Biscoff Spread (Speculoos à Tartiner)

speculoos cream

I don’t have conclusive proof, but I’m going to say it anyways: the cashiers at my local Monoprix are perhaps the least pleasant people in all of France. I once needed to use their photo machine for some documents, which required a €5 note. So after waiting in two lines, asking two different cashiers to change a €20, they both refused. So I went downstairs to the supermarket and bought some groceries, which totaled something like €9.68.

When the cashier handed me back a €10, I politely requested 2 fives, mentioning that I needed one to use their photo machine. When she refused, I asked her why. And she snapped back, “Because I don’t have any change!” So I walked to the end of the counter where I could get a pretty clear view of her her cash box brimming with bills. Even though she had a sizable wad of €5 notes stacked up in there, if I wanted to change, I had to go back upstairs to the one particular register that is equipped to give change.

After waiting behind four customers, which I won’t tell you how long that took, when it was my turn, I handed over the €10, asking for 2 fives.

When she said, “What for?”…it took every gram of patience for me not to say, “So I don’t strangle you.”

Lucky for her, instead, I told Romain about it later that day. “You should’ve just gone to the métro station and used their photo machine. Plus they’ll give you change if you need it” he advised, as if that was the only natural thing to do. (But it’s not just change that’s in short supply; it’s sympathy as well. One day I went to pay, and frantically rummaging through my pockets, I thought I’d lost my wallet. The cashier’s response? She started laughing at me. ) It was then I realized that in France, social programs and public companies work much better than private ones. Except Apple, who I am convinced should run the country. And open a Genius Bar in city hall, while they’re at it.

speculoos in jar

If you want to see a French person go ballistic, ask them what they think of their bank. (Interestingly, defying any sort of logic, I just learned that I can only get change only at the branch of my bank where I opened my account, but not at any others.) But the métro, high-speed trains, and French health care system work exceedingly well. In fact, it was strange to watch the health care debate in America since that system is teeming with flaws, and not one time did I hear anyone talk about the French model.

speculoos jar

Most of the arguments against reform went along the lines of “I don’t want the government telling me what to do”, which is unusual because in France, the government doesn’t tell you what to do: your doctor prescribes treatment, then you get it done. There’s no gatekeeper or anyone deciding yes or no, except your doctor. And my doctor is so nice that she prescribed me a free colonoscopy earlier this year, which included a plateful of delicious madeleines in the recovery room afterward.

Even though it’s hard to get a free colonoscopy, I’d imagine, there’s plenty of other good things to be had in America. And when Romain and I went to Florida last year, I brought an empty suitcase just to fill up with all-American goodies at the supermarket. When we hit the register and I’d loaded up the conveyor belt with natural cocoa powder, cupcake liners, marshmallow cream, butterscotch chips, tinned tomatillos, unscented shaving gel, organic crunchy peanut butter, and Orville Redenbacker’s, I spotted the rack of candy, with York Peppermint Patties piled on it, and said aloud that I should’ve got one.

The cashier looked at me, and said, “Hold on just a minute.” Now to anyone who lives in France, you might want to sit down when you read this next line—she actually walked around the counter and grabbed one off the rack for me.

And of course, because I was getting one—even if he didn’t know what it was, Romain wanted one too. And when she looked into those sad French eyes of his, she said, “Honey, do you want one too?” and went over to get him one as well.

speculoos on bread

When we were back in Paris, telling his parents about the trip, I could detect him getting a little misty-eyed when he said, “And the supermarket— pas de stresse!.” Which was something I never really thought about, although I recounted some of the startling differences between upscale American supermarkets with my local one here in my Paris book.

In spite of the fact that Americans think the French only eat wonderful foods, a trip to the supermarket can yield some odd surprises. Yes, my supermarket carries every conceivable flavor of yogurt. Yet they don’t have plain. Harry’s Bread, the most popular bread in France, and similar to Wonder Bread, I just learned now comes in a crustless, snowy-white variety. And how surprised was I recently to see a group of teenagers walking out of a supermarket with a jumbo bag of Pepperidge Farms cookies, literally, the size of a sofa cushion.

However I’m not immune to this creeping bit of Americana dans le supermarché. And a while back I was in line, admiring the jars of Nutella lined up in the unreachable distance. While pondering getting out of line (I can’t imagine asking someone to hold you place while you ran to get something you forgot), I scanned the shelf and saw a jar of something called Speculoos à Tartiner.

For those of you unfamiliar with them, Speculoos are Belgian spice cookies, similar to gingersnaps. They have a bracing nip of spices, enhanced with dark brown sugar, and I don’t mind at all when I order a coffee and one comes alongside as a petit cadeau.

speculoos cream

When I worked at Chez Panisse way back when, the worst thing you could imagine was to run into a co-worker at…of all places, the supermarket. Because sure enough, there would inevitably be a box of Mallomars or Tostitos or a pack of Ballpark franks tossed in your cart. And you were completely busted.

So after I ended my three month boycott of Monoprix (an act which I’m sure went unnoticed), when I was coming home from Monoprix last week, hauling my reusable somewhat transparent shopping bag, I ran into not one…but four different readers…who stopped me to say hello. One told me that she “…laughed her ass off reading my Paris book.” I’m polite so I didn’t ask her to turn around for verification, but I took her word for her.

(To the cashiers at Monoprix: See? Is being polite really all that hard?)

