Fayonnaise… or Fail-o-naise?

Look in any Dutchman’s fridge or pantry, and you will probably immediately notice it: a large jar of mayonnaise. We are besotted with the stuff! We consume mayonnaise in artery-clogging quantities, especially on fries.’Patat mét’ (Fries with) is the essential Dutch street food, the snack of choice for millions. And no, I am not referring to the thin limp lukewarm travesty that you get at fastfood chains (who do not deserve to be mentioned by name in this blog!) No: proper ‘patat’ is thick, chunky, made from fresh potatoes that have been twice fried. Piping hot in a pointed paper bag, with a generous dollop of mayonnaise on top.

Sidebar: of course the Dutch have -along with the Belgians- invented countless ways of eating fried potatoes. Our colonial Indonesian heritage introduced us to peanut sauce (as is eaten with satay) and somewhere in history and enterprising Dutch gourmet apparently discovered that warm spicy peanut sauce is simply gorgeous with ‘patat’. Later still, even more avant-garde snack lovers combined the peanut sauce with mayonnaise ánd chopped onions to create the most delicious -or vile- snack ever: ‘Patatje Oorlog’: ‘War fries’. Which turn every stomach into a battle zone!

‘Patatje Oorlog’: the infamous Dutch ‘War Fries’.

Anyway, back to mayonnaise. A very simple sauce made of egg yolks, oil, salt, a drop of vinegar and some patient vigorous whisking. And yes, self-made mayonnaise really is nicer than anything you can buy in the supermarket. I make my mayo the easy way: everything together in a beaker -I use the whole egg, not just the yolks, that gives a much lighter and airier sauce!-, put in the immersion blender, a quick bzzzz, slowly pull the blender out, hey presto! But if you feel like doing it he traditional way by dripping in the oil drop by drop, go ahead and knock yourself out.

I have noticed that in the English speaking world, mayonnaise is well known and readily available… but just not used on fries. Instead people seem to prefer ketchup or tomato sauce, or vinegar or even worse: brown sauce. All the spawn of Satan of course to a real European food lover! When I was in Australia for the first time in november 2000, my partner and I were on our way from Sydney to Melbourne by car. An endless drive, and I was happy to stop at a roadside eatery and stretch the legs. And yum yum, they had nice thick chunky chips on the menu!

Foolish me: I then dared to ask for some mayonnaise with my chips. I knew they had mayonnaise, because they were selling sandwiches with chicken and mayo. The obese lady behind the counter looked at me as if I had just asked her to vomit on my chips. Baffled, she even got the chef out of the kitchen and asked me to kindly repeat the outrageous thing I had just asked for. Mayonnaise please. Yes, to go with the chips. I will even give you a dollar extra. The chef asked me if I did not mean to ask for tomato sauce instead. Or perhaps some mustard? No, I remained adamant: it was mayo wanted and I was not going to leave without it. After a minute of intense debate, the chef yielded and gave me a spoonful of the pale golden sauce I so craved for. But all the time I was eating, he, the obese checkout lady as well as several of the local clientele glared at me as if I was in the movie Priscilla and had just walked in wearing a dress made of slippers. I bet that to this day they regale eachother with stories of the Day That Strange European Guy Asked For Mayonnaise With His Chips.

Was that the worst mayo-related anecdote from Australia? It was until 2010, when we came over to Oz to celebrate Christmas with the inlaws. My mother in law, Fay, is a great cook. Nobody bakes a roast like she does, and her pork crackling is to die (or to kill -yes sister-in-law Kerry, I am referring to you!) for. So when I was helping out in the kitchen preparing a salad, I asked her if she had any salad dressing or vinaigrette. ‘Use mayonnaise!’, she chirped, ‘I just made a jar full of it!’. Yummm, home made mayonnaise, I prefer that any day over Hellman’s bland goo. I was surprised it looked slightly orange, and it smelled… well… sweet. Not like mayonnaise. Tentatively, I put a teaspoon in and licked some of Fay’s mayonnaise off it…

My tongue must have recoiled back as if it was springloaded! Fay’s mayonnaise did not just smell sweet… it was! It turned out she had used a recipe -chemical formula, more like- from the war, when apparently there were no eggs or oil around. She had made mayonnaise from condensed milk and vinegar, with a dollop of marmalade to make it even more inedible.

It was the most revolting thing I had ever tasted and I am afraid my face told Fay so. She was deeply insulted I did not approve of her Fayonnaise, as I called it. We did manage to patch things up over the following weeks, but secretly I think she may still not have forgiven me. Oh well. We’re going there again in a few months time, time will tell… I am almost tempted to give Fayonnaise another try. Not on fries, but as a cake frosting!

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