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Herring

While I was traipsing around South Park last weekend, a restaurant named Brabant peaked my interest, because I was born in the Netherlands.

Yes, I know Brabant is in Belgium, not the Netherlands (although North Brabant is a province in the Netherlands, whether the waiter at Brabant believes it or not). I thought the food at this restaurant might have Dutch flavors, because the country of Brabant borders the Netherlands (not Holland, which also is a province in the Netherlands and not the name of the country, whether the waiter at Brabant believes it or not).

When I saw that the menu listed croquettes, a Dutch (OK, originally French) fried and breaded street-food snack traditionally filled with meat, I took a seat in one of the wooden booths and ordered the appetizer. Unfortunately, they did not taste like the kroketten I remembered.

However, the French fries (originally from Belgium, not France — go figure) did bring back memories of the delicious patat at my grandmother’s Amsterdam apartment. Long before the food truck reached her front door, Oma would hear the telltale jingle as the truck made its way down the cobbled street. She’d call out, “Patat,” fetch her portemonnaie (wallet), and the two of us would clamber down the stairs to flag the driver for patat met: French fries wrapped in a paper cone and served with special mayonnaise.

Here, people eat French fries with ketchup; but in our family, we smothered our fries with yellow mayonnaise. In fact, non-Dutch families would probably find a lot of the food we ate baffling: Chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) on bread were popular at lunchtime; rolled pancakes with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, were a dinner item; Gouda cheese on bread was an option any time of day, but especially at breakfast. Once, when my husband, Joe, and I were stuck at Schiphol because of weather, KLM offered to feed all the weary travelers breakfast; and I heard the lady behind me say, “If I have to eat one more slice of cheese on bread, I’m going to keel over.”

I’ve eaten stranger things in the Netherlands. Part of a calf’s tongue comes to mind. There’s also raw herring, sometimes eaten with onions. I recall Joe watching in awe (or maybe it was horror) as my mother lifted a herring up in the air, tilted her head back and took a big bite of the slippery fish. Joe stuck his raw herring in his coat pocket “for later.” (He forgot about it for the rest of the day until, when he hung his coat up next to the radiator at my uncle’s house, my uncle asked, “What is that smell?”)

At Brabant, you won’t find herring or calf’s tongue (or horsemeat, which used to be popular in Belgium and the Netherlands, whether the waiter at Brabant believes it or not), but you will find rabbit. For more on what to expect at Brabant Café, check out Stephen Silverman’s restaurant review in the upcoming (September) issue of San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles.

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


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