The Sugar Conundrum

Listen, I’m a big girl. I got to be a big girl by eating a lot of crap that was bad for me. And I’m not talking about a diet of sugary drinks, greasy burgers (although the occasional chip was welcomed until quite recently), and pizzas: I’m talking about chocolate.

I’ll eat chocolate in any form. I don’t care. Plain chocolate, cooking chocolate, chocolate bars, chocolate biscuits, chocolate milk, chocolate brownies, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate pudding, chocolate fudge, chocolate-covered fruit, I don’t care. I don’t say no to chocolate. Never have, and that’s part of a whole other problem, but that’s a can of worms for another day.

Aside from my enslavement to chocolate, I’ll also eat a bunch of other sweet crap. Cakes, pies, jellies, sweeties, custard, pastry et cetera. I don’t discriminate. I grew up in Ireland. We had Cadbury’s buttons and Terry’s chocolate oranges, we had aisles of biscuits and cakes and all sort of crap you really shouldn’t be eating.

(side note: how my hearth doth long for a jammy dodger, and my kingdom for a Tunnock’s tea cake!)

And despite the fact that I’ve overeaten all of these things, I (and my mum) find a particular problem living in the Netherlands. Namely, that all of their sugary food is crap.

Okay well, that’s unfair. The plain bars of chocolate are pretty good. They’re not a Cadbury’s Turkish Delight bar, but they’re grand. The chocolate bonbons, Kinder Eggs, Twix, etc – yeah, that’s all fine. I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about the fact that we go to the shop on a Friday afternoon and spend a solid 5-10 minutes staring at the biscuit aisle in dismay. We’ve tried pretty much every biscuit the Netherlands has to offer in the large stores – Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Dirk, Aldi, Lidl – and very few of them ever really seem to satisfy at all.

In your standard Dutch supermarket, you will find a biscuit aisle to look a bit like this.


One side of the aisle is filled with more “traditional” food items (pictured above) and the other side is filled with more “commercialised” items you would find most places like Oreo’s.

The “traditional” food items suck. There’s bland dry cakes that don’t have a snuff of vanilla; shaped drywall (I’m which I could fully say I was joking); dry, flavourless “cake” waffles that flop like rubber; more drywall; and that’s not all. The grand staples include roze koek, which is a bland dry cake with a layer of bright pink royal icing on the top that also tastes of nothing; boterkoek, cake made with predominantly butter that literally tastes like a hunk of butter and sugar; and suikerwafels, a bland dry waffle supposedly made edible due to the large lumps of sugar embedded in the dough. No, I don’t mean it’s very sweet. I mean there are actual chunks of sugar in the dough. It’s literally blocks of sugar you can crunch down on.

Sure, there are a few items that try and redeem this portion of the shop: speculaas is a dutch biscuit most popular in the winter which has a nice blend of spices like cinnamon and ginger, and of course there’s my good ole buddies stroopwafels, two thin crusty waffles sandwiched with a layer of gooey caramel heaven. But two biscuits don’t make a right and worse yet, there’s no chocolate on them.

(Fun fact – the Dutch are also famous for having (semi-)racist names for their sweets, “Jew’s cake” is a popular ginger biscuit, “Moore’s head” is a large profiterole covered in dark chocolate and until recent scandal forced a change, “Nigger’s kiss” was the name of a marshmallow covered in chocolate atop a wafer.)

The commercial side of the biccie aisle isn’t as bad. It has the staples that everybody in the world avoids – the plain digestives, muesli bars that claim to be healthy but hold 2k calories, and anything with raisins in it – but all of the options seem to be variants of the same. A very dry biscuit or dry cake covered in a thin layer of chocolate that isn’t very good. Again there are high notes – recently there’s been an investment in Oreo’s, and they’re alright.

Of course, there is an ex-pat shop I can take an hour’s drive to, to load up on Cadbury’s fingers, Wagon Wheels, Tunnock’s tea cakes, Jammy Dodgers and other higher-quality yummies, but it’s a pain in the neck to have to go. I just wish I could drop to the local supermarket and grab a nice biccie that isn’t Sadness dipped in Desperation.

The Dutch also have their shortcomings when it comes to cakes and cereals, but I think those merit their own posts. For now I’ll just eat a stroopwafel!


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