Because it’s now officially the Christmas season, I’m going to kick off work early today and go on the hunt for some stroopwafels. I’m feeling pretty good about my field trip, knowing that, soon, my sweet tooth will be sated for the low, low price of 140 calories.
My friend Jessica introduced me to these little lovelies last Christmas and I have, admittedly, been counting down the days until December so I can once again partake.
You see, they are reportedly always available this time of year at Aldi.
When Jessica first told me about them, my first thought was: Oh great, again with the Aldi? How many times was I going to hear someone extol the virtues of this place, which, as far as I could tell from the outside, looked like a very sedate car dealership?
Pre-stroopwafel, I’d visited the store simply because Jessica, who tends to know stuff, kept telling me how great it was.
Well, I’ll tell you, dear readers, I was capital-U underwhelmed when I walked in. The lighting was wincey. Nothing was unpacked. The carts cost a quarter. And nothing made a heap of a lot of sense. Yes, I appreciated being greeted by European chocolate, but, moving on, why was I suddenly in the bone broth and lemon curd aisle? How come, in the very middle of the store, I was finding crocus bulbs for sale? And thousand-piece puzzles?
Granted, I thought this as I put a puzzle and 50 bulbs (for $8.99!) in my expensive cart. But, ultimately, my cart didn’t get that much more full. I bid adieu to the seated cashier and went on my way, feeling like I’d somehow missed the punchline.
In the meantime, Jessica had moved to Lexington and was now extolling the virtues of Trader Joe’s.
It’s complicated, but Aldi and Trader Joe’s are related. Please allow me to dive a bit into that interesting history:
In 1946, Karl and Theo Albrecht took over their mother’s grocery store after returning home from World War II, in which they fought for their native Germany. Dedicated to selling non-perishable items inside a no-frills space, their approach quickly gained traction with German shoppers, and they expanded.
In 1960, Karl and Theo reportedly split Aldi in two after having a disagreement about whether to sell cigarettes. Pro-cig Karl ran Aldi Sud, operating in south Germany. Theo got Aldi Nord, taking over stores in the northern section of the country. Meanwhile, their expansion continued into the rest of Europe and, eventually, around the world.
In 1979, Theo’s Aldi Nord bought Trader Joe’s, further expanding the Albrecht fortune. Theo died at age 88 in 2010 and Karl died at 94 in 2014. Together, their empire is worth $38.8 billion.
Anyways, Jessica encouraged me to visit Trader Joe’s and, because it was near where I normally shopped and, again, because it was Jessica, I gave it a go. Once again, I came away feeling a little confused. Granted, things were unpacked there, but wasn’t, I mean, wasn’t just about everything, like, frozen? Did I need frozen sesame chicken and broccoli in my life? Or frozen chocolate lava cakes? How was I going to know what was good and what was so-so? So I left with a few piddly things in my cart and admitted to Jessica I didn’t get it. She responded by patiently shaking her head.
Fast forward a year, and I became obsessed with mayonnaise, which led me to conduct a mayonnaise tasting in which Duke’s came out on top. Upon learning my findings, my neighbor Teresa, the grande dame of all things foodie, informed me that, yes, Duke’s is pretty good, but Trader Joe’s-brand mayonnaise is so good “you can eat it with a spoon.”
Again with the Trader Joe’s! Well, I scuttled off to TJ’s and bought some mayonnaise. Sure enough, Teresa was right, and I’ve only been buying their brand ever since.
A few months later, I received a newsletter email from Bon Appétit, the subject of which was, “Trader Joe’s newest products are chillingly good.” OK! Now I was cooking with gas. So I copied the list, went to TJ’s, and that’s how I discovered their Chinese soup dumplings and their “everything but the bagel” dip. So good! And with their mayo so superior, I started diving into their Dijon and tahini and soup broth and, well, now I basically believe Trader Joe’s kicks ass.
Which brings me back to Aldi. Despite my Trader Joe’s awakening, I was still slow to warm to Aldi’s, even though we have a branch right here in Somerset. It was, I’ll admit, those ugly, soulless boxes that just kept me hesitating.
But then I met my new friend Angela, who is a serious Aldi devotee. We were talking about soy sauce, and I concluded I might need to conduct a taste test to find a better brand than Kikkoman. To which she said, “I know you get tired of me being the Aldi spokesperson, but have you tried their soy sauce?”
In the meantime, she had introduced me to Aldi’s split brioche hot dog buns and frozen Argentinian shrimp. Both items were far superior to anything else you can get nearby.
So. Whew. That brings us up to speed. So, this afternoon I am headed to Aldi, yes, to buy stroopwafels, but also to buy soy sauce so I can put the final piece in place for my taste test.
And, long story short, I’m beginning to think you should too.