If you’ve ever seen Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares, you’d be hard pressed to not consider nominating the entire nation of The Netherlands as a contender for his next rescue mission.
Now I’m not for one second suggesting that Irish cuisine is way up there, but having lived in the Netherlands for some time, it always makes me laugh when I hear how proud the Cloggies are with their culinary heritage. My first response is always “What heritage?”.
For those of you who have never sampled the delicacies of Dutch cuisine, you’ve not missed anything. For a start, it’s typically the sort of meal one would expect from a bunch of farmers…..high in carbs, proteins and fat, low in terms of complexity and overall presentation.
Breakfast usually consists of the all-time Dutch favourite – Slices of bread (preferably white) smeared with butter with every square centimetre covered in Hagelslag (Sprinkles or “Hundreds and Thousands” to you and me). They come in a larger variety of flavours, but the more popular ones are dark and milk chocolate in the Hagelslag and Vlokken (flakes) types. Needless to say that this hearty breakfast sets up every child for the day ahead, packed full of energy and slow burning carbs….well, not the carbs, but certainly with energy because this stuff is laced with so much sugar that they’re probably bouncing in the back of daddy’s car or pulling wheelies on their bikes on the way to school.
This breakfast delicacy is not exclusively limited to Dutch children….most adults will readily admit to enjoying Hagelslag on their breakfast butties too. But….and here’s the important part….when eating a sandwich in the Netherlands, irrespective of the time of day, it must ALWAYS be eaten with a knife and fork. Yes folks, the practicalities and ancient origins of the humble sandwich (i.e. something that the Earl of Sandwich could eat whilst playing cards at the same time) have given way to Dutch table etiquette….one must always cut off a piece of bread with ones knife and then raise it to ones mouth with ones fork. One must NEVER utilise the boorish method of using ones hands….it’s simply uncouth, don’t you know!
So, with breakfast done with, lunch is typically followed at 12pm. They are very adamant about lunch not be much later than 12pm. Probably because a belly full of chocolate sprinkles doesn’t hold you off for very long and the murmurings of a rumbling tummy are abhorred. A Dutch lunch, as far as I can tell from personal experience range from either something warm and simple, to something cold and simple, but should almost always include bread.
The warm and simple could either be warmed up left-overs from the night before (very popular amongst my colleagues), or in the Winter, their favourite….Erwtensoep (Pea Soup). It is a thick stew of green split peas, different cuts of pork, celery, onions, leeks, carrots, and often potato. Slices of rookworst (smoked sausage) are added a few minutes before serving, alongside rye bread smeared with butter. And it almost ALWAYS comes out of a can. I have yet to eat home-made pea soup, because it seems whilst everyone knows what goes into it, no-one ever seems to know how to actually make it. In fact, this is true for a lot of Dutch cuisine these days. Everything is pre-packaged, nuked in the oven or microwave and then served on the table, laced with salt and/or sugar.
Another warm favourite (certainly amongst the chattering classes) is the Kroket (Croquette). Originally the dish was regarded as a French cuisine delicacy, made from various types of indiscernible pieces of meat of vegetable content. It became a way to use up leftover stewed meat (more on that later) and after WWII it was soon mass-produced. The kroket became even more popular as a fast food; meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs which is subsequently deep-fried. Its success as a fast food garnered its reputation as a cheap dish of dubious quality. The kroket is even so popular that a disk-shaped version on a bun is sold at McDonalds throughout The Netherlands. A smaller round version of the standard beef or veal kroket, the bitterbal, is often served with mustard as a snack in bars and at receptions. But the kroket, at lunchtime, is placed onto a piece of white bread, smashed with a fork, and spread across the bread and eaten (with knife and fork of course).
Cold lunches would typically consist of a sandwich (usually just ham and cheese) eaten as an open sandwich, and with prerequisite knife and fork. A popular alternative to the basic ham and cheese is Filet Americain. I can only best describe it as liquidised cow. The Dutch would try and tell you that it’s “steak tartare”, but when you look at the colour, a very vibrant and unnatural reddish/orange, you doubt very much that it was ever a cow in the first place. Not only that, but I have yet to find an American who has heard of “filet americain” before they visited The Netherlands.
Just like at lunch-time, dinners in the Dutch household are always served promptly at a specific time, and very rarely deviate from that time. The typical Dutch home serves dinner anywhere from 5pm to 6:30pm, and it’s only the younger, upwardly mobile crowd (i.e. the chattering classes) who tend to deviate from this – i.e. eating later – unless of course they’re having dinner with their parents, in which case they revert to the standard 5pm-6:30pm dinner time.
A traditional Dutch dinner largely consists of smoked meat (usually pork, often served up in the form of a sausage consisting of various indiscriminate pieces of meat and offal – see rookworst above as an example) served up with a large dollop of stodgy potatoes and (sour)cabbage (which are often mixed together) and very little else. They all have various names, such as Hutspot, Stamppot, Andijviestamppot, Hete bliksem (literally Hot Lightning), Boerenkoolstamppot, but they’re all basically the same thing. The best way of describing the majority of the dishes is that most resemble some sort of stew.
There is a seasonal favourite though, and that’s asparagus. Their love of the white asparagus know no bounds. Every year, when the asparagus’ come into the season, the TV and radio is littered with adverts from every supermarket chain, encouraging their shoppers to avail of this seasonal delicacy before they run out.
But if you’re really lucky, you may just get to try their ultimate favourite – recommended by all Dutch men to be devoured just prior to going on a first date – Hollandse Nieuwe Haring (Raw Herring to you and me) with finely chopped onions. The Nieuwe is a bit of a misnomer, because they were caught earlier in the year then put on ice until later in the year when they were allowed to sell them. Yes indeedy, you can see the look of love in every Dutch girls eyes when she catches a great big whiff of raw fish and onions from her man!!
The traditional way to eat them is to roll the fish in the onions, grab it by its tail and then hang it over your mouth and eat…real men eat the whole thing at once!
The Dutch have a sweet tooth, but I’m not sure if their Calvinist traditions have forced them to shy away from eating a lot of sweet desserts, or if they are just not that interested in experimenting with dessert the way the French, or even the British have done. And they’re also a little confused about what constitutes a nice dessert. What I mean by that is, they’d happily eat pancakes for dinner, and have a huge variety of savoury pancakes on offer, but they’d never once consider it as a dessert option, such as a crepe or blini. Poffertjes, are about as close to a dessert oriented pancake….think of them are tiny mini pancakes, covered in butter and caster sugar.
They tend to opt for the more traditional Apple Pie, or in Winter they love eating stodgy, greasy Oliebollen (literally Oil Balls!!) instead. Apple fritters are also popular and you can see Oliebollen stands pop up like mushrooms in the Winter selling both.
Whilst I would never consider Dutch cuisine as haute-cuisine, it is a cuisine none-the-less. It’s something they as a nation are fiercely proud of and will happily defend if ever slagged off by us foreigners. But, given that it largely comprises copious amounts of sugar, wheat and flour, along with a dangerous over tendency to fry stuff in a deep-fat fryer, one can’t help but think that it’s great for storing up fats in the Winter, but too much of it and you’ll end up with an arse like the average Dutch girl.