food

The Effeuno P134H is my ultimate pizza oven

In 2019 I wrote about my search for the ultimate pizza oven for the last time. I concluded then that I would buy an ordinary electric built-in oven, the AEG BPB351020M, which could reach 300 °C. This would be an improvement over my current built-in oven, which has a maximum temperature of 230 °C. Some time ago I discovered the Effeuno P134H however, a freestanding electric oven which can reach 450 °C. This is the oven that I ultimately bought and which I’m very satisfied with.

The AEG BPB351020M would certainly have been an improvement over my current built-in oven, but not as good as the P134H. A difference of 150 °C is a lot and 450 °C is the temperature which is reached by the wood-fired brick ovens of good pizzeria’s. Just like in a brick oven, the P134H can bake pizza’s in 90 seconds, which is ideal for good quality Neapolitan pizza. It also allows you to feed larger groups of people quickly.

In comparison with the wood- and gas-fired ovens which I wrote about in 2019, the P134H has important advantages. The oven is well isolated and it’s enclosure doesn’t get too hot. So it’s safe if one of my smaller daughters would touch the oven. The oven is electrical, so it can be used inside. Despite it’s considerable power of 2,8 kW the oven can be connected to a normal plug in my kitchen. You’re not dependent on fuel like gas, wood or wood pellets. The electricity which powers the oven can be produced sustainably, while gas usually isn’t sustainable and wood often needs to be shipped from far away. With electricity the result is very consistent, while the wind outside often made the behavior of my Ooni 3 unpredictable.

Two stones are delivered with the oven: a thick one for baking pizza and a thin one for baking other dishes. The thin stone is unsuitable for baking pizza at high temperature, because the bottom of the pizza will burn. Why this is I don’t understand, because the Ooni 3 also used a thin stone. The thin stone does heat up more quickly than the thick stone, which takes around 45 minutes to reach 450 °C. I know this because I measure the temparature with an infrared thermometer.

Even though it’s not mentioned in the manual of the P134H, it’s important to evaporate the moisture from the stone before you start using it. This prevents cracking of the stone. This is done by heating the stone in the oven in phases, gradually from lower to higher temperatures.

The P134H has two heating elements, one on the ceiling and one on the floor, on which the stone is placed. Both heating elements can be controlled independently. I’ve noticed that I get good results with 350 °C in the ceiling and 450 °C in the floor. With both elements at 450 °C I notice that the bottom of the pizza didn’t bake long enough, while the top already needs to be taken out of the oven to prevent burning.

The P134H bakes good pizza’s which are nearly a match for what you get from the brick ovens of the better pizzeria’s. While you need to turn a pizza in a brick oven because the burning wood lies in the back of the oven, this isn’t necessary in the P134 H. The heating elements spread the heat quite evenly.

What’s also well possible in the P134H is preparing other dishes in it, like farinata. Past attempts to do this in my Ooni 3 failed miserably, the fierce flame in that oven burnt my farinata then. In the P134H farinata can be prepared perfectly in the traditional round teglia pan which I use specifically for this dish. Baking bread is also an interesting possibility, but the P134HA would be the better choice for that. This variant has a higher oven chamber. In the P134H bread, with the exception of flatbread, would be too close to the heating element in the ceiling.

The sole disadvantage of the P134H is its weight. The dimensions of the oven are reasonably compact, but the weight of 23 kilos is hefty. I stored my Ooni 3 in my attic and I could easily walk it up and down the stairs, but the P134H is stored in the pantry on the ground floor. From there I have to lift it just a few meters to the countertop in the kitchen. I don’t have issues with this, but for others it may be too heavy.

For my P134H I paid € 500 plus € 130 for shipping to the Netherlands. I had to arrange the purchase via e-mail with Effeuno, because they only shipped to Italy, France, Austria and Germany via their webshop in December 2020. Because it’s a heavy oven it was delivered on a small pallet by a courier service with a truck.

Even though the P134H approaches perfection closely, Effeuno is quite far from it. The English manual of the P134H is badly translated from Italian. Their website is still not completely translated to English. Shipping to other countries than the four mentioned above still can’t be done through the automatic ordering process in their webshop. Their customer service can be slow with answering e-mails and seems to use an old-fashioned mailbox rather than customer service software with case numbers. Most annoying however was that my thick oven stone arrived broken in two pieces.

Effeuno made an effort to send me a replacement stone. The second one arrived broken as well. At that point I told them that the packaging material of cardboard and expanded polystyrene didn’t offer adequate protection to the stone. This material to protect the stone from shock and impact apparently couldn’t stand the handling of the box during the shipping process. This message didn’t land with them and the third stone arrived broken in the same package as well. At that point I told Effeuno that I preferred to leave it at that and would use the first stone in my oven. This one had a relatively clean break which isn’t very visible if the two halves are close to each other in the oven.

I suspect that Effeuno didn’t make a profit on my order due to the stone debacle. Since I use the broken stone I didn’t have any issues with it, especially because I never remove it from the oven. Should this change in the future, I’ll find another stone elsewhere.

In spite of these problems I’m still impressed by the P134H. With the other pizza ovens I used I quickly experienced limitations, but not with this oven. The oven could be improved further with an integrated thermometer (which Effeuno has done in the meantime with the P134H Evo) and lighter weight, but I’m already very satisfied. I don’t have any desire anymore to look for a better oven because this is a top product.

