Netherlands Re-Visited (Page 2)


I'm not talking about "Haute Cuisine" here - on the contrary, we will discuss here the daily fare of the man in the street. Just as American food might be stereoyped with MacDonalds, so there are a few Dutch stereotypes which deserve to be highlighted here.

Pictured here is an example of the classic old-fashioned "broodjes winkel". This one has existed in this spot to my knowledge, for over half a century and is essentialy unchanged. This kind of establishment is a sort of snack-bar quick-eatery whose main fare consists of a choice of bread rolls (soft, hard, seeded...) and a wide selection of sandwich fillings with which to customize the rolls. By "wide selection" is meant maybe 3 or 4 cheese types, another 3 or 4 types of sliced meat, various other types of meat fillings (sausage, meatball...) and a selection of salad fillings (chicken, tuna,...) And of top of this maybe some soups and non-breadroll snacks - the ever-popular "uitsmijter" (literally translated as "thrower out" but basically two eggs over-easy covering some thinly sliced meat (ham or roast-beef) on top of some slices of bread) or "kroketten" about which more later.

The cheese and meat fillings consist of multiple slices, but sliced ever so thinly and delicately. In some cases (e.g. the "rookvlees" or smoked meat) the slices are literally paper thin.

One trend that I noticed is that the traditional "broodjes winkel" (indoors, a long bar-type counter with maybe one or two very small tables) is slowly being supplanted by a more extensive kind of establishment with proper tables and chairs, some tables outside under parasols for when the weather permits, and a wider selection of light meals on the menu. In some cases the traditional bread-roll fare has almost been supplanted completely with other kinds of light meals.

The board outside is advertising "tosti's" (the traditional grilled-cheese sandwich is just one kind of "tosti") and "uitsmijters". (The apostrophe in "tosti's" is a correct Dutch plural - it is not what we call a greengocer's apostrophe, although it may look like it)

One popular choice in such establishments is the "kroket". Although this may be recognized as a generic food type in many other cultures, the Dutch variant is a particular style of fast food which I have encountered nowhere else - at least not in exactly this form.

It has one thing in common with the "Big Mac". If you have been deprived of this fare for a long time, you may become victim of a strong urge sometimes identified as a "Big Mac Attack". In the case of expatriate Dutchmen, they become prone to a "kroketten attack". Long absence from this dish can result in extreme nostalgia and involuntary salivation. The first kroket after a multi-year absence is an event not to be forgotten.

It may be sold in an automatic vending machine at the train station (just "automaat" in Dutch) or at the local broodjeswinkel, or in any establishment that caters a light menu. Not infrequently it will on the children's menu and served with fries (frites) and apple sauce (appelmoes) at a reduced price for the under-12's. This can be very frustrating to your reporter who is at the other end of the age spectrum and frequently calls for delicate negotiation with the management to also make this dish available to the senior citizen.

In other cultures they may argue about the correct method of eating a boiled egg - do you open it at the narrow end or the wider end, and do you crack the shell and peel it off in little chunks or do you slice the top off in one swift cut?

With kroketten, the choice is whether to start at the end of a kroket and work you way down with bread as a side accompaniment (above) or to first slice the kroket lengthwise and lay the two halves on the bread with the flat (newly cut) face down and the breaded convex curve facing up.(Left)

Or you can enjoy kroketten entirely without bread but relying instead on fries - or have both. Accompaniments may be a token salad or apple sauce, and the whole is best consumed with a decent mustard - although Philistines have been known to prefer mayonnaise and/or ketchup.

Mass-produced (rather than home-grown) kroketten are made by a company called "Dobben" - thus this dish is sometimes on the menu as "Broodje Van Dobben".

Holland also enjoys mobile (or semi-mobile) side-walk stands - I made a point of visiting this particular one because it was one of my favorites half a century ago. Yes - it is still there, although it has a new proprietor and the actual vehicle may have been renewed. But it was standing just where I last saw it many years ago and seemed unchanged by time

In addition to French Fries (Frites) this stand has a fairly wide selection of the same sort of stuff that you might find in a conventional "broodjeswinkel" - including a "broodje van dobben" as advertised on the sidewalk stand and explained in the previous paragraph.

Note also the bicycle parked at the side. A ladies model that is completely unremarkable in a Dutch context, but that would doubtless be viewed with some wonderment amongst the cycling classes in the U.S.

There is another kind of sidewalk food vendor housed in a similar kind of mobile unit - but this kind is devoted solely to a sea food oriented menu. Given their geography, it is not surprising that the Dutch feature all kinds of fish prominently in their snacking preferences.

While these stands do business all year round, there is a special season when "new herring" is featured. The snacker grasps the subject fish by the tail so that it is dangling down in front of his (or her) face which is raised heavenwards. The fish is then lowered into the mouth and successively consumed progressing towards the tail.

If there is any kind of cuisine that is strongly associated with The Netherlands, it is a somewhat localised and mutated version of what was originaly Indonesian.

Authentic Indonesian cuisine can also be had, but the typical restaurant that might be found in a market town or suburbia of a larger city will be something the Dutch generically refer to as Chinese-Indonesian. It may even be referred to loosley as "chinees" but as with this type of cooking as it practised all over the world, it has become adapted and stylised over time to local conditions.

The estimable establishment of "Wa Long" (featured on the right) has been in this spot also for at least the last half century, although it now also advertises Dim Sum and Theesalon (Tea Salon) now in keeping with more recent fashions. I sought this restaurant out specifically for old times' sake. I took a date to this restaurant all those years ago and she became my wife. So it was fun to go back and have the same meal as a greying retiree.

We started out with a serving of saté presented on a piece of banana leaf with peanut sauce (center) then shared a serving of Nasi Goreng (right) and Goelo Yuk (left) much as we did years ago. Even the simplest meal is served on candle-powered heating platter to keep the food hot - something restricted to only the most upscale of such establishments in most other countries.

(The goelo yuk is a good example of how such dishes mutate in different countries. The American variant is known as "sweet and sour pork" but is unrecognizable as a relative. Here the meat balls are spherical and in a light amber sauce - accompanied by canned peaches. In the U.S. the meat will come in a variety of lump-shaped bits, covered in a sickly-sweet red sauce and accompanied by green peppers and onions)

For desert, there is always ice-cream. You'd think that being famous for dairy products would result in there being some kind of distinctive Dutch ice-cream, but not so. They seem to have fallen under the marketing spell that says that only Italian ice-cream is any good.

In any square frequented by tourists or holiday-makers, you will find an ice-cream vendor - usualy in a small 3-wheeler electric vehicle adapted to the purpose. Years ago they tended to be on a sort of 3-wheeled bicycle with a large box on the two front wheels, and behind that the saddle and pedals connected by chain to the single rear-wheel.

This one is right in front of (and facing) the Queen's "work palace" in The Hague, and next to a statue of Billy The First. The inscription reads "Gulielmo. Primo. Gubernatori. Gulielmus II. Rex." So it appears that there are at least two Williams involved somehow - primo and roman numeral 2.

A fine specimen, but I wonder who the dude is who is riding him?

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