In case any of those four people are reading this, the reason I was being so furtive was that I’d picked up a jar of Speculoos cream at long last. I don’t know if the French are label-readers like we Americans are, but I did take a look at the ingredients. I won’t recount what was in it, because I find all this talk about interdit ingredients a bit ennuyeax. In the states, everyone is in a tizzy about whatever is the bad-guy of the moment, and there were likely a few in there. But since the label proudly noted that this paste won a Saveur de l’année 2009, some sort of French taste award, I reasoned that if it’s good enough for French tastemakers, it’s good enough for me.

Luckily no one saw the forbidden jar in my sack—or they were just being polite, and when I got it home, I twisted off the top, curious to how a spread made with spicy cookies in it would taste.

speculoos spoon

Oh la vâche.

That means, sort of, “Holy cow!” in French. Of course, they don’t use the exclamation mark because that would be très américain. And aside from expecting an occasional token of kindness from the cashiers at the supermarket, I wouldn’t want to be accused of that either. Still, I gotta give it to those French tastemakers: the Speculoos à Tartiner was amazing. Imagine in not-too-sweet gingersnap, spicy and bold, that you can smear over a piece of baguette. Or lick right off the spoon. Move over Nutella. (Unless there’s a chocolate version. Then we’ll talk.)

This is a pretty big jar, and I feel a lot better now that I’ve come out and no longer feel the need to hide my jar of speculoos paste from passing strangers. But because it’s so good, I think I’d better hide it from myself, as this is seriously dangerous stuff. So hopefully this jar will likely last me a while. But if it doesn’t, I know where I can get more. And I’ll even brave the cashiers at the supermarket checkout to get it.



UPDATE: It seems as if this spread is finally be imported into the United States. It’s available on Amazon and may possibly be found in specialty food stores in your area. It’s also available through the Biscoff Online Store.



Related Links and Posts

Chocolate That’s “Too Good to Use”

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

WTF

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps

L’Enfer de Numericable

Wielding Her Tampon

Non-Fat Gingersnaps

15 Things I’d Miss About Paris If I Moved Away

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned on the Site

speculoos cream

Oddly, the “Biscoff spread” (as they call it elsewhere) keeps disappearing from the Biscoff website, which sells it in the United States. You might wish to inquire at the Lotus Bakeries worldwide site for availability.



181 comments

  • Everywhere I go in Europe cashiers either will not or don’t want to break larger bills for smaller ones…..especially here in Sicily!!! Mamma mia!

  • You make this sound soo good David. I really need to get my hands on this. Today is speculoos making day for me!

  • Okay, now I will be searching the gourmet ghettos of the Bay Area for this…I wonder if they have it at the Pasta Shop? Or if I have to bribe a Parisian friend to mail me some? Oh my…

  • AnnaZed: I’m not a fan of the “Have a Nice Day!” robotic service, either. But I do like it when people are somewhat engaged with customers. Waiters in France are very professional, friendly, but not overtly so, and simply do their job without being intentionally disagreeable.

    sasha: No. He was right and I learned something about French culture and public service. I try not to vent to him too much, since this is his culture and for him c’est normal. But, as mentioned earlier, these things drive the French crazy, too.

    Cooking in Mexico: Interestingly, in France, they don’t hand you the change (when you get it, that is), they put it on the counter, often on a plastic tray for you. I was told they do that so you can count it discreetly, rather than if they dumped a handful of change in your palm, which you’d have to verify in a more obvious manner.

    Adrien: I know that people outside of Paris are quite different (just like folks in New York City are quite different than the people in Upstate New York.) I did a post, 8 Coping Tips for Living in Paris, as suggested that people (visitors and residents) take a trip outside of Paris as the folks are quite different. In fact, last year were went to a supermarket in the countryside and I was astounded that the prices were about 50% less than in Paris. Another benefit!

    FBC: I think it’s fine for them to sit. Especially as someone who spent 34 years standing up, working as a chef! And I don’t mind self-bagging, but it does screw up the rhythm at the checkout since you have to bag your groceries and fumble for change at the same time, while the checker sits there and watches. Or starts ringing up the next person, and mixing their groceries with yours. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the end of the conveyor, with the person behind me, trying to separate our groceries from each others.

    It’s my Franprix that doesn’t have plain yogurt, not the Monoprix. But they do have every other flavor: kiwi, coconut, lemon macaron, pistachio, chocolate…

    Anna: Well, it’s only around €2.5 here, so it wasn’t much of a risk. If you don’t like it, I’d imagine you could sell the rest on eBay!

    Jenny: Yes, they do take credit cards. Generally you need to spend €15 or more.

    Hajnal: A friend who lives near the Place d’Italie, I was talking to her about the supermarket, and she said, “Why on earth would you go to the supermarket?”

    I basically go for staples; milk, orange juice, and sugar. But it’s true, and I think that’s the reason that the outdoor markets continue to flourish in Paris, because the merchants are much friendlier and it’s a far more enjoyable way to shop.

  • I laughed a lot with your post :) It one of the things I like the most about your blog: it makes me smile. It also makes me remember the week I spent in Paris some years ago :D

    I was surprised to read about the unpolite cashiers, because I had the completely opposite impression. We didn’t spend too much time in supermarkets, and we didn’t meet to many cashiers either, so maybe we were just lucky to find a polite ones.

    Maybe my perception was altered too, because I was so happy to spend a week far away from my parents and skip school that everything seemed wonderful to me (except for the prices of the vegetables. Being a vegan, I would be already ruined if I lived in Paris….)

    Maybe I was also unconsciously comparing the cashiers from Paris with the cashiers from Moscow, and then I can assure you: your guys from Paris will look like the most polite and friendly in the world.