Too much misinformation in Seaspiracy

Several weeks ago I watched Seaspiracy on Netflix. The documentary manages to engage its viewers well, shocking them with its portrayal of fishing industry. But by the end of the documentary, which concludes that eating fish is unsustainable and advises us to stop doing so, I was already having doubts. What about the mussels we produce in The Netherlands for example? I know mussels are molluscs and not fish, but the documentary also covered shrimp, which are crustaceans. I just want to take care to avoid the word seafood, because that would also include seaweed, which is not under discussion here.

It turns out that mussels feed on plankton already present in seawater, so their production requires no feed and is very sustainable. I went on to read several responses to the film, such as those on the Wageningen University blog, the Sustainable Fisheries website of the University of Washington, Otter Strategies and one published on Inverse. I suggest you read those for yourself because it’s a lot of information to summarize here, but I’ll highlight some of the most important criticisms here.

It turns out that the seas won’t be empty by 2048 and many fisheries are sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) uses third-party assessors to certify fisheries rather than doing so itself. I still think it’s unfortunate that the MSC didn’t have an interview with the makers of the documentary though. Seaspiracy criticizes aquaculture for it’s use of fish meal as feed for the farmed fish. It turns out that the proportion of fish meal in the diet of farmed fish has already been strongly reduced over the years. Also, it can and likely will be replaced entirely by other more sustainable feed sources, such as insects. In some places in Southeast Asia, freshwater fish are already farmed sustainably without fish meal.

Perhaps the most unnerving image of the whole documentary was a salmon slowly being flayed and eaten alive by sea lice. It appears sea lice are indeed a problem, but they also affect wild salmon. Since a sea lice infection makes salmon unmarketable, fish farmers have a clear incentive to prevent that from happening. I felt Seaspiracy was weak at this point, because all it did was shock the viewer. There was no discussion on statistics or scientific studies on sea lice infections at all.

While the responses to Seaspiracy often point out errors in the ratio of discarded plastic fishing nets and plastic straws claimed in the documentary, they seem to ignore the core of the problem. Why is plastic being used in fishing nets in the first place, I wonder? Fishing nets have been made for thousands of years before the invention of plastic. Since it’s impossible for law enforcement to monitor the deliberate discarding or accidental loss of those fishing nets far out at sea, it seems easier to to make legislation for the production of fishing nets. I hope legislation will be made banning the use of any material which is not biodegradable in fishing nets, such as plastics.

Elsewhere on the Sustainable Fisheries website, there is an interesting comparison based on scientific literature which compares greenhouse gas emissions for several different foods. Beef and aquaculture catfish turn out to be the worst offenders, but the Impossible Burger 2.0 and aquaculture salmon create far less emissions. The winners in terms of emissions however, are captured small pelagic fish, captured whitefish and aquaculture mollusks. They also point out that fish are more nutritious than the Impossible Burger, which contains a large amount of saturated fat.

Small pelagic fish are apparently fish such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring, exactly the kind of fish I like to eat. I also use tuna (with MSC certification), primarily on pizza. I only eat a small amount of fish once or twice a week and considering that these fish species can or could be caught or farmed sustainably, I see no reason to change my behavior.

I do think we should all consult the guides on which fish is sustainable, such as the VISwijzer for those in the Netherlands (also available in English). For example, what surprises me is that the capture critically endangered species like the European eel is still allowed. I know governments have taken some preservation for the eel already, but it looks like they’re not doing enough. This shows that not only our government has a responsibility, but that consumers should also educate themselves on what kind of fish they are buying as long as the government doesn’t get this right.

The search for the ultimate pizza oven

Like many I’m a great lover of pizza. On this weblog I’ve written several times about my holidays in Italy, the land where this dish originates from and where it often tastes the best. But of course the opportunities for holidays to Italy are limited. There may be many some good pizza restaurants in the Netherlands, also in Den Haag, but not directly next door. Going to a restaurant also is often more of a hassle, for my Dutch mentality it’s also pricey. Because I want to make pizza part of my repertoire as an easy and quick dish, especially for visitors who come to eat, I decided to make the dish myself.

Making pizza yourself is of course done by more people, but I’m more demanding: my pizza should come as close as possible to those from the restaurants in the pizza heaven of Napoli. This required some more work. I followed a pizza course to learn, among other things, how to make dough and to stretch pizza by hand. I bought a bag of 25 kilo Caputo ‘Classica’ pizza flour. However, the greatest challenge was and is the baking of pizza.

The reason a brick oven is used often in Napoli is not nostalgia or tradition, but because it provides the best baking result. This is so because the walls of a brick oven provide so much radiative heat, something a metal oven won’t do. A brick oven is too expensive and too large for my garden, so I decided to investigate other options.

Initially I bought a portable Optima Napoli electric pizza oven, probably around five years ago. For € 150 it was a fantastic device in theory because it could attain 450 °C and bake pizza’s in five minutes. In practice the baking result disappointed, which was the reason I ended up selling it. What was exactly wanting I don’t remember anymore, but let’s just note that there is a good reason why there are so many videos on YouTube on modifications to let the G3 Ferrari (a slightly cheaper version of the Optima Napoli) attain higher temperatures. The question is how fast and how long it can reach 450 °C.

After the Optima Napoli I decided to buy a Pizza Steel for about € 50 to use it with my built-in electric oven in our kitchen. The idea was that this steel plate was superior to a pizza stone because steel conducts heat better. However, my AEG BS7304001M built-in oven doesn’t go higher than 230 °C. Even if the Pizza Steel reaches the maximum temperature after preheating for half an hour it will take another fifteen minutes before a pizza is done. After so much time the toppings of a pizza are often dehydrated because the browning of the dough takes too long.

