I visited Gouda in November of 2004 while I was staying with an American friend of a friend that had married a Dutchman. The aforementioned American was my traveling partner to Gouda. We had decided on Gouda because of its relatively close proximity to Utrecht, where we were based and we had both never been. We were also both excepting our trip to incorporate some encounter with Gouda cheese in the form of a store or cheese factory or museum. It turned out however, that right before we entered the center of the city or its main square, we spied a small cheese shop, meandered in and then left because of the smell. That was the extent to our encounter with cheese in Gouda.
What did transpire was totally unexpected in this obscure Dutch city. After leaving the cheese shop, we turned into the market square where I saw the oddest use of urban space by a public building. In the middle of the large (by Dutch standards) market square was a skinny tall Gothic canal house looking building (Stadhuis) all alone and yet crammed for space. It was three windows wide and eleven windows long with nine spires. It reminded me of a really skinny person trying to minimize his frame further, anticipating to being squeezed and then turned into a statue forever in that pose. I attributed it to some arcane tax law or some other fact of history that I did not know about.
Several pictures later and noticing a patat friet or fries stand, we left the square. Having had a bad experience with such a stand in Maastricht that was also located in the perimeter of the town square, I bypassed this cheap snack option although I was getting hungry. Exiting the market square, we walked toward the main church and circled it to discover what at first looked to be a modern art piece (something I had gotten used to) turned out to be a public john in the shape of a steel blue waffle cone (something I had not gotten used to). My friend and I then exchanged some comments as to who would want to take a leak right next to a 15th century Church of St. John.
I was now starting to verbalize my need for food so my friend suggested, the patat stand we had passed earlier or a Turkish looking Imbiss place that we could see advertised down the street. I wasn’t in the mood for either options but knowing that my friend didn’t want to spend money I was reluctant to suggest a restaurant of any sort. As we slowly walked toward the Imbiss as I was trying to decide what to eat, we passed by a Chinese restaurant that I automatically assumed would be bad but for some reason stopped to check out the menu. One thing I learned in Europe was that Chinese food or at least the low end fast food kind adapts to their European surroundings better than say the actual Chinese. In Germany, it was the salty version with unfamiliar sauces and in the Netherlands it was a peanut sauce, eggs and ham version that I am assuming no real Chinese person would ever eat. Outside of Chinatown London, I had yet to taste the kind of Chinese food that I assumed was Chinese food from my palate teachings from Chinatown Chicago and New York.
When I looked at the menu, I began to reconsider my earlier formulations due to their extensive dim sum list, which I absolutely love and seeing that all dim sums were ranged from 2 to 5 euros, I thought this could be a sell to my budget conscious friend. I began to explain how delicious dim sum was and that it wasn’t that expensive plus she never had it before so she agreed to go in with me. When we walked in I began to doubt my choice since there was only one other man in the restaurant at peak lunch time but sat down and figured we would only order small things to test the waters. The menu was explained in the following three languages: first the Chinese names with Dutch spellings such as Tjieuw, Tjok, or Sieuw that just won’t be used in the English spelling of the same name, then a description in Dutch with a final shortened description in English.
The dim sum turned out to exceed my expectations in authenticity and I went on to order a second round. I began to wonder who had done the strategic business location service for this restaurant but then again I had found it so maybe there was lots of business when the Gouda cheese was actually out and about and so I grabbed their take away menu for further research. I later learned that the Golden Leaf Restaurant had a sister branch in an upscale neighborhood in The Hague and was featured in Time Out Amsterdam.
If eating some good Dim Sum wasn’t enough, I eventually ended the trip by purchasing a towel and a bar of soap. Being no Martha Stewart, the last and only time I ever thought of buying a towel while traveling was in 1999 when I had gone to Cologne and had forgotten to pack one. That ordeal had consisted of my whining that I was wasting precious traveling time in a department store trying to find the cheapest towel available. This time around, Balinea Bed + Bad not only tempted me into purchasing a towel, I had to stop myself from buying the matching soap dish, dispenser and tumbler. The store stocked goods from suppliers such as Aquanova, Vipp and Mister Mickey a combination of Dutch and Danish bath and accessories designers.
After reading about Gouda in travel guides later, I realized why I hadn’t seen a massive spectacle in homage to their cheese (wrong season) and that it was also famous for its clay pipes and candles (never knew). We had looked for the visitor information center but had missed it and according to Frommer’s it’s closed in November. Nevertheless, I left Gouda happy with my new towel and impressed by its Chinese Restaurant.
Balinea Bed + Bad – Korte Tiendeweg 24a, 2801 JT Gouda Tel: 0182 – 507184, http://www.balinea.nl/
Gold Leaf –Lange Tiendeweg 74, 2801 KK Gouda Tel: 0182 – 550077, Fax: 0182- 551 918, open 7 days a week from 12:00 to 22:00, http://www.goldenleaf1.nl/