  • I don’t mind if the cashiers at Monoprix or Franprix are rude or unhelpful, but I detest being cheated when I buy something from the butcher at the Franprix yesterday! The price tag clearly says “travers” (ribs) costs 5.59€ a kilo but when I got the couple of pieces weighed, packed and price tagged, it showed a per kilo price of 8.90€. I don’t know enough French to argue with the guy – he knows I don’t speak French well and I already had trouble asking for it! So, people, don’t just read the food labels, read the price tags, and read the cashier’s receipt that comes with your change, better yet, count your change! I bought something which was discounted the other day from the same Franprix but upon checking the receipt on the way out, they had charged me the full price. Now, would I dare go face the cashier and ask for a refund! Maybe the French readers should give us Americianne a lesson on how to deal with those cashiers and butchers! I love Paris and have great French friends, and I would come back year after year to enjoy the great food – I suppose I have to take the good with the not so good! Viva la France!

  • Taipan: I never, ever, ever buy anything that’s on sale or on ‘promotion’ at the supermarket without passing it under the machine that reads the bar code, and lets you know the price, before I hit the check-out stand.

    Just about every supermarket has what they call, I think, a vérificateur and you can wave the bar code under it and it’ll tell you the price. I’ve had too many disagreements with cashiers about items being rung up at the wrong price, and it’s much easier just to check before I get to the cashier.

    (Manufacturer’s are on to this too, and often have packaging that gives you 15% more rather than rely on the supermarkets to apply a discounted price.)

  • I think you really need to get out to the countryside more :-0 My supermarket staff here in the Touraine du Sud are charming. I once bought something large and heavy and said I would pay for it and take it to the car then come back and go round for my groceries. The cashier said don’t worry, she would just take the bar code off the item, I could then load it into the car and pay when I came through with my groceries. I could easily have just driven off with it and never come back.

    The same supermarket gave me a sample of the Speculoos paste. I’m afraid it just tasted like raw spicy biscuit paste. Nothing special, not addictive. I adore the biscuits themselves, but for me Nutella or Dulce Leche is much better straight out of the jar. BTW, yesterday I was introduced to Sirop de Liege. If you ever need an injection of sugar, that’s the stuff to use!

  • You can find speculoos cookies in American supermarkets under the alias “Dutch windmill” cookies.

  • David, you are absolutely right about the reason markets are always popular with Parisians. The market on Avenue d’Italie is packed on sundays and thursdays, and the Monoprix is empty during market hours. The market is where I buy all my vegetable, fruit and cheese, and I go to the supermarket only for non-food stuff.

    Most people in my building have given up on the Monoprix because of the prices (on average 20% more expensive than other supermarkets in the area) and the generally disgusting attitude towards clients (yeah, I am looking at you, bald gum-chewing midget on platform shoes). Hopefully someday, the supermarket management will get it: it is not normal to have to wait 20 minutes at the cashier when you are only the third person in line.

  • I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with speculoos. I am no longer allowed to purchase it and bring into my home because I will go through it with a spoon in a day and although that sounds good, my bum is not too fond of such impulsive eating decisions.

    People often offer to get me some because they know I go nuts for it, but I just live vicariously through others, like you, who share my love for this Belgian gem. Far better than nutella!

  • I’m with the Speculoos Ice Cream gang… Cant wait!!! (trés American exclamation marks). I remember tasting the complimentary biscuits with coffee in Greece of all places and then once again in Paris. If I recall I too exclaimed something along the lines of “Oh la vâche.” Ah, what sweet memories revived, merci.

    Ciao
    Eleonora

  • OMG – I just found a website in the UK that sells Speculoos a Tartiner by mail order and I’ll place an order as soon as I’ve finished this mail. It’ll be my undoing as I LOVE speculoos.
    A friend just brought me a Zoku pop maker from the States, am looking forward to making a spekuloos ice cream lolly.

    Luckily I almost never come across a surly cashier in any of the supermarkets I use and most will have a nice smile, be very helpful and even involve you in a little chat about the weather or comment on some unusual ingredient in your trolley. Maybe that’s because Brighton has such good vibes and people seem to genuinely like living by the sea, no matter what they do for a living.

    Many years ago whilst still a student in Germany barcode scanning had not been introduced at my local Aldi. The checkout girls had to know the price of every single item in the store BY HEART (!) and I swear, it was impossible to beat them speedwise. I don’t think I ever managed to match my bag packing to their checkout speed and I’m pretty fast. I bet they don’t reminisce about ‘the good old days’.

    Thanks for your great post David! Please invent spekuloos recipes!!

  • Eleanora (et al): The problem with creating an ice cream with this is that it’s not easily available elsewhere. (Like my Pistachio Gelato recipe.) And if it is, it may be rather pricey. So if folks come to Europe, it is worth trying out a jar. Or two.

    It is an intriguing idea, though, and I might just churn up a batch or two myself, and perhaps report back…

    Carol: That’s unusual because the pharmacists are usually really nice and helpful, although I’m certain there are exceptions.

    I did bring a guest from the United States to a pharmacy who wasn’t feeling well and the pharmacist spent about ten minutes asking her a lot of questions, and figuring out the right medication to give her. When the pharmacist was done, she went in the back and brought out a remedy. The guest looked at her, then briskly said, “No thank you”, and was ready to go.

    The pharmacist gave me a look, like “Wtf?” Perhaps it was the same one, and she remembered that experience! ; )

  • I love this on my slice of brioche in the morning. It’s my 2nd favorite after Nutella! You can also get the crispy kind in Holland, but I haven’t tried it yet…

  • We have these cookies in Taiwan but I never knew there was a spread, too! I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for it.

