Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eight Tips Series: Getting to Grips with Dutch Food

Dutch food is not like anything you have eaten before. Of that I am sure. Here's the low down of some typical Dutch food and how to survive it.

1. Lower Expectations
If you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed. Typical Dutch food is not haute cuisine. It is not fine dining. In fact, some might say it's hardly dining at all.

2. The Straw Rule
Most Dutch food can be eaten through a straw; pea soup (or snert as it is also known) is the ultimate example, though I do grant you that sucking up the lumps of sausage will need some gusto, and could be a choking hazard. The other great example is stamppot, which is basically mashed up potato with a vegetable of your choice (so long as the vegetable has had the life mashed out of it too). The fact that you could eat it through a straw does not mean that you should (unless you are convalescing in hospital).

Friet or patat: chips are a winner in the Netherlands
3. Get Frying
A lot of frying is done in the Netherlands. A lot. 'Snacks' are a unique type of fast food found floating in fryers across the country, usually served with the infamous friet or patat (that's fries or chips to you and me). Snacks include things like kipcorn, frikandel, bitterbal, bami and kroket. 

It is actually best not to ask what is in your snack - you don't want to know. It's the reason why snacks are served with more sauce than you know what to do with.

The traditional food at New Year is also a deep fried delicacy - oliebollen - just as its name suggests (oil balls).

Traditional Dutch cakes eaten at New Year
Photo: Baris Wanschers
4. Ditch the Cutlery
The Dutch eat quite a bit with their hands. For example, no knives and forks are needed for traditional 'snacks' or frietjes, despite the lashings of sauce (see Tip 5). Abandon the metal tools and get stuck in.

5. Get Saucy
The Dutch are masters of sauces. Not the 'Gordon Ramsay homemade quality' variety, but the 'out of a plastic bottle' variety. We are talking about frietssaus (especially to put on your chips), currysaus (not the same curry sauce you get in British fish and chip shops), satesauschillisaus, knoflooksaus (garlic sauce),  shoarmasaus (hot garlic sauce to go with shoarma) and mayonaise

6. Learn to Love it Hot and Strong
Drinking coffee is a Dutch pastime and for those who like their coffee bordering on coloured water, you are in for a shock. The Dutch tend to like their coffee strong. In addition, when the Dutch have white coffee they tend to use koffiemelk (evaporated milk) or koffiecreamer and not the regular stuff from a cow like many Brits. 

Drinking tea in the Netherlands is also an experience for Brits who put milk in their tea (yes, I know!). The Dutch look blankly at you if you ask for milk for in your tea (rightly so, in my humble opinion but my English visitors do put milk in their tea and it has led to some interesting discussions out and about). You may end up using creamer or koffiemelk. Either way, it doesn't make for a 'nice cup 'o tea" as the folk starring in English soaps would say.

Dinner or Dessert?
7. The Dutch Like it Flat
Like the country they live in, some favourite Dutch food is flat. Pancake houses are everywhere and are wildly popular. Pancakes come in all sorts of varieties - sweet, savoury and everything in between. They even come in different sizes - poffertjes are mini pancakes and you can buy poffertje pans if you want to make your own. 

The thing is that dinner in a pancake restaurant quite often results in a meal of pancake covered in sugar and syrup. Not a vegetable in sight. This is what I actually call pudding or dessert........ and I am told I am wrong - it is simply a dinner that is a treat. My tip is to eat dinner before you head out and grab pudding in the pannenkoekenhuis unless you plan to take a savoury pancake, which by the way really are very good.

8. Take up Jogging
Aside from all the deep fried food and the pancakes I have mentioned, there is also a lot of sweet food on the Dutch menu, especially when it comes to celebrating. For birthdays there is the usual birthday cake (if you are lucky), for a birth there is beschuit met muisjes (meaning literally biscuits with little mice; in reality a round, dry, crunchy cracker with blue or pink sugar coated anise seeds), for new year oliebollen and appelflappen are all the rage and a simple coffee with the neighbour is usually accompanied by some kind of sweet treat. It all starts to take its toll on the hips. And thighs. And rear end. So taking up jogging, aerobics or zumba is a good idea. The alternative is to hide away in your house and quit socialising.

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