Then I decided to buy an Ooni 3 for € 250. This is portable oven is used outdoors and is fueled by wood pellets. The major advantage is that it warms quickly and should be able to bake pizza’s in ninety seconds. By now I’ve become experienced with this oven and developed a love/hate relationship with it.

The last time I family visiting for dinner the first two pizza’s were reasonably okay, but the remaining three failed. The main cause was the behavior of the wind in my backyard how well the flame in the pellet feeder was burning. The wind was weak then, but it seemed to change direction constantly. Turning the oven several times so that the wind blew through the pellet feeder didn’t help. The pellets were burning, but in some way the oven barely heated up, the infrared thermometer registered a stone temperature not much higher than 200 °C. Even though my family effectively only had two reasonable pizza’s, they were still impressed. Isn’t it lovely when other people laud your culinary skills while you are frustrated because you know how much better it could have been? I meant that in the ironic sense.

On the next day I decided to take three remaining pizza dough balls from my freezer. On this near windless day a hellfire of over 400 °C was unleashed by the Ooni 3. It delivered me delicious pizza’s. Of course this had to happen on a day where I was eating alone. I ended my dinner with some light nausea as I had eaten three pizza’s.

My greatest problem with the Ooni 3 is that the process is too unpredictable. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes wrong if the oven doesn’t have its day because of the wind or something else. Also it is difficult that the oven has a door which you need to open constantly to monitor the progress of a pizza and to turn it. It also has a long chimney.

Another issue is that baking farinata in the Ooni 3 is practically impossible. During my holiday on Sardinia I fell in love with this pancake of chickpea flour, but I’d like to make this dish at home as well. It is more simple than pizza and faster to prepare. In the Ooni 3 the strong flame blackens the surface of the farinata before the bottom has baked properly.

For that reason I’ve recently considered the Roccbox as a replacement. This oven doesn’t have a door or chimney. Also the wood used to fuel this oven is fed differently from the Ooni 3. The burner of the Roccbox is located under the oven and can catch wind from any direction, whereas the burner of the Ooni 3 is located horizontally behind the oven and can only take in wind from the rear. This is why I suspected that the Roccbox would be less unpredictable than the Ooni 3. Because I had become skeptical and the Roccbox sells for € 570 I decided to investigate user experiences with this oven first.

It turned out that the Roccbox didn’t give much issues with the gas burner (which I don’t want because gas is not a sustainable fuel) but that there are often difficulties with using the desired high temperatures with wood. That’s why I abandoned my plan to get a Roccbox. I’m curious about the upcoming Ooni Karu, another oven which is wood fired. It is cheaper than the Roccbox and has a wood burner which might work better. For now I’ll continue using the Ooni 3 and try the advice to place a funnel on the pellet feeder and a fan behind the air intake.

There are some disadvantages though which are shared by all wood fired ovens compared to electric ovens: I can’t use them in my backyard if the weather is bad, they’re more difficult to use when it’s dark outside, there is a fire hazard, wood and wood pellets are relatively expensive, potential for smoke nuisance and preheating takes longer.

That’s why I’m now considering an electric built-in oven which can attain 300 °C, the AEG BPB351020M. This temperature is a significant difference with the 230 °C of my current built-in oven. This oven can’t compare with the theoretical maximum temperature of the Ooni 3 and other wood fired ovens, but I do expect that this oven can bake pizza and farinata which can satisfy me.

The ultimate pizza oven which isn’t a brick oven still has to be made. As is often the case the best choice is a trade off between different factors. In the case of pizza ovens those are price, size, baking speed, convenience and sustainability. But I hope the combination of the AEG BPB351020M and the Pizza Steel will offer the best compromise. Expect a detailed review and comparative measurements on my weblog when I’ve purchased the oven.

Review of English cookbooks on Apulian cuisine

For my Wikipedia article on Apulian cuisine I consulted quite a few English cookbooks about this cuisine. I will review them briefly so that other who are interested in Apulian cuisine can benefit from my experience. The books I read are:

  • Arno, Anna Maria Chirone (2011). Salento Flavors: The Taste of Tradition.
  • Lorusso, Luca; Polak, Vivienne (2015). Sharing Puglia.
  • Russo, William dello (2016). Puglia in Cucina: The Flavours of Apulia.
  • Sbisà, Nicola (2009). Savour Apulia: Traditional Recipes.
  • Todorovska, Viktorija (2011) The Puglian Cookbook.

“Salento Flavors: The Taste of Tradition” turned out to be the most disappointing cookbook. It’s a very thin and flimsy paperback with a small number of recipes and unappealing food photography. The layout is strange, with all its solid color rectangles. It’s mostly a collection of recipes and doesn’t give much context to understand the history of the cuisine and its dishes. While this one is supposed to focus on the Salento, the ‘heel’ of Apulia, I haven’t encountered much or any recipes which aren’t covered in the other books. Don’t buy this one.

“Sharing Puglia” is a sturdy hardcover with a lot of recipes and good food photography. The authors of this book understood that if you use photos, you have to do it well or not do it at all. Photos have to seduce you to prepare the dishes, if they look bad they will turn you off instead. This book gives the most detailed explanation of making fresh pasta compared to the other cookbooks reviewed here, even though it could have been more elaborate. It also gives us plenty of context to understand the cuisine and its dishes, instead of it being just a collection of recipes. I highly recommend this one.

“Puglia in Cucina: The Flavours of Apulia” is also a hardcover and shares the amount of recipes and good photo quality with the previous book. It’s written both in English and Italian and is part of a series about all the regional cuisines of Italy. It falls short on providing context though and it doesn’t explain how to make fresh pasta at all. Still, I could still give this a reasonable recommendation.