  • ice cream is not the only thing you could make with this. I think about putting some of this paste under pears or apples slices, upon a pastry shell or inside a puff pastry ?
    In fact I think it could have the same uses as dulce de leche ?

  • Oh the French! Some are so incredibly French!

    As a Dutchie I am proud to say that speculoos (=French, Dutch = speculaas) is a threat from Belgium and the Netherlands. (Flanders was part of the Netherlands until they started a riot in a theatre.)

    David, are you familiar with the sort of smaller version, which are as big as a 1 Euro coin: Kruidnoten (“ginger nuts”)? These are highly addictive! I always “have to” eat them in a “good amount”. Like 2 or 10 or 15. 16 is even better! ;)

    My dad (son of a boulanger) taught me to eat the speculaas cookies on my bread.

    Kruidnoten & speculaas are readily available around Sinterklaas. = Saint Nicolas. What is celebrated on/around Dec 05. My favourite holiday!

    Most of the time the cookies are on the shelfs no later then September. You can also find them in some parts of Germany where they also celebrate Sinterklaas.

    I have not tried the spread yet, but will. Until then I will eat my bread with the speculaas cookies! :)

  • Such a well-timed post! I was trying to explain speculoos to a dear friend last night. I tried to explain it as a cross between nutella and gingerbread dough, but I think it just left my friend slightly grossed out.

    @ Tuti- crispy kind of speculoos? Where do you get that? Albert Hein?

    @granuaile- I live in NL as well and LOVE kruidnoten as well and when I’m feeling naughty- the chocolate covered ones!

  • First comment here, but I read your blog for some time now…As a french person, I find it very funny to read about Paris from your point of view! Especially as living in Brittany, I have been to Paris only once, and I remember, being a child, that I disliked that big grey and noisy city…

    Not that I would like to live there even now, I prefer my small town where cashier are nice and polite, even in hard-discount stores(!), but I sometimes dream to come to Paris to buy half the products of G.Detou store!

    As for the speculoos pasta, I was offered some by Belgian friends, but I don’t know what to do of this over-sweet thing, want me to send it to you ? Actually, I’m not a fan of the speculoos cookies either, but i could kill for some “roudor” !

  • As a health professional turned student of la langue française I so enjoy reading your blog! I have had 9 months full of my very own Welcome To France moments and find such humor and relief knowing I am not the only one. In fact, today has been an I-Hate-the-Learning-a-New-Language-Process day, so I turned to your blog for some respite.

    I’m so thrilled that you’ve been able to experience the joy-in-a-jar we all call Speculoos! But more than that, I just wanted to acknowledge your efforts and thank you for your one-man-grève with monoprix . . . I recently decided it was time to end mine with my local poste . . . and like you, I’m pretty sure I was the only one affected.

    So here’s to the hope of being a pas très americaine à Paris!

  • I have been obsessing over pâte à tartiner these last few days, anod now I see this!
    If I may throw in my two-cent, my experience dealing with the French has taught me that a) if they yell at you, yell louder (they really respect that)
    b) if they are rude, tell them how it makes you feel and that they should be ashamed of themselves (it won’t make them ashamed, but they will respect you)
    In my humble opinion, the worst thing is to act like a polite civilized human being that your mother taught you to be for 20 years.
    I remember yelling out of the top of my lungs at a bus driver who swerved too brusquely off a curb when I was 6 months pregnant; yelling back at a rude lady at the Fontainebleau castle (she later loved me) etc etc etc
    Forgive me, but I had to write this; your post hit a soft nerve.

  • When I go to France in November I’m bringing an extra bag for speculoos spread and other food. But mostly for speculoos.

  • Apologies if this is already addressed in the above comments – I can’t pause to read them because my baby is making the face that immediately precedes her wail for food (akin to a civil service tornado warning). Why are Parisiennes in the service industry rude? And, maybe more importantly, do they think they are rude?

  • Yuk. I can’t believe you like it! I worship the Speculoo as a cookie. I received a free jar from a food salesman. My kids love it.

  • When I saw the title of this post in my email I thought…What the?

    Then I was hooked all the way through and I laughed out loud several times. And then I found myself reading the comments, which are also entertaining.

    And then I realized it was a work day, so I didn’t get through all 123.

    Superb job on the story and on eliciting such good responses, David. Made my morning.

  • I discovered speculoos when I was a college student doing a year abroad and have never understood how they haven’t caught on in the States. Whenever I travel to Europe now I always stock up on as many packages I can fit in my suitcase. Now, it seems I will have to make room for Speculoos a Tartiner as well! I think I may need to start bringing an extra suitcase….

  • Hmm…a super-market in Florida??? Was it Publix, perhaps? They will bend over backwards for you, there. :D Nice to know… Also, FYI, Apple and Google are already trying to take over the world. But patience is a virtue, you know. First they have to rip everyone’s money and private info, then they can defeat Microsoft! :) Tres Tongue-in-Check :D

  • David,

    My daughter & I discovered Biscoff spread a couple of months ago after watching a Throwdown with Bobby Flay….when we saw the tasty spread oozing on a freshly made waffle, we paused the show & shoved each other to get to google to find some.

    Luckily, we were successful & ordered off the “official site” scarcely able to live while for waiting for the UPS truck. Of course, *you* know how worth the wait it was! The day it was delivered, we reordered. How could we be without a supply?!

    Our favorite way to eat it is slightly melted & using Biscoff cookies (shockingly available at Wal-mart!) as spoons. The trouble is, we have to hide it from each other which means I am ever tempted to get into her jar & she’s struggling to resist mine….

