Oh bread, where art thou?

A comment that gets made relatively often when uninformed acquaintances hear that I’ve been to (or was planning to go to, or have gone to) the US, is ” but the food is terrible!”. I never really understood where this came from and I disagree.

I still disagree. I disagreed the first time someone handed me a pulled pork sandwich, the first time I ate a buttermilk biscuit and the first time I ate chili, philly cheesesteak , grits, a veggie burrito.. I’ll probably keep defending American cuisine ’til the day I die (although I reserve the right to condemn certain things such as kimchi burritos, which sound absolutely terrifying). At the same time, while I am a fan of much American food, I have to concede one point to critics of American cooking and eating:

There is a fair amount of stuff for sale here that you can eat, but that isn’t actually food.Β This applies in particular to bread.

So far I’ve visited Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Lucky several times and have opted to obtain something resembling bread every time. And every time I end up sad. It has a two-month shelf life, even though not freeze-dried or even sealed. When you eat it, you taste salt and / or sugar. It doesn’t get stale. It doesn’t mold. It has bubbles like a sponge. It doesn’t have crumb. It has a crust, but it has no crunch. It’s supposed to look sort of bread-like, but based on the ingredients it is mostly added-back-vitamins, HFCS, vegetable oil, sugar, salt and preservatives.

So, off to a fancy bakery we went. We paid four dollars for something slightly larger than a paperback. Which was blackened on top and was covered in coarse, brown flour. This bread Β had no crunch and a level of chewyness that to me, indicates that the bread is very stale. While I tasted no sugar or salt (yay!), I didn’t taste much else either. Then, elsewhere, we paid another two-and-a-half dollars for a’ baguette’. No crunch, no soft, doughy inside. Just chewy, poorly leavened bread, covered in anise seeds (so I can’t comment on the taste, because ANISE, ANISE EVERYWHERE).

The plan is to buy a bread making machine for making bona fide fresh bread. Simple tastes-of-dough bread with crunchy crust and soft insides. Once I get it, hit me up if you want a sandwich, because I found some lovely avocado and tasty tomatoes (and turkey breast so cheap the the guv’ment Β must be subsidizing it).


15 Responses to “Oh bread, where art thou?”

  1. 1 Tania Elizabeth July 28, 2013 at 12:20 am

    This post made me chuckle! I didn’t realize our bread was so bad! I actually don’t like crunchy outsides, but maybe I’ll change my mind after tasting some “real” bread next year.

    I think it’s funny people have told you that American food is horrible since I’ve heard the same about Dutch food and to be honest I’m a little scared. I’m sure I’ll find a few things I’ll like πŸ™‚

    • 2 thesmittenimmigrant July 28, 2013 at 5:04 am

      People who tell me that American food is horrible think that ‘McDonalds’ is the same as ‘American food’, hence I called them ‘uninformed’ πŸ™‚

      Finding traditional Dutch cuisine may be hard, depending on whether you can convince someone to cook for you. It’s not generally considered restaurant food. Still, in many lunch cafes you can at least order a ‘broodje kroket’ – a soft roll (or some slices of bread) with two beef or veal ragout (or shrimp or cheese) filled, breaded, deep fried cilinders. Eat those with mustard πŸ™‚ You could have an ‘uitsmijter’ too. That’s a dairy bomb, though. It’s sunny-side-up eggs on buttered toast and is often covered in cheese.

      Another thing you’ll be able to get in a fair amount of cafes (in winter) will be ‘erwtensoep’ or ‘snert’ a thick pea soup with potato and pig meat. Possibly, you’ll also be able t find ‘hachee’ – an oniony beef stew, often served with mashed potatoes and red cabbage with apple. Another thing to look out for (again, in winter) would be ‘hutspot’ or ‘stamppot’. These are Dutch one pot meals, consisting of mashed potatoes and vegetables. Often served with meat mixed in and / or on the side. These latter dishes are what give The Netherlands their terrible reputation for food, I believe, since it’s heavy, bland food.