“Savour Apulia: Traditional Recipes” was most useful as a source of the Wikipedia article, together with “Sharing Puglia”. It’s a cheap and thin paperback, but still contains a lot of recipes and quite some history on the cuisine and its dishes. Despite the length, it still manages to briefly explain how to make fresh pasta. It doesn’t have photos at all, but I don’t mind as long as the rest is good. Highly recommended.

“The Puglian Cookbook” suffers from some bad food photography, think badly lit and blurred close-ups of food. Definitely very unattractive. This book is also short on context. It gives a recipe for making fresh cavatelli, but advises using equal amounts of semolina and all-purpose flour. It’s frustrating that it doesn’t explain why, because it’s suspicious. “Savour Apulia” gives a recipe which uses only semolina and “Sharing Puglia” advises a large amount of semolina with a small amount 00 flour. But the most grave sin is that it only mentions English names for the dishes. How are you supposed to identify the dishes you ate in Apulia then? If a cookbook on French cuisine with a recipe for coq au vin would only describe it as “rooster with wine” it would probably be considered unacceptable; this case is no different. I can’t recommend this one.

There also is “Puglia” by the Silver Spoon from 2015, but I haven’t read it because it’s expensive.

It’s a pity that only “Salento Flavors” briefly mentions the puccia and that “Puglia in Cucina” is the only one which describes savoury taralli in a few sentences. Both are common dishes in Apulia, so I had expected recipes for these in my two highly recommended cookbooks. Unfortunately, those two cookbooks still don’t explain sufficiently how fresh pasta is made either. I would have expected an elaborate instruction with a lot of photos so that novice cooks can learn it with confidence. None of the cookbooks have a recipe for the traditional sourdough durum wheat breads. Even though “Sharing Puglia” mentions that cauliflower and broccoli are also eaten, I haven’t seen any recipes with those vegetables. While black chickpeas and grass peas are much rarer, it would have been nice if they had been mentioned too, even if they are hard to get outside Apulia. I look forward to someone writing a huge cookbook which covers the complete Apulian cuisine.

My Wikipedia article on Apulian cuisine

As I’m waiting for our holiday to start in May, nostalgia made me think of holidays from past. I specifically remembered my holiday of 2013 in Southern Italy. Back then I hadn’t met Stephanie yet, so I was traveling alone and hanging out with CouchSurfing hosts. My best memories are from my time with Michele in Apulia. Because we shared our interest in historical and archeological sites we had a great time together.

One thing which struck me when I was in Apulia was the quality of its regional cuisine and how it differed from other Italian regions. I was eating all kinds of dishes in restaurants that I had never seen in Italian restaurants in the Netherlands. To learn more about this regional cuisine, my first resort was Wikipedia. To my disappointment the English Wikipedia had no article on Apulian cuisine. Even the one on the Italian Wikipedia is very limited. Disgrace! I couldn’t stand it that such a fine cuisine had no Wikipedia article, so I resolved to write one myself.

In the years after my holiday I gathered some English cookbooks on Apulian cuisine to eventually write this article, but due to a lack of time I never got around to it. Until a week ago, when my combination of nostalgia and free time finally moved me to action. I was so driven that I was working for hours continuously on this article, almost losing sense of time. On 6 April I finished the article on Apulian cuisine, after probably more than fifteen hours of work. I consider this article and my article on Sybaris as the best articles I’ve written so far.

I’m always a bit wary of other Wikipedia editors who might change articles I started in negative ways. For example by adding content without citing sources. Or even worse, those who vandalize articles. Since most of the articles I work on are not very popular, they barely see undesirable or vandalistic edits. In fact, most other editors I see working on articles I’ve started or edited are intelligent and reasonable people who improve them. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the article.

During the research for this article in all the cookbooks I discovered many more Apulian dishes which I haven’t tasted yet. This gives me even more desire to visit Apulia again and meet with Michele (the last time we met was in 2016). I don’t see this happening next year though. The train voyage would be unpractical with my daughter, who is just six months old now.

In the future I would also like to write or improve the articles on the other regional cuisines of Italy. More specifically, I want to write articles for Calabria and Liguria and vastly improve the article for Sicily. I already have a boatload of cookbooks lying around for those cuisines. As for the cookbooks I used to write the article on Apulian cuisine, read my next post for recommendations.

My favorite places to eat in Rotterdam

As I wrote before, Stephanie and I moved to the Hague in June. Now I know that the Hague has plenty of good options to go eating out. The Hague is home to a large number of people with Indonesian, Indo and Surinamese heritage, which gives us a lot of choice in restaurants which serve these good cuisines. But I don’t think Rotterdam is inferior to the Hague in this regard.

Now that I’ve left Rotterdam, I want to document for others what my restaurant recommendations are for this city. I’ve become dissatisfied lately with restaurant review websites, such as Iens in the Netherlands. That’s why I give you a summary of good restaurants in this post, with metro stops in parentheses behind the names of the restaurants.

First the Indonesian restaurants. My favorites are Anugerah (Blaak), Ap Halen (Delfshaven) en Toko Toorop (Blijdorp). Toko Heezen (Slinge) is good too, but only offers take out. Ap Halen and to a lesser degree Toko Toorop have a limited menu which changes daily. Difficult if you want to eat vegan, but quite good for a reasonable price. Ap Halen has just two or three tables, Toko Toorop has more, but both businesses are cozy. Anugerah offers a more completele menu with more choice, but they could do with a better interior design.