    Michele

  • David,
    I just finished your ‘Paris’ book in one sitting! And currently, the carnitas recipe from that book is crisping away in my oven. Thank you for writing such a humorous account of living abroad, cooking, and keeping your sanity. My first five minutes in Paris in the Gare du Nord involved being cussed out in French for using the elevator with my 60 year old mother and our luggage! (the escalator was broken!) Little did she know, I speak French so I gave her the ‘what for’. Every moment after that was bliss and the kind patisserie owner near my hotel always said a chirpy tres bien! when I would order with my horrific accent. I truly enjoy your writing, and you have inspired me to be creative again in the kitchen.
    Thanks!
    Amy W in Phoenix,AZ

  • Monoprix is not one of my fond memories from my recent and first visit to Paris. I looked for Speculoos butter but couldn’t find it. Wish I’d known about this spread before I left, sounds diving.
    As for colonoscopies, they are free here in Canada, too. I had one this Friday, two weeks after my return from Paris. No madeleines, though, just a nice cold glass of (free) OJ!

  • Forgive me if this is already been said, but I am in the States and just received two jars of Speculoos spread through http://www.biscoff.com. The site is deceiving; looks like they only sell single serve, but you can in fact buy them in the jar. However, you must order two jars at a time. They often have e-mail promotions for reduced shipping, etc, so I suggest that you sign up for their e-mail blasts. Type in “spread” in the search engine on the site – currently they are running a special of 15% off for 2 jars.

    I asked the company (Lotus) that imports the spread and cookies…they do not sell the spread in any U.S. stores, you must order it online. I first discovered it in New York at the Wafels & Dinges truck. They put speculoos on a fresh Liege wafel and it was heavenly!

  • Oh la vache… that you would want a colonoscopy! What a delightful and hilarious post!

  • So funny! Some spanish banks are like that too. Try paying the electricity bill or a tax here, it’s crazy. You get sent the bill, you have to go to the bank to pay it, but only on certain days of the week and between certain hours and you can’t pay it BEFORE a date printed on the bill….the list goes on. I’m convinced they make it as difficult as possible to make you pay by direct debit! Very often you have to go to a specific bank too.
    Regarding your shopping in the USA, I have only just found out that along with chocolate chips you can get mint chips there. Ooooooh, I can hardly wait, we have a visitor from the US soon and I’m hoping my hints have landed with a thud and I may just get some! I adore baking, actually addicted to it and really envy all those lovely goodies so easily available in the US that are not here in Europe (at least not without a huge price tag and hours of travelling!)

    (David – posted a yummy celebration carrot cake on my site you may like – please take a look!)

  • We’ve been visiting Paris and the french countryside for years and have had all kinds of interactions, both wonderful and horribly wrong. For the latter our Parisian friends have recently given us the acronym to descibe the situation:

    FWAG. France Wins AGain. Use it in all siituations when the attitude, incompetence or antiquated rules leave you helpless!

  • This totally warranted rant against the Monoprix’s lack of customer service reminded me of a friend who’s fully bilingual (French mom, American dad) and who has a very unusual sense of humor. He’s noticed that the French are very predictable. They say bonjour when they enter, au revoir when they exit and they eat at the same time every day. In an effort to snap them out of their monotony, he has a tendancy to say the most ridiculous things, just to shake them up. Best of all, he somehow manages to keep a straight face while doing this. His favorite game to play after waiting in line at Monoprix is to ask the cashier why everything in his shopping basket isn’t the same price, because the store’s name is Monoprix and therefore everything should cost the same, n’est-ce pas? They find this completley unsettling and yet he never cracks a smile. Then again, maybe this is why the cashiers are all so grouchy?

  • Going to the top of my list for groceries to bring back when I visit. Oof, your story about the Monoprix cashiers brought back so many bad memories. They’re not much better in Berlin, but I do my best to grin at them Cheshire-Cat style and that usually surprises them so much they just smile back. HA! Tricked you.

  • Maybe it’s just me…

    …but the Speculoos à tartiner I’m currently eating off my spoon brings back strong memories of cinnamon teddy grahams! (just in creamy blended form).

    See you at the book signing tonight!

  • Oh, this reminds me of when I moved from the midwest to Miami Beach, where people are rude and there is not really such a thing as customer service. And then I took my first trip back to the midwest and almost had a heart attack when someone said hello to me at a store and asked if I needed any help. With a smile, like they were actually happy to help. Like wow! And then they told me I was welcome when I thanked them. Just–wow.

    Which led me to move to nicer territory eventually. I don’t know how you do it, but then again, it must be something like the benefits outweighing everything else.

  • Kristina: Interestingly, the supermarket where I was at with Romain was in Florida, at Publix!

    The people in Paris, like most big cities, are a big mix. There’s nice, and not-so-nice people. (The cashiers at the Monoprix in the Marais fall into the second category.) But I do recall in the states, being given the same run-around by my health insurance company, with arcane rules and procedures that made absolutely no sense at all.

    Yet there was a wave of support to keep them in charge of the health care system in America, which I found interesting. If I could vote the cashiers at Monoprix out of power, I certainly would. And I don’t think I’d be alone.

    Connie: I didn’t want it, it’s just that they’re recommended for everyone over 50 and they are offered free in France, likely because it’s less-expensive (and better!) to diagnose any problems early one. The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was drinking 4 liters of that vile liquid the night before to ‘prepare’.

    And being in a full waiting room with others, who’d done the same thing the night before wasn’t much fun either, since there was only one restroom for all of us.

    Gulp.

