Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The ubiquitous Albert Heijn (AH)

If you currently live or have lived in the Netherlands you will know about Albert Heijn. AH is a grocery store that you can find just about everywhere here. The size of the store depends based on location- tiny "AH To Go" at train stations and medium sized stores in smaller neighborhoods. For a real treat check out the AH-XL, as the name implies, it is huge. Strangely, it does not have much more selection than our AH in Aalst, however, just bigger aisles and a few things that might make a trip there worth it if I'm in the neighborhood. For those Rochester folk reading this... think of a standard Wegmans but maybe half as much selection. AH tries to be the grocery store with friendly, helpful staff, but I have to say employees are mostly ignorant of the store's products or locations of products. Even if I know the Dutch word for something and I show it to them written down (more on that later) they have to ask someone else. Not like Wegmans employees who always know where something is and will race a fellow employee to tell you the answer faster (and want to show you too, if you like). Not to say the AH employees aren't nice. But unless you are looking for something like milk or bread or standard Dutch cheese they have no idea what you're talking about.

The Dutch love their Gouda cheese. And it isn't like the Gouda I remember buying at Wegmans occasionally for a recipe- no- this stuff is actually quite good on its own and in a sandwich and grated in a taco. It is quite versatile, thank goodness, because it is just about all they have here. My Dutch friends would argue there is a wide selection of cheese- you have "Oud" (old), "Belegen" (medium), "Jong" (young) and all the combinations in between. Also, several brands are available in each of those options, and you can also buy sliced or grated or just a big chunk of cheese.

I love the packets of sliced AH brand Jong-Belegen for sandwiches or melted on a fried egg. If you want 'fresher' cheese you can hit the market or the other cheese section of AH:
Look at all this cheese! (it's almost all gouda)

Lest you be confused upon shopping at AH, I'll explain. For convenience sake there is a cheese section with all the pre-packaged cheese and one more like a deli-counter. Wegmans does a similar thing. However, I bet you would never have guessed there are two cracker sections at AH. One has crackers and things like these: "Echte Beschuit" (Think of a circular piece of bread, toasted, preserved, and packaged up in a tube- similar in texture to melba toast.) These beschuit are eaten with butter and "muisjes" (pictured sitting to the left of the beschuit) which are anise seeds covered in a candy shell in either pink and white or blue and white. They are served to guests when a new baby is born in the Netherlands and the muisjes are said to help increase milk supply for breastfeeding mothers.  I enjoy the muisjes and put them on toast or on sugar frosted cookies. The beschuit, on the other hand, along with melba toast, is best used in my opinion as a hockey puck.

The other section that has crackers at AH is near the wine. Because you have crackers with wine, of course! And the sugar and brown sugar are located in the coffee aisle. Because sugar is used with coffee or tea, since not many people bake here.
Here is Dina, with her pint-sized shopping cart (love this feature at AH!) in the tea/coffee aisle. Note the sugar next to the coffee creamers.

One other thing amazes me about AH: the candy aisle. It is insane!
We buy the licorice that looks like spirals. It is considered 'zacht and zoet' which means soft and sweet. Licorice, or 'drop' comes in so many different varieties. Soft, hard, sweet, salty- and any combination of these. Its tricky because salt is 'zout' - just one letter different than sweet.  And the Haribo gummy bears- you just can't beat them. Unfortunately, Dina likes to eat them without chewing- she can down a handful in less than a minute.

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