The Surinamese restaurants which I like are Toko Asha (Rotterdam Centraal) en Warung Mirosso (Dijkzigt). Toko Ashes is more focused on Hindustani Surinamese dishes and makes great roti, I always take the vegetarian one. If people say they make the best roti in Rotterdam, I believe them immediately. The interior of this business looks very plain and uninspired, but I’ve been told that Surinamese people don’t care as long as the food is good. I can’t disagree with that. Warung Mirosso is a Javanese Surinamese restaurant, which is quite different. Logically the dishes are quite similar to Indonesian dishes, but often with a Surinamese twist. I would have liked to add Warung Sidodadi (Rotterdam Centraal) here, but they have apparently closed recently.

The Italian restaurants in Rotterdam are better than those in the Hague, as far as I can judge now. In the Hague I see too much Italian restaurants with unimaginative menus. When I see vitello tonnato on a menu, I usually take that as a sign that the restaurant is no good. In Rotterdam however, you have Da Adriano (Coolhaven) en L’Arancino (Stadhuis). Both mainly serve pizza, but they also have some extra Sicilian dishes which make these restaurants special. You won’t see dishes like caponata, arancini and pasta alla Norma on the menus of other restaurants often. Da Adriano has the best looking business of the two, L’Arancino caters more to take out and is slightly cheaper. La Pizza (Leuvehaven) misses the special dishes but has a larger establisment with a more well decorated interior. De Pizzabakkerij (far outside the centre in Overschie) is good too, but has little else but pizza on the menu. Finally, there is Burro e Salvia (Maashaven), remarkable for their home made pasta, even if their business hours are a bit restrictive and their prices a bit higher than the other three.

For vegans and vegetarians Gare du Nord (Rotterdam Centraal) en Spirit (Blaak) are recommendations. Gare du Nord has a changing menu with often original vegan dishes. The restaurant is located in a train wagon, which is very original. It’s not really practical and not so easy to heat in the winter. Spirit is a buffet restaurant and also serves vegetarian dishes. Its food might not be as good as Gare dy Nord, but it does have a lot more space and has a more modern interior.

Then the other cuisines. La Taqueria (Oostplein) is the best Mexican restaurant of Rotterdam because it has a more authentic menu than the other Mexican restaurants in the center. These have a more vulgar interpretation of the Mexican cuisine. For Spanish cuisine I can recommend Camarón (Delfshaven), it has a strong menu, even if choice for vegans is limited. Burgertrut (Beurs) is a nice hamburger joint which will please both the carnivores and the vegans. If you want something more exotic, you can try the Ethiopian restaurant Sallina’s (Coolhaven). Their restaurant’s interior looks dated, but the menu is good and has plenty of choice for vegans. The Ethiopian cuisine is reminiscent of the Indian cuisine. Indian cuisine is my greatest favorite, for which I haven’t been able to discover a remarkable restaurants in Rotterdam.

What I miss most from Rotterdam is the bread of Jordy’s Bakery (Eendrachtsplein). Without blinking I can say that their bread is the best I’ve ever eaten. They only make sourdough bread, which is a bit more expensive than the best bread from the Albert Heijn supermarket, but it’s worth the extra without a doubt. I used to go there at least once in a week on the day when I worked from home to get a fresh bread. It’s also possible to eat in their establishment instead of just buying bread. SUE (Beurs) doesn’t bake bread, but does sell sugar free sweets. Completely responsible, if not somewhat pricey.

Finally, I must mention what is perhaps the most fun and unique place to eat in Rotterdam: Fenix Food Factory (Rijnhaven). This is a food court filled with local entrepreneurs selling all kinds of things to eat, directly or for take out. There’s just about everything: bread (Jordy’s Bakery is here too!), Moroccan food, good cheeses, locally brewn beer and applecider. All of it is located in a big, cozy warehouse near the water in Katendrecht. Every food lover will feel like a kid in a candy store here. It’s a shame the Hague doesn’t have such a food court.

Eden kitchen knives and knife sharpening

After I started living on my own in Rotterdam in 2013, I spent much more time in the kitchen. Soon I realized that kitchen knives are very important tools. Cheap knives are often blunt or get blunt quickly. This makes cutting work slower and more frustrating. It also makes it less safe, because blunt knives are prone to slide off certain vegetables, which is dangerous for your fingers. In my search for better kitchen knives which were not expensive, I found the knives of Eden, the house brand of Knives and Tools. This is a web shop based in the Netherlands which also has websites to serve customers in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

I bought their Eden Classic VG10 chef’s knife and paring knife, which are respectively 20 cm and 9 cm long. VG10 is a designation for the type of steel, diverse steel types give knives subtly different properties. The chef’s knife is the most flexible knife, best used to cut up large pieces of food quickly. The paring knife is used for finer cutting work. I think these are the only two knives which are essential, but you could add a bread knife.

The chef’s knife features a design similar to more expensive knives, for the price of about € 50. It also has good ergonomics. The sole problem was that this knife, just like the paring knife, was quite blunt out of the box. This was evident in the relatively difficulty it had with cutting tomatoes and how it launched pieces of onion. This surprised me, but fortunately I could sharpen the knives with the Japanese waterstones, which I purchased together with the knives for approximately € 50.

Knives and Tools was so helpful to create elaborate instructions (only in Dutch for now) with good videos to explain how knives can be sharpened with waterstones. At first I did not succeed with this, my knives stayed blunt even after grinding them over the stones for many minutes. I remember that I discussed the subject with someone who had trained to become a chef. He told me that he and many others simply had no affinity with sharpening on stones, which is why some cooks outsource sharpening to professional knife sharpeners.