    Ann: I had a friend who is paralyzed from the neck down, who uses a wheelchair, and arrived via the Eurostar. Of course, the elevator at the Gare du Nord was broken. (And this was over 3 years ago, but I’m sure they’re getting around to fixing it, um, shortly…) I also thought it’d be fun for her to take the métro, since the line #14 is supposedly wheelchair-accessible. Well, we made it down there in a functioning elevator, but every other station we tried to exit from, the elevator was broken.

    Thankfully there were some security guards down there to help. Except they were more interested in helping the Swedish girl tourists, who they were talking up, instead of us.

  • I ordered two jars @ 2 months ago off the LOTUS website….they are perfect!

  • They also sell speculoos chocolate bars here in Belgium (both dark and milk varieties). I’ve used the paste and chopped bits of the bars as well in cookies and blondies. It is fantastic.

  • Arielle: Hmm…might be interesting to swap it out in peanut butter cookies. Something else to try!

  • Re your last comment:

    Hang on a minute! Speculaas/oos ARE cookies. Now you are thinking of using a speculaas cookie derived paste to make speculaas flavoured cookies?

    Ah, but of course! Then you sell them back to the Belgians and Dutch – rebranded!

  • One of the pharmacies in Montreal is Pharmaprix. My friends and I used to speak in a french-english-anglicized-french melange, so we’d call it “Pharma Pricks.” I imagine that if there had been a Monoprix, it would have been dubbed “Monde au Pricks,” which seems rather apt after reading your post!

  • This post brought back the whole ‘fun’ experience of shopping in French supermarkets. A tip you may have already tried: a French friend once advised me to start out polite and friendly, and if that doesn’t work on a French service person, turn on them and become imperious and nasty and put them in their place quickly, with a short quip along the lines of ‘Hey, watch it miss, I’m the customer here, just who do you think you’re dealing with?’

    En francais, ‘Attention, mlle, JE suis le CLIENT ici. Un peu de politesse et service, svp!” My friend is very warm and friendly, but can pull the ‘aristocrat’ card at will—and does. She says Americans are just entirely too sweet and easily cowed. The personnel at places like Monoprix will bully if they are able because they are so powerless in the other parts of their lives. So….the only solution is to let them know they can’t get away with it.

    I’ve only had to employ this strategy once or twice, but believe me it worked,
    and it worked instantly. Smiles and kindness all around in mere seconds.
    Class distinctions exist to this day in France, and it seems everybody is more comfortable when they operate within known norms. It’s silly and pretty hard to have to play the heavy just to get decent service, but as others have said—cultural differences.

  • This stuff is like crack.

    I first tasted it last summer when I was with some French friends and they gave me a jar to bring home. Unfortunately, I had it in my carryon bag so it wouldn’t break, and I was one of the people chosen to get their bag completely searched. It never occurred to me that this would be prohibited, so when the French security guy took one look at the jar and threw it into the trash I almost leapt over the counter and strangled him.

    I ended up getting several jars online and no matter how well I hide them from myself I end up sitting there with the jar and a spoon and it doesn’t last long!

  • I must have picked up the wrong stuff…couldn’t find Lotus brand,so bought another Dutch brand.

    It’s the pleh. It looks like peanut butter, not caramelly (yes, that’s a word) like yours in the picture, and it tastes like cookie dough…which is okay for some cookies, but for speculoos, it’s just sweetened mud.

    Tried it on toast this morning. Pleh again.

    My Monoprix people (because there are a couple of young men, too) are anywhere from neutral to total sweethearts. The Monoprix is across a narrow street from the market hall, so the place is crawling with people on market day. The entryway is lined with shopping bags and loaded trolleys, and the security guy dutifully watches over all…he knows who belongs to which bags, and he’s not going to let anybody touch your asparagus! I think I’ll buy them all flowers this afternoon in thanks.

  • You know what? I would LOVE to see Larry David facing one of those Monoprix cashier in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.

  • I moved from the midwest to Miami Beach

    I lived in Miami for two years, then moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I almost dropped dead because people stopped when the traffic light was red, returned their grocery carts to the store instead of leaving them to roam aimlessly in the parking lot, and smiled and said “hello” in the store. There was no litter, no graffiti, and no burglar bars.

    But I love Miami for all its craziness and its excellent food, so there you go. Plus I speak Spanish, so I was able to figure out what was going on pretty quickly. Nothing like being a blue-eyed blonde who speaks to the cashier in Spanish to command instant suspicion. That’s OK – I wanted them to be afraid of me.

  • ugh, the saint-paul monoprix is the one i always go to because i find it has the biggest assortment out of all the other stores in the area. now i know all my smiling, “bonjour”, and “merci” won’t get me anywhere.

  • I read this post and knew I had to find the spread as soon as possible, and luckily a few days later they restocked on the Lotus site. I excitedly ordered two, but neglected to notice that one order=two jars…so now I have four (probably the least tragic mistake ever made). I’m unsure whether to go the route I have so far since ripping open the package (just eating straight from the spoon), or finding a more creative way of using my abundance of Biscoff spread. Thanks for the recommendation! I always enjoy your posts!

  • David, your Monoprix experience reminds me of a nightmare visit to Marks and Spencers foodhall in Covent Garden in London.
    The cashier wouldn’t look at us and they certainly don’t pack your purchases ( which is standard in Australia).
    But that’s nothing compared to the stand up row she had with the supervisor who told her to shift to another cash register.
    Her problem was the other register didn’t have a seat and this register did.
    All this happened midway through our items being processed…well, the checking stopped for a good 5 minutes while the argument raged.
    When the cashier lost the argument she finally continued, sulking and huffing and puffing, hurling our goods across the scanner and down the counter,
    She snatched our money, with no words, and off we went…..
    Service here at home is really pleasant.