      Maybe you could try having pancakes for dinner. Seriously, pancakes for dinner is a Dutch thing. If you’re staying with someone who’ll cook for you, they’ll likely make a whole pile of dinner-plate sized thin ones (kind of like crepes, but baked at a lower temperature and hence more moist and supple). You’ll likely be able to eat three or four before you’re stuffed (have a glass of cold milk with them – it’ll be great). You can get those with bacon, sugar syrup, powdered sugar, normal sugar and cinnamon, apple or well.. many things. In a restaurant you’ll likely order one big pancake with a topping of your choice. I like getting apple and cinnamon, but you can get savory ones too, with salmon or ground beef and veggies.

      Oh, and go to a bakery and a cheese shop, buy some ‘normal’ sliced bread and a piece of ‘jong belegen’ (milder) or ‘belegen’ (more flavorfull) cheese. Take a slice of bread and cover it with slices of cheese (you’ll need a cheese slicer or ‘kaasschaaf’) Then stuff it in your face as ‘lunch on the go’. You can also ask the kaasboer if they have ‘overjarige kaas’. Eat that only in small nibbles, though, and don’t go at it with a kaasschaaf πŸ˜›

      If any of the above sound too bland and boring, try getting your hands on some Surinamese food. It’s rare to find any outside of Suriname and The Netherlands. I love vegetarian roti and ‘bakabana’ on the side. Indonesian food is great in Holland too, and it;s easy to find. Most Chinese restaurants have some Indonesian food on the menu as well, but a good Indonesian specialty restaurants is a must-taste πŸ™‚

      Heh. I wish you a very tasty trip next year.

      • 3 Amanda July 28, 2013 at 9:23 am

        This is a great summary. Definitely try Surinamese and Indonesian food. Roti was one of the first things Mark made me taste. And Broodje Pom. Kip Sate. Gado Gado salad….

        Also don’t forget the poffertjes (tiny, round, puffy / fluffy pancakes) served with powdered sugar or toppings, and oliebollen around new years eve (it’s like a super oily donut, except without a hole, sometimes filled with raisins. If they are freshly made they are nice). I also like Hangop (it is strained yoghurt, served with fruit / poached pears…)

        And a sausage from the HEMA is also pretty good.

      • 4 Tania Elizabeth July 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm

        lol… You’re right, the hutspot and stamppot are what people keep warning me about and I’m so picky with textures I doubt I’ll try them and actually enjoy them!

        I had heard about kroket and was looking forward to that, broodje kroket is new to my ears though so I’ll definitely try it like that. And you can never go wrong with pancakes for dinner! πŸ™‚

        Thanks for the tips!

  2. 5 Sheryl July 28, 2013 at 1:31 am

    The Wonder-style bread that dominates in North America is a pretty sad state of affairs. At least up north of the border there are some decent in-house bakeries to our grocery stores – though I still don’t know if you’d enjoy those breads as much.

    Still, home made bread is by far an improvement over what can be bought at the stores here, and how much you have to pay for a decent loaf of bakery bread.

    • 6 thesmittenimmigrant July 28, 2013 at 5:13 am

      Once I make it to your side of the border (I do hope to, at some point), I’ll make sure to visit some bakeries and test the bread. It’s possible that in places in the US that have some visible remnants of western European immigration, there’ll also be better bread. Once I hit up Pennsylvania I’ll know πŸ™‚

      I know you like to cook, but do you bake as well? I’ll be pretty new to baking from scratch and would not be averse to using internet recipes, but recommendations from other people passionate about food are always better πŸ™‚

      • 7 Sheryl July 28, 2013 at 1:51 pm

        I hope you make it up here as well!!

        Baking’s my favourite, actually. πŸ™‚ Most of my base baking recipes come from a very old Good Housekeeping cookbook though I’ve fidgeted with it. Can’t go wrong with anything from the Smitten Kitchen website either, of course.