I was discouraged, but I kept trying. Only in the first half of this year I figured out that I had used a fine waterstone too soon; the coarser waterstone with 200 and 800 grid should be used first to remove more material from the knife. Initially I had not done so because I understood that this coarser stone is only necessary for knives with a damaged edge. After doing so I finally started to notice results. Ideally the knife should be able to shave off the hair on my arms like in the videos. I can’t sharpen my knife to such an extent yet, but I’ve gotten the hang of it.

I concluded that I now have two good knives and waterstones which can last me several decades for a bit more than € 100. The alternative, buying low quality knives more often or sending them to a professional knife sharpener for maintenance, is more expensive. Sharpening knives yourself has a learning curve, but I can recommend most people to learn this and spend some money on good knives and water stones.

Unfortunately the Eden Classic VG10 series is no longer produced and mostly sold out in the web shop of Knives and Tools. That’s why I’d recommend to buy the Eden Classic Damast series now that it’s discounted. It’s practically identical to the VG10 series, only the looks are slightly different because of the pattern welded steel. The Eden Essentials which is supposed to replace the Classic VG10 series does not compare to the quality of its predecessor. It looks cheap because it doesn’t have a recessed bolster to separate the plastic of the handle from the blade of the knife. The plastic handle abruptly ends where the blade begins, while the VG10 and Classic Damast knives have a wider piece of steel between the handle and the blade.

I fear the Classic Damast series won’t be replaced when it’s sold out, either. In that case you would have to look at knives from other brands, which are generally more expensive. If you do, make sure they also feature a recessed bolster rather than an extended one. An extended bolster has a thicker piece of steel extending all the way to the heel of the blade, this is a pain if you want to sharpen the knife on a stone. Because you can’t grind off the material of the thick heel on a stone, it will eventually lose pace with the rest of the blade’s edge. Then you’ll have to ask a professional sharpener to remove that part of the heel, because the knife will become unusable otherwise.

Growing Kashmiri chili peppers

When I encounter Indian recipes, they occasionally call for Kashmiri chilies. These are said to have a relatively mild taste and give a red color to dishes. For a long time I searched for these chilies in vain. What complicates the issue is that the authentic Kashmiri chili is actually medium hot and that the mild Kashmiri chili powder is apparently made from the Byadagi chili. That chili is grown in Karnataka, in South West India, rather than the Kashmir region of North India. Kashmiri chilies are in high demand but relatively scarce, so the confusion possibly arose from fraudulent vendors who started selling Kashmiri chilies as Byadagi chilies.

However, in some cases the names are not used interchangeably. In Rotterdam I found a shop, Remon Afro Asian Market at West-Kruiskade 87, which has the most extensive assortment of Indian food ingredients here that I know of. They sell two packages produced by MDH: one called Deggi Mirch powder and one called Kashmiri Mirch powder. The former is described as follows on their website:

Deggi Mirch is a unique, age old blend, processed from special varieties of colourful Indian red chilies. It is mild-hot and imparts glowing natural red colour to curried dishes making them attractive and more palatable.

The description of the latter is:

Exotic Kashmiri Mirch is a special blend of medium hot quality Red Pepper that is used for Tandoori (Clay oven) preparations. When used in curry it imparts bright red colour making food more appealing and palatable.

So both apparently are used for their capacity to color dishes red, but Deggi Mirch is mild hot and Kashmiri Mirch is medium hot. This still leaves a lot of questions. What kind of chili peppers are exactly used as ingredients and what are their Scoville ratings? My guess is Byadagi chilies are used for their Deggi Mirch, but considering the scarcity of authentic Kashmiri chili peppers I suspect a similar chili peper is used as a substitute for their Kashmiri Mirch.

Even though I can now simply buy the powders (if you don’t live close to a physical store which supplies it, you can easily find it at online shops), I still thought it was fun to grow them myself. In May 2014 I inquired about the seeds at various websites which sell chili seeds. I finally managed to find them at Chillies on the Web, a British shop. After discussing the uncertainty of the origins of the Kashmiri chili with them through e-mail, they told me they were not sure either. Chili cultivars are crossed so often that it is difficult to keep track of their origins, so there is no guarantee that their product is the real thing from Kashmir, or a similar chili from elsewhere in India. Even so, I was grateful for their help and got their dried Kashmiri chilies so I could harvest the seeds. After tasting, I concluded that these chilies are indeed medium hot, so they at least have some resemblance to the original.

I was warned that most seeds would be dead because the chilies were dried, so I was surprised to a see a lot of seeds germinate, at least twenty plants. However, I did not manage to harvest chilies at the end of last year’s summer. First of all, I started growing the plants relatively late, at the end of May or June. Another problem was that my garden doesn’t receive much sunlight, its does face southwest, but there’s a large apartment block which blocks out the sun during the late afternoon, especially early or late in the year. The wooden garden fences restrict sunlight as well. Vermin in my garden bumped off a few plants too after I transplanted them from their pots to full soil.

Kashmiri chilli plants

Thanks to some plant fertilizer I did manage to get chili plants which reached a height of 70 centimers, but they did not develop fruits. Fortunately I did take one plant to my parents, who have a small greenhouse which catches sunlight practically the whole day. During the autumn this plant had produced one green fruit. Right now the seeds of that fruit are hopefully germinating in small pots which I placed on a radiator. One small plant has shown up so far, but I don’t know if it’s a weed or a chili plant. Last year I was negligent in following the instructions for growing chili plants, so this year I should pay more attention.