    PS…oh, I so want to taste the Speculoos but can’t find it here.

  • I’ve only recently found your blog and totally love it and I have to tell you this post cracked me up. I WISH I could say I laughed my ass off (I could do with some of that)….oh how I wish laughing could be the weight loss answer.

    Anywho…..did you know that people in Canada are known for being polite? Come on over and check it out!

  • Hello David !
    I often read your blog but this is my first comment. I laughed when reading your post because I spotted this “speculoos à tartiner” a few weeks ago at a “G20″ (in the 14ème arrondissement, where I live) and I was about to buy a jar but finally renouced : the list of ingredients could ruin a reputation !
    Maybe I will follow your example and give it a try next time…
    Thank you for your beautiful blog.

  • how i enjoyed this post, and especially the commiseration regarding Monoprix surliness…I once witnessed a cashier at Monoprix loudly complaining about her hangover to a coworker–which, you know, would be fine but then began enguele-ing the man in front of me, because he tried to pay for some fruit and detergent with a 20 euro bill. she made him go to the bank and get change and come back.

    i mean, if you’re going to be surly, at least guard some mystery, right? you have more sympathy for a nasty worker if you think Monoprix is treating them poorly, blah blah blah. But using customers as your punching bag through a hungover haze…not nice.

  • I tried the speculoos spread on a liege waffle from the Waffle and Dinges truck in NYC. Amazingly, unbelievably delicious. My mouth is watering as I reminisce about the fresh-from-the-waffle-iron, chewy and dense goodness that was covered by a generous layer of speculoos. Oof.

    Must pick up a jar or two of this when I visit Paris for the first time in a few weeks!

  • David,
    Thanks for this piece and I’m hoping that someone who has some clout will figure out how to get Speculoos into the States. I’ve been hiding my jar of Speculoos from myself for about 6 months. It is in the cupboard and somehow stares at me from behind everything everytime it open the door! My dear friend who works for the Belgian Consulate in NYC got it for me (and i am in Chicago). It is a special morning when i have a piece of toast with Speculoos and a Nespresso :-)
    btw, love the blog…have been a long time reader and never commented but just had too when i saw we share a similar love!

  • I was so very intrigued by this post since i loooove Nutella that I just HAD to get my hands on some Speculoos. I found it at wafflecafe.com and I think their prices seem reasonable…and the best part – they’ll ship to Hawaii. The shipping cost is rather high, but hey, I’m willing to pay it to try some Speculoos…ooh I almost forgot – they even have it in CRUNCHY!

  • After reading this post, I couldn’t bear the curiosity and I bought some to try.

    I just placed my order and should be receiving two (count ‘em, two!) jars in a week or so. I’m in the good ol’ États-Unis (USA). I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a Speculoos (Biscoff on this side of the pond, apparently) cookie. My husband travels for work and said he eats them all the time on airplanes.

    After looking at those photos, I am eager to try it! The Biscoff site requires you to buy at least 2 jars at a time (at a price which it looks like other sites were selling it for just one jar), so I’m excited to spread the love and give a jar to someone…har har har, …’spread’.

    …If I can part with it, of course. It might just be too delicious.

    So excited to have found this blog and excited to try out a completely new food!

  • Cher David,

    Un mot pour vous dire que j’ai rapporté de Bruges (Belgique), de la confiture de Spéculoos, que j’ai acheté chez un épicier chez lequel je me fournis très souvent en confitures de toutes sortes.

    C’est évidemment délicieux.

    Si cela vous intéresse, je vous laisserais son adresse.

    Bien à vous.

  • For those of you in the states, Biscoff cookies can be found at Walgreens. I was shocked to see them there, but that’s where I have been getting my fix for the delicious cookies.

  • Holy moly! I got my order of this wonderful stuff yesterday and I spread some over a banana waffle this morning. Yum! And someone said something about making ice cream with it? That sounds freaking fantastic. Thanks for introducing me to this, you should never be ashamed to have this in your bag.

  • David, you might as well have said what my friend said the first time I tried choquettes: “Welcome to the addiction.”

    Also, I had a similar experience in the metro/Carrefour. My parents needed change for the photo machine for their Navigo cards. The metro staff claimed to not have any change. We went up to Carrefour, and they claimed to not have any change either. Even though I bought something. RIGHT. I finally convinced a woman selling produce outside to give me some change, only to discover that the photo machine in our stop was broken and we had to go to another one – with a transfer on the way. WTF!

  • I just had Speculoos, the Spread, at the Waffles & Dinges truck in NYC. I’d never heard of it. With sliced banana on a delicate, warm, just-made waffle, standing under an awning in the cool spring rain, yum. My girlfriend ID’d the flavor as graham cracker; I don’t know if the brand is different from the one you get in Paris (I’m pretty sure the owner of the truck is Belgian), but that was exactly right.

  • Welp, I’m back with an update. The spread arrived…

    and it is AMAZING. Ugh…so delicious. And it’s not even bad for you. Well, I guess it depends what you consider bad, hahah.

    I just had to come back and update now that I’ve had a chance to taste it. Totally different. Totally delicious.

  • A million bravos for this post. My time in France was riddled with such events and I always thought the rude behavior was directed at me–specifically. Who knew it was a national epidemic! Alwasy so good to hear your point of view on the little things that–it turns out–really are a big deal.

    I really appreciate your perspective on the French health care system. I agree, why can’t we just copy their blue print and keep our nice supermarket cashiers? I see it as a win win.

