We knew little of Dutch cuisine before coming to the Netherlands, except for poffertjes (mini pancakes or pannekoeken) which are regulars at Australian markets. The most simple form is served sprinkled with icing sugar and maybe cream, but where we tried them you could top them with whatever you want, ice-cream, fruit, nuts, Smarties, Nutella, the list was long.
On arrival at our apartment I was struck by a phenomenon of ‘sprinkles on bread’. They call it hagelslag, which is translated as “hailstorm”. It’s just like fairy bread but with a range of different toppings. At our apartment there were four different types provided, chocolate, white, pink and yellow, and chocolate and white mixed. There were even more varieties in the supermarket, even gourmet style, but the sad thing was they are in the breakfast isle! Yes it is not just for kid’s parties, it’s a breakfast choice. Our enduring memory of our visit to France many years ago was the revelation of eating chocolate for breakfast, so as we get closer to France this makes sense.
Another common sweet is the Stroopwaffle, made from a thin and crispy waffle (similar to a waffle icecream cone) sliced in half and filled with a caramel sauce. They are best when eaten hot! It was suggested to warm them over your hot cup of tea or coffee. They are different from the equally indulgent Belgium waffles which are light and fluffy and much thicker.
A day at the beach was fascinating with two tractor driven food vans right on the sand near the water’s edge, selling seafood. We chose a plate of fried chunks of fish called kibbeling, served with pickles, creamy potato salad, and mayonnaise sauces. A very fitting dish to eat at the beach.
Another local fish speciality is herring, which is soused raw fish. I normally jump at the chance to sample local dishes, but this was one thing I wasn’t particularly keen to try, it doesn’t sound enticing. But, I am a big fan of sushi so I thought I should really give it a go! The fresh fish is preserved in brine, then eaten whole but headless (or you can get it without the spine, but with most of the bones). You can also buy it in a sandwich if you prefer! We went the traditional way and tried it whole, but de-boned for safety! It was actually not that bad to taste, although it is too much cold raw meat at once, it needed another texture.
How about small round deep fried meatballs served with mustard … What is there not to like? It is best to try them before you learn their unappealing name – bitterballens. They are not bitter at all, it’s quite a misnomer. It was actually a bit like the inside of an Australian meat pie with lots of pulled meat and gravy. These though are usually eaten with mustard.
We came across many shops wholely dedicated to selling just fries, or what we would call in Australia thick-cut hot potato chips. Here they are called patat or frites on menus, and we won’t get into the debate about whether they should be called French or Belgian fries. Like they cook them in Belgium, these are double fried as the special technique! (Shhh, don’t tell anyone!). Traditionally they come served piping hot in a paper cone slathered with all sorts of toppings. You can get satay sauce, mayonnaise, curry ketchup, regular ketchup, mustard, and the classic Dutch option of raw onions!
Stamppot is traditional Dutch comfort food. Like mashed potatoes with sausages, a mix between English and German food… We saw it several times, but never got a chance to try it… Don’t feel like I missed out there though!
Ontbijtkoek is a delicious ginger cake, but is literally translated as breakfast cake. We were provided some at our apartment for breakfast, but we enjoyed it at many times of the day. In the supermarket you can get many varieties of it from the original ginger, to nuts, honey and caramel, raisin, cherry and almond, blueberry and hazelnut, pearl candy (?), paw paw, apple and cinnamon, it’s a pity I didn’t have time to try them all!
I came across a new type of berry at the markets, the rode bessen, or the red currant. Despite looking very appealing, they were quite tart and not enjoyed by the kids, or me!
A few other local foods we tried were drop, the local version of licorice, appeltaart, the Dutch’s own Gouda cheese, and rookworst sausage.
Another thing we noticed was the large number of Indonesian restaurants, probably a throwback to the period of Dutch colonisation of Indonesia. We didn’t eat at any because of our familiarity with Indonesian food having lived in Bali for a year!
Overall the food in Holland was great to try, although there are not many things I will miss going home. Except maybe the stroopwaffles!