Recently my interest in chili peppers drove me to completly rewrite the problematic articles on two Italian varieties, the peperoncino and the friggitello. I’d like to improve the article on the Byadagi chili and write a new article for the Kashmiri chili, but the almost complete lack of good and reliable sources is preventing me from doing this.

What is a sustainable level of meat consumption?

I already wrote about this topic more than two years ago to state my concerns over the level of meat consumption in the (Western) world. Back then I already explained why it’s detrimental to our environment so I won’t go into detail here. The Wikipedia articles on the environmental impact of meat production and environmental vegetarianism explain it nicely, so read those.

Since then I’ve lowered my consumption of meat, but it was not an issue for my family. They think they don’t eat it much, while I do. Because I wasn’t motivated to make my own vegetarian food when my mother prepared non-vegetarian food for the whole family, I used to eat along.

Recently I changed my behaviour because I thought I was lazy. Being served non-vegetarian food by others was no reason to stray from the virtuous path of sustainable living. This led to some discussion at the dinner table, giving rise to the question: at which quantity is meat consumption sustainable?

Statistics and some assumptions

The Economist has statistics on meat consumption per capita for 2007. In the complete data they also provide the world average, which is 38,7 kilo or 106 gram a day.

I make two premises. The first is that everyone should not consume (much) more than this average. If you look at the statistics you see the developed world consumes a disproportionately high amount of meat while most of the developing world consumes very little. This means the developed world puts the greatest strain on our environment. I don’t think we have more right to burden the environment than the developing world, so what we are doing now is unethical.

The second premise is that no further environmental degradation should occur. If that is what we want, we should not increase our total meat consumption above the 2007 average. However, I’d say that even in 2007 the global environmental damage caused by meat production was already too much, and it needs to be even lower. I’d say an arbitrary number such as 30 kilo a year seems acceptable.

Solutions

Ultimately, reducing meat consumption is not going to happen with a growing world population. At a certain moment meat prices will increase because of supply and demand, but when that happens the environment has probably gone to hell already. I’m sure many people are not as concerned over this issue as I am, so they’re not going to change their behaviour out of their own motivation.

This means government has to intervene. The best solutions would probably be taxing meat (just like we levy an excise tax on petrol in the Netherlands because of its environmental impact) and drastically reducing the world’s population. But if you want to change the world you should take responsibility and start with yourself.

How much do i and my family consume?

According to the statistics the average Dutch person consumed 71,3 kilo meat in 2007. I think my family is probably below this average, so in that regard they are probably right when they say they don’t consume much.But I suspect my family may consume more than the global average of 38,7 kilo.

But this is something which needs to be measured. I will do so by calculating the total weight of all meat products appearing on our supermarket receipts for one month and then extrapolate that to a year. I estimate my own consumption is probably no more than 21 kilo a year (based on 400 gram a week), but this is also something I will measure.

Update 14 February

After measuring the meat consumption of my family for 19 days and extrapolating that to a year, it turns out we consume far less than I expected. I consume 19 kilo a year, the rest of my family 22, 29, 31 and 34 kilo. All far below the average for the Netherlands and below the world average.

A review of my cookbooks and food blogs

As I said in my previous post in the food category, I would give a review of the cookbooks I own in a second post. I’m most interested in Asian cuisine, specifically Indonesian, Indian and Surinamese cuisine. Suriname lies in South America but it does have a predominantly Asian character considering it’s a fusion cuisine heavily influenced by the former two cuisines and many other culinary traditions. Why the interest in Indonesian and Surinamese cuisine one might ask? The colonial heritage of the Netherlands influenced this, Indonesia and Suriname were colonies of the Netherlands. As a consequence some of their inhabitants migrated to the Netherlands and they are notable minorities in our country today. They operate quite a few eating establishments (some restaurants, but maybe more fast food establishments), and therefore their cuisines are relatively popular in the Netherlands compared to other European countries. I’ve grown to like their food and became interested in preparing it myself. In the Netherlands Indian restaurants can also be found, although it’s not as popular here as in the United Kingdom unfortunately.

While I do like Dutch cuisine, I think our cuisine is not as exciting as the three Asian cuisines I’ve mentioned. Dutch food is never spicy and the use of spices is limited. Gravies are simple, often boring and based on meat, the use of sauces is also limited. Asian food by contrast can be very spicy, but mild dishes can also be good. A lot of different spices are used in general and a lot of different ingredients can go into a single dish. Due to the use of so much spices and ingredients the taste of dishes can be far more complex. There are many different gravies and sauces. The three Asian cuisines are a lot more varied and creative with their use of ingredients.

Because the interest in Indonesian and Surinamese cuisine is low in the Anglosphere when compared to the Netherlands, all of the cookbooks I own for the Indonesian cuisine are Dutch. I do have a few English language food blogs in my bookmarks for Indonesian cuisine though. For Surinamese cuisine there are Dutch cookbooks as well, but so far I haven’t purchased them for budgetary reasons. Fortunately there is a Dutch food blog covering it.

For Indonesian cuisine, my favourite English weblogs are Indochine KitchenIndonesia Eats and Rasa Malaysia. All three cover other Asian cuisines as well. Good Dutch websites are Roy’s Indo Recepten and Tante Lenny’s Indonesisch kookhoekje. Of these, the former doesn’t contain the impressive food photography of it’s English counterparts and the latter contains no photos at all. It compensates with it’s sheer quantity of recipes though. The Dutch cookbooks I recommend are two titles authored by Lonny Gerungan, probably the most popular chef specialising in Indonesian cuisine in the Netherlands. They are De Authentieke Indische Keuken and Het Bali Kookboek (also available in English as The Bali Cookbook). To be accurate I should mention that the ‘Indische keuken’ is not the same as the Indonesian (in Dutch: ‘Indonesische’) cuisine, because it is the indigenous cuisine modified to colonial taste. The second title focusses on the cuisine of the island of Bali, which is different from the rest of Indonesia because of the Hindu majority living on the island.