  • I had a brief stint in Bruxelles — coffee and speculoos bring back warm memories (even if Bruxelles was often grey and cold). Must find Speculoos a Tartiner! Thank you for sharing your guilty pleasure with us.

  • yesterday, on the french channel M6, in the “100%mag” show, they were talking about Speculoos spread. there was a “promotrice” in a certain supermarket, who was offering small bites of speculoos spread on a piece of bread to clients passing by who liked it and thought it was a delicious way to eat and serve speculoos. i have tried the biscuits and not yet the spread, sounds interesting.

  • David, putting “Speculoospasta” – as we call it in Belgium – in your basket is nothing to be ashamed of!!

    Actually the product development story behind this delicious spread is quite interesting. On Flemish (Dutch part of Belgium) TV, there was an invention contest in 2007. One of the participants was Els Scheppers, a mother and speculoosfan. I don’t know about the situation abroad, but in Belgium a speculoos biscuit is popular for sipping in coffee to the limits the cookie falls apart. We also tend to have the strange habit to put speculoos cookies and butter on our bread in the morning. Preferably coffee sipped speculoos biscuits.

    Now it seems amazing that it took so long for someone to realize that if you put the speculoos cookies with some coffee in a jar and you put that on the table as a healthier alternative (it has grains!) for Nutella, you have a commercial winner idea!
    In the final product, the coffee got cancelled (parents don’t want their kids to be fed coffee) but replaced with some fat emulsion and the spread is (claimed to be) produced without artificial preservatives.

    The lady made it to the finals with her idea, but she didn’t win the contest. However, she made a deal with Lotus – the famous speculoos cookie producer – and the first months the product was ‘available’ in Belgian supermarkets, as soon as the jars were in the racks, they sold out… Actually having a jar of Speculoospasta in your basket was a sign of good taste, here in Belgium!

    It is nice to see that this type of delicacy is also internationally appreciated… Lotus has been expanding production capacity since the launch and I read they intend to conquer the USA market, too…

    For a picture of the “inventor” of Speculoospaste: Els (She also started developing her idea with Heinz (see the ketchup bottle!), but they had different views and stopped the collaboration.)

    Do try the crunch version! It’s even better than the original one! (I’m coming to Paris this weekend and could bring you one, if you’re interested.)

  • Hi Lisa: Thanks for the story. I was also told that Speculoos were good with beer as well, which makes sense in Belgium. The coffee sounds good, though, too!

  • David, after being REALLY impressed with your Banana-Coconut ice cream, I read some of your other posts, and had to order the Speculoos paste. It just arrived. I’m going to have to agree with a few of the other posters above. I do not taste anything remotely resembling a gingersnap. It practically screams “cinnamon graham cracker.” Do you really think that it tastes like a gingersnap? I’m kind of surprised, because your palate seems pretty dead on.

  • i have to admit that i am one of those who read the ingredient list religiously :-) … but your description of the Speculoos make me want to try, i wonder what interdit ingredients it has :-) … your mentioning about running into your Chez Panisse co-worker in the supermarket cracked me up, lol! Best regards.

  • Here’s one Dutchman’s view: Speculoos is one of the stupidest products I’ve ever heard of. SpeculAAs is a DUTCH cookie (Belgians somehow got the name wrong), mostly eaten round the 6th of december,the birthday of Sinterklaas. It’s a crunchy cookie, and the charm of a speculaas sandwich is the contrast between soft white bread (with lots of butter) and crunchy speculaas. Why anyone would want to turn speculaas into a gooey mush is a complete mystery to me.

  • Kees, no, you have it wrong. Don’t let jealousy of the success of this product get in the way of the facts. There’s a difference between speculoos and speculaas. Speculaas is the official Dutch word for it and a Dutch invention. So far, I agree. However, back in the old days, the Dutch bakers could easily get a hold on the spices needed to make those cookies thanks to the international Dutch fleet. Belgium didn’t have a fleet like that so they did not have access to those spices, forcing the Belgian bakers to get creative (by adding stuff they did have: cinnamon for instance). The result is that the Belgian variety is a bit more refinded and to make the difference and to make that difference clear in the word, they adopted the French word for it: “speculoos” whereas the Dutch variety is speculaas.

    So, they didn’t get the name wrong because it’s a slightly different product, hence the “speculoos” and “speculaas”

  • I mean “refined”, not refinded

  • Just in case anyone is interested, Leonidas (Belgian chocolate company) sells this spread in some of their stores in North America – both the crunchy and the smooth versions.

  • David, hello!
    i’ve been thinking about this spread for months and finally modified a gianduja spread recipe with almonds and caramelized white chocolate as the base to make this myself.
    the spices are delicious with the white choc, very autumnal.

    thanks for the inspiration!

  • okay, so it took 6 months to work up the nerve to try it again after my really bad experience. This time I bought Lotus brand.

    OMGWTFBBQ — what a difference.

    The jar is almost empty after an embarrassingly small number of days, and what have I eaten it on? Tartines, where it gets all gooey and runny from the heat of the toast.

    And a spoon.

    But mostly just the spoon.

  • I ate this in Belgium (the brand with the oo). I thought it was horrid! Like gritty, sickly-sweet cement. Yech…

  • After my umpteenth trip to Paris, I finally remembered to track down Speculoos at Monoprix. Oh. My. God. I brought back 6 jars (and I wish I had videotaped my 5 year old daughter’s expression when she tasted her first spoonful!) I was wondering if you have a recipe or two using this glorious stuff? Thanks.