes like soap.

RH

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

You get Reese's in the Netherlands, that I know. So there's another reason for you to quickly jump over the border when you're in Belgium. Unfortunately, I didn't find them in Hungary yet.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRigó Jancsi

I was kind of joking with the wine, i have a company in US so i have spent reasonably lot of time there and indeed you can get decent and sometimes good american white wine, a few times even excellent. Having said that, i still think that things that are very difficult (but not impossible) to get in US are - good red wine, excellent food, proper service in restaurants and drinkable coffee...

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrench

RH,

I bet that story is a state secret in France - the movie's probably banned.

Rigó Jancsi,

I'll stock up when I'm there! Have you ever had (or seen) Hershey's? It's really popular in America and I just recently realized that they don't have it here.

French,

I really enjoy the tension (both serious and joking) between France and everywhere else over wine. The two biggest things I agree with on your list are the restaurant service and coffee. Going from America to Europe, you wonder why it takes hours to eat a meal and why the waiter hates you. The other way around and you wonder why the waiter won't leave you alone and why he wants you out of the restaurant so bad. As for coffee, I really like espresso and all of the good quality that I can get here (in Europe), but sometimes I wish I just had a giant mug of watered down American stuff!

Alex

January 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlex Hoskinson

I sincerely anticipated a funny blog about dancing. It's not that this was a let-down, but, I think it was sorta like your salsa experience. ;)

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterandrea rex

Andrea,
You've given me a new goal in life, I have to go salsa dancing in Holland. I'm not sure when or how, but I'm sure it's going to be funny. The only problem's going to be thinking of a new title for it.

Alex

January 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlex Hoskinson

Alex, you were exactly correct, i enjoy the cultural differences, people should relax and enjoy that we have different habits - and different wine :-)

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrench

I love the fact that we buy the same nacho chips and salsa. It's horrible, but the best possibility here!

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Harrell

French,
That's right, the differences are fun to enjoy! It's what makes traveling fun.

James,
I'm glad I'm not the only who eats it! It's far from gourmet, but beggars can't be choosers.

Alex

January 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlex Hoskinson

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