Only the best of the best aubergines and onions are selected

Eating with Eichholtz


Christmas is just around the corner. This time of year never fails to remind me of Dickens. It’s always December in his stories: freezing cold outside, a blazing hearth fire inside. This contrast is reflected by the contrast between outsiders suffering hardship and the comfort of a warm home. Dickens’s writing was inspired by his own childhood experiences. When he was 12, Dickens’s father was imprisoned for failing to repay a debt; his wife and young children moved into his prison cell with him. Little Charles was too old to join them and had to take care of himself for a while, living on the streets. 

Sometimes it seems as though our society is slowly reverting to those times, with more and more homeless people, families that can’t make ends meet and people getting lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. Our government seems unable to resolve these issues in a successful way. Fortunately, there are also people taking initiative.

Last Saturday, Serve the City cooked a Christmas dinner for people in Maastricht who are suffering hardship. Homeless people, asylum seekers waiting for residence permits, single older people and families in financial difficulties came together to eat a meal with UM students. The Christmas dinner was this month’s instalment of Serve the City’s monthly community dinners, for which about fifty people are invited to come cook, eat and make music together. The goal is to create warmth and connection.   

Two of the people who started this initiative are Matthijs Korevaar, a trainee research assistant at the School of Business and Economics, and Rosie Roys, a third-year bachelor’s student in the UM Science Programme. Matthijs is a Dutch guy who decided to get a PhD after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degree from UM and will soon go out into the big wide world. Rosie is a cosmopolitan with Irish roots who grew up in said big wide world and is now enjoying the cosy life Maastricht has to offer. Rosie organises the dinners and Matthijs takes care of the financial side. 

In this month’s instalment of Eating with Eichholtz, we’re buying vegetables for the Christmas dinner. There’s no better place for us to go than Maastricht’s wonderful Friday market. I’ve previously written about the fish market; one day I will write about the poultry and cheese vendors. Today, though, it’s all about fruits and vegetables. The community dinners, though not necessarily vegetarian, are low in meat for financial reasons.

Matthijs and Rosie introduce me to Hana Rahim Abid. She’s the master chef who prepares the community dinners, together with the students who volunteer to cook. Serve the City helped her family out in the past. Touched by the warm attention she received back then, she now volunteers on a regular basis. She knows exactly what the fruits, vegetables and herbs cost at the various market stalls, the Lidl and the Asian shops in Maastricht. We follow her around town.

The Bananenboxer – the largest vegetable stall on the Friday market, located between town hall and the city office – is Hana’s favourite. I’m a loyal fan, too. Their fruits and vegetables tend to be ripe for eating in summer. In winter, though, you can easily buy their produce a few days in advance. 

Hana has to be extremely critical, as Serve the City doesn’t have much money to spend. Today, the fruit is cheaper at the large vegetable stall on the Hoenderstraat, between the market square and the Meuse. That stall also offers a great variety of products year round. Meanwhile, the herbs are cheaper at the Asian shop. As a result, we only buy our vegetables from the Bananenboxer. They offer an overwhelming quantity and variety of produce for very little money. Wandering among their products always makes me feel blessed. Huge piles of pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, corncobs, cabbages, and various kinds of lettuce… it’s paradise for enthusiastic cooks. 

Hana pays a lot of attention to her purchases, expertly inspecting each and every vegetable. She feels every tomato to determine its ripeness and judges every bell pepper by its colour and the shine of its skin. She selects only the best of the best aubergines and onions. She sniffs and squeezes the limes (seven for €1) before placing them in the wheeled shopping bag she brought with her to the market. When the large bag is filled with high-quality vegetables, enough to feed at least fifty mouths, she only has to pay €25.15. Where else can you get a deal like that?

Piet Eichholtz

If you’d like to join Matthijs and Rosie in volunteering at Serve the City Maastricht to cook, serve food, play the guitar or do something else (they do much more than just community dinners!), please visit the website: Financial donations are also welcome.

Only the best of the best aubergines and onions are selected