The cookbook De Authentieke Indische Keuken contains a large quantity of recipes, but the majority of the food photography is bland and unappealing. The quality of the recipes is solid however and I’ve actually prepared a fair share of the recipes in the book with reasonable satisfaction. It compares favourably to other titles from my collection of cookbooks, some other titles are simply catching dust because they’re either uninteresting to me or impractical.  Certainly Indonesian cuisine is slanted more towards impractical on the scale of practical and impractical, because there are quite a lot of dishes which require a lot of effort and time to prepare, but the book also offers quick and easy recipes which is an important requirement for me. Because it covers the colonially influenced Indonesian kitchen, some of the ingredients used are native to Europe and the ingredients native to Indonesia are easy to acquire in the West.

This is a bit different in The Bali Cookbook. This title has dishes with papaya, cassava en jackfruit for example, which are a bit more difficult to find. While Indonesian sambals (sauces) can be found easily in Dutch stores, you have to make the Balinese sambals yourself. The photography in this book compares well with the best food photography seen on foodblogs. Preparing the recipes in this book is a bit more challenging due to the ingredients and my first attempts were not successful, but it’s too early to judge the title. The author writes that for the Balinese people vegetables and fruits are the most important in their cuisine because meat is an expensive special treat and because they don’t like fish. Even so, he spends 96 pages on meat, egg and fish dishes and 30 pages on vegetable dishes (excluding rice dishes and sambals). I have the same problem with his other title. I do have to praise both titles for their extensive descriptions of the culture surrounding the cuisine; most other cookbooks don’t give it as much coverage as these titles do.

There are only two Indonesian vegetable dishes which I like very much: gado gado and sambal goreng buncis. In principle I like tempeh, which originated in Indonesia, in but the amount of oil needed to fry it scares me away. Maybe the Indonesian cuisine is not very suitable for vegetarians, or the people writing the cookbooks should make a completely vegetarian cookbook for the Indonesian cuisine or at least a cookbook with a dominant share of vegetarian recipes. I’m not sure.

This is not a problem when it comes to Indian cuisine. There are tons of foodblogs in my bookmarks, some even entirely vegetarian, so I’m going to give a selection of the ones containing the largest collections of recipes instead of listing all of them. Sinful CurrySailu’s Kitchen and Sashi’s Tasty Bites present a large and interesting selection of recipes in an interesting, compact manner. Some blogs do not cover Indian cuisine exclusively but are still interesting, such as eCurry and Mahanandi. Indian Simmer is notable for the jaw-dropping food photography. But what is even more helpful for those who want to get acquainted with Indian cuisine are the websites which provide videos demonstrating the preparation of the dishes, such as Manjula’s Kitchen, Madhura’s Recipes, ShowMeTheCurry.com and the YouTube channel of Sanjeev Kapoor. The person running Manjula’s Kitchen is Jain so she doesn’t cook with onions or garlic, which is interesting if you want to avoid the strong smell in the kitchen when onions are cooked with spices or the bad breath caused by garlic. Some of the videos in Sanjeev Kapoor’s channel are an interesting mixture of what I believe is Hindi and English, which is a bit confusing but still understandable. In some videos the cook Singh appears, who is my favourite chef on YouTube.

So if you have all these websites providing recipes and even video demonstrations, why would you need cookbooks? Good question, when I asked the person who sold me De Authentieke Indische Keuken second-hand why she sold it she told me she didn’t use it much any more because she looks for recipes on the internet. I don’t think cookbooks have become obsolete, but it’s certain they’re no longer a requirement if you want to learn to cook. Ironically, the Indian cookbook which I like most, Miss Masala, is a collection of recipes based on what the author posted on her weblog. It’s meant for busy people who want to prepare dishes quickly, but it’s not your typical cookbook because it alternates between recipes and the author’s musing about her experiences of daily life. The book covers the classical, tried-and-true Indian dishes which are commonly seen on the menus of restaurants and also some invented recipes. The two other titles, Indian Food Made Easy and Anjum’s New Indian which are both authored by Anjum Anand who is known for the TV show on BBC, lean more towards invented recipes. Because I’m a beginner I’m more interested in learning the classic dishes than newly invented recipes, but because I haven’t got much experience yet with Anand’s books I won’t judge them yet. With Miss Masala I do have experience and I’m quite satisfied with the results, which is why this book is my favourite.

I love the huge variety in Indian cuisine. Northern Indian cuisine uses ingredients which grow in my backyard here in the Netherlands as well, such as potatoes, cauliflower, green peas and spinach, which makes it very convenient if it’s important that ingredients should be easy to get. On the other hand Southern Indian cuisine satisfies the desire for exotic dishes well. But most important is that it has tons of different and easy vegetarian recipes.

There is one Dutch food blog covering the Surinamese cuisine very well, Surinaamse Keuken. At the moment the blog is unusable due to an overhaul it’s being given unfortunately. I have no experience with the cuisine at all, but I definitely want to try some recipes at some point in the future. Another cuisine I want to try my hand at is the Thai cuisine after visiting a Thai restaurant in the Netherlands. I specifically want to get the vegetarian and vegan Thai cookbook written by Mai Kaidee.