Fika, koffeekletz, gezeligheid…

IMG_4031There are times when English for all its large word base is just not enough. As much as I am far more articulate in English than in Dutch, there are Dutch words that, like essential car keys, get me through the day. That doesn’t mean I use them in conversation everyday. Even with all the Dutch customers that daily come to our store, I do not always need these words to converse. Rather they are part of my identity and shape the way I live.

For me running our store, The European Pantry here in Welland, is about more than just merchandising European imports. It includes understanding and communicating about the cultures that we are celebrating. So I will often troll online to learn more about European cultures other than the one I grew up in. That is how I stumbled on the word “Fika“. Simply put, it means “coffeebreak” in Swedish but it didn’t take me long to realize that this simple word encompasses so much more. It is like the Dutch word “gezeligheid” conjuring up a whole spectrum of feelings, associations and memories.

I am a crime drama buff and lately I have been reading Swedish crime dramas in their Dutch editions. Recently that was ‘Oorlogskind‘ (Hidden Child in English) by Camilla Lackberg. Unlike their American parallels who meet in special meeting rooms, Lackberg’s Swedish police investigators meet to discuss cases in the lunch room over coffee and cinnamon rolls. When the police officers knock on doors to ask questions, they are invited in for coffee and cake. It all started to sound so ‘gezellig‘ that I had to remember I was in Sweden and not The Netherlands.  Dana Velden in her blog ‘the kitchn’ discusses the meaning of ‘fika’ . She explains that ‘fika’ is a daily, often more often, pause that nourishes not just the body but also the mind and spirit.  It is a conscious stop; the gathering of friends or co-workers to share time together. One commentator said that it is when teachers will discuss their challenging students. Unlike the North American concept of a break it is not just a stolen moment of laziness, it is rather an essential part of the social rhythm and fabric. And…this is important…it always includes food!  Especially the good stuff like cinnamon rolls and other sweets…what we call ‘gebak’ in Dutch.IMG_4036

My older Dutch immigrant customers have told me of their shock on first coming to Canada at being given a ‘naked’ cup of coffee by their Canadian sponsors or neighbours. That just wasn’t done back home unless you were very inhospitable. Coffee and tea must be served with cake or at least a cookie. Intrinsic to European culture is the high value placed on hospitality. But also the concept of ‘gezelligheid‘. Although the word is Dutch, the concept of an atmosphere that is warm, cozy and welcoming is not foreign to Scandinavian or German culture either. Each of these cultures understand the importance of creating a home that feels safe and ‘good’. The interior design movements of these cultures reflect this, too.

It extends to the workplace.  Unlike at home where the responsibility for hospitality falls on the host or hostess, at work everyone is expected to contribute to fika. In Dutch culture if it is your birthday, you are expected to bring sweets for everyone. I would be interested in knowing if that is also part of the fika  tradition.  Pausing regularly and talking…koffeekletzen… contributes to healthier relationships between family members, friends, and colleagues. It shapes a stronger society.

None of my children have settled in their hometown. When I visit my oldest daughter, I stay at least for overnight. When my son-in-law comes home from work, everyone gathers for coffee time. My daughter usually has delicious cake or treats because Gramma is visiting but I expect there is something sweet most days. The memory of these fika breaks in their home are cherished as I return back to my own busy routine at home. Here in Canada where people line up at the Tim Hortons drive-thru to carry their coffee into work, we are missing out on a tradition that helps to strengthen the fabric of family and society. Perhaps we should all begin to fika everyday!  You will find the best baked goods to go with that coffee here at The European Pantry, and of course, great coffee!

Read Dana Velden’s blog : Do You Fika?  The comments are worth a read, too!

Dutch Meatball Soup

IMG_2783Hankering for some traditional Dutch meatball soup but not sure how to begin?  Pick up one of our Dutch Meatball Soup Kits. They contain all those secret herbs and spices that even the Colonel doesn’t know about.  All you have to add is a pound of hamburger, water and maybe some fresh veggies.

OR here is the recipe:

Dutch Meatball Soup

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 package Silvo Gehakt Kruiden with breadcrumbs(Dutch hamburger spices                         or 2 tsp Verstegen gehakt kruiden + 2 rusk crushed into crumbs
  • 1 Honig Vleeskruidenbuiltje (herb sachet for beef broth)
  • 1 package Honig Groente Soep (Dutch Vegetable soup mix)
  • 2 litres of boiling water
  • 4 large carrots
  • 4 celery stems
  • 1 small leek stem
  • 2 handfuls vermicelli noodles
  • (Dried veggies can substitute for fresh veggies but a mix of both is nice)

Mix ground beef, spices and rusk crumbs together. Hang herb sachet in water. (Tie string to stock pot handle for easy removal.)  Roll ground beef mixture into small 1/2 inch meatballs and drop into simmering water.

Keep water at a simmer but do not allow it reach a rolling boil. If broth is allowed to boil too vigorously fat will emulsify making it difficult to skim off. When all the meatballs have made continue to let broth simmer as you chop the vegetables. Quarter the larger parts before chopping into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Remove broth from heat and allow fat to raise to the surface. Remove herb sachet. Skim off top layer into a large measuring cup or bowl. Refrigerate. Remove fat when it becomes a solid mass and return the extra broth to pan.  Broth will cool faster in a glass or metal container.

Return broth to heat. Add chopped vegetables and bring soup back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until  vegetables are tender. Dissolve soup mix in refrigerated broth or cold water and add to soup. Vermicelli should be added 7-10 minutes before serving depending on cooking time.

Traditionally served with crusty rolls, Gouda cheese and coldcuts.