        As far as bakeries go, maybe you might have more luck with immigrant neighbourhoods? I’m sure there’s lots of other European ex-pats who miss the bread from home and there are probably some bakeries that might have what your looking for in those neighbourhoods. I’d also bet that once you two get comfortable in the community you can get some better local bakery recommendations.

        It’s hard to beat the price of baking bread for yourself, though, if you have the time.

  3. 8 Amanda July 28, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Oh yeah, I remember looking for bread and having a hard time finding anything that resembles what we know (I think we are too close to France). The sourdough bread from fancy bakeries is kind of nice, but incredibly chewy/ tough, sometimes hard to bite.

    I recently found a bread recipe that I want to try. It looks quite good and easy (it requires an oven dish pan, such as a cast iron / dutch oven but a Pyrex might also work)*. At the end of the post the author gives many variations all of which look super yummy.

    Here it is: http://www.simplysogood.com/2010/03/crusty-bread.html

    *And I am not sure if they are still there, but if you are interested in a Le Creuset cast-iron pot, some colors were going to be discontinued, so they had a few pans highly discounted at the Sur la Table in the Ferry Building.

    (I swear by those pans and you can make so much in them! Bread, Ratatouille, Bolognaise, Stews, Soup, and in general anything that requires continued warmth for long periods, plus they can go in and out of the oven).

    • 9 thesmittenimmigrant August 1, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      So then I started looking at the Le Creuset stuff you mentioned. It looks lovely. But.. I think I’ll have to wait until I have a well-paying job to buy one. Unless I (finally!!) make it to San Francisco and they have some of those highly discounted pans yet. I;m not getting my hopes up, though.

      The bread recipe does look easy and I will certainly try it. I picked up a ‘bread bible’ in the local library, but most of those recipes required hours of direct attendance, which is a bit difficult.

      Your cooking recommendations are so wonderful! Thank you πŸ™‚

  4. 10 Anna July 28, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    The bread situation in a typical American supermarket is indeed a sad story. However! There are definitely local bakeries (which you have to look for) that make great bread. I don’t know about San Francisco, I could only recommend the ones we have in New England. I did notice that our local Whole Foods sells breads from local bakeries, so that might be a good place to start. And yes, the good breads are pricy ($4 to $5 per loaf) but if you don’t bake (like me), it is absolutely worth it. Another place you may discover good local bakeries is a farmer’s market, and I am sure SF has tons of those!

    • 11 thesmittenimmigrant August 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations!

      I’ve been looking around at higher end supermarkets and happened upon a farmer’s market too, although this one had no bakery present.

      Ideally, I’d prefer to bake bread for daily use and buy fancy loaves for special meals, but seeing as that I’m entirely unprepared for any baking yet, I’ll have plenty of time to Try All The Bakeries first πŸ™‚

  5. 12 Daria July 29, 2013 at 2:22 am

    I’m having so much fun reading the descriptions of Dutch foods that I have eaten all my life πŸ˜€

    And boooh for horrible bread 😦 There are a few countries that have better bread than we do, but a lot of countries have pretty inedible bread :-/

    • 13 Liekje July 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      I remember giving up on bread entirely the year I lived in Indiana. Of course my alternative (high school lunch) wasn’t much better πŸ˜‰

      Good luck with the machine!

      • 14 thesmittenimmigrant August 1, 2013 at 7:25 pm

        Thanks πŸ™‚ And yeah. I’m glad I missed out on that part of US institutional food. Although.. was it really that bad? What did you eat?

    • 15 thesmittenimmigrant August 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Hehehehe.. Did I miss any important dishes?

      I still consider myself lucky, hard to find bread notwithstanding.

      Friends of ours are in South Korea. They just don’t have bread at all. Or cheese. I don’t know what I’d do there. Probably try to bake with rice flour πŸ™‚

      Additionally, there are some other things that make up for the bread. Such as corn for a quarter per ear, avocados for half of what you’d pay in the Netherlands and just for trying I bought 5 pounds of ground beef for 14 dollars. Not sure If I’ll buy that again, but it’s available..

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