If, once again, water could be turned into wine, I have no doubt that the French would conquer The Netherlands immediately, replace tulips with garlic, and put an abrupt end to all attempts to reclaim more land. And they would do little more than float on inner tubes up and down the wine-filled canals all day scooping and sipping.
But, as this has not happened just yet, the Dutch have to continue fighting their long time foe, the sea.
Whilst they are all busy doing that, I am lying on my bed in balmy Den Haag with bagels, smoked fish and summer berries and I do not have to worry about getting wet.
So I thought I’d use the time to share some typical Dutch dishes with you. This is not a complete overview, but limited to those with names that made me smile and giggle to the point where I just had to taste them. With only a few days left, my time is limited and I might not get to them all, but hell, I would come back any day.
There is an old saying here: ‘Woensdag, Gehaktdag!’ No, they are not referring to scrum practice on Wednesdays, they are referring to minced meat, which for some reason yet unknown to me, is or has been, plentiful on a Wednesday.
Everyone loves ‘Gehaktballen’ or meatballs. And everyone has one or more recipes for making them. However, most recipes include salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard as basic seasoning for the meat. If you want your gehaktbal served on a bread roll, ask for broodjebal. These soft bread rolls with a sliced meatball are often served with a good serving of ‘pindasaus’ (peanut sauce) on the side.
If the gehaktbal is sliced and skewered with onion and/or bell peppers to be fried, a ‘berenclauw’ (bear claw) or ‘berenpoot’ (bear foot) is born. This too is commonly served with peanut sauce.
“Bitterballen” (bitter balls) is the king of pub food. These small, deep-fried meatballs take about two days to make. First the meat is cut into cubes and cooked until it is soft enough to be shredded with a fork. Then a slurry is make with a little water and flour and this is added to the cooking liquid to form a ragout. The shredded meat is added to the thickened sauce and put in the refrigerator for a few hours to set. Once set, the mixture is used to make small meatballs. These are dipped into flour, egg-wash and crumbs. The ‘bitterballen’ are then frozen overnight and deep-fried the next day. These meatballs got their rather unfortunate name from the custom of having a shot of ‘bitters’ (a herbal alcoholic beverage) with your meatballs.
The Dutch also love their meat tartare style. ‘Ossenworst’ is one such dish dating back all the way to the 17th century when a lot of oxen were imported from Germany and Denmark. A large log of ‘Ossenworst’ is sliced into chunks resembling raw hamburger patties and served with a variety of green leaves (such as rocket) and sliced onion on a bread roll or small baguette.
A dish that I would really like to try, yet have not come across on my short journey thus far is ‘zuurvlees’. Made from horsemeat marinated in vinegar and cooked with apple syrup, nutmeg, sugar, and pound-cake, the result is a, somewhat sweet, fruity meat stew.
Another traditional Dutch favorite is the ‘Stamppot”. Of these there are varieties limited only by the variety of vegetables that are available. To make a ‘Stamppot’, potatoes are boiled with other vegetables in salted water, then mashed and seasoned with salt and pepper and served as a side with a meat dish. Vegetables commonly used include cauliflower, beans, green beans, leeks, and turnips. Bacon and/or cheese can be added to some varieties for additional flavour.
The ‘hutspot’ (potatoes and carrots) is probably the best known of “Stamppot” but two others stand out for their wonderfully descriptive names.
‘Hete bliksem’ is made by cooking 2 parts potato with one part tart and one part sweet apples. If desired pears and/or bacon could be added. When ham and French mustard is added the dish becomes “Donder en hete bliksem”.
The name is derived from the fact that apples and pears, once cooked, retain their heat for very long. The impatient eater is bound to have very hot apple or pear clinging to the roof of his or her mouth and tongue causing blisters and foul language.
Another beautifully named ‘Stamppot’ is ‘Blote billetjes in het gras’ or ‘blote kindertjes in het gras’. Quite interesting if you consider that ‘billetjes’ are buttocks – normally the smooth and small variety found on babies. Thus, a ‘Stamppot’ for those who like ‘naked child’s buttocks in the grass’.
In this version potatoes are cooked and mashed with green beans (representing the grass), and white beans (representing the buttocks) are stirred through.
We were taught in world history class all those years ago, that the Dutch are known for three things: windmills, clogs and cheese. I have discovered a fourth: friet – or french fries if you like.
My favourite? ‘Patatje oorlog’. French fries with peanut sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, curry sauce and finely diced onions. The name refers to the rather sloppy addition of the sauces causing the plate to look like a battlefield.
After the Second Gulf War, some progressive establishments started changing the name to ‘patatje feest’ or ‘patatje vrede’ to make the name less offensive. However, since the latter had already been in existence for a long time (fries with garlic and chilli sauce), the new name never really took off.
There is so much more. I am a changed man. Never again will I use the word ‘porkbelly’. No ‘speklapje’ is so much better. And a dish of slow stewed meat will from now on be known only as ‘draadjesvlees’. Brisket is out, ‘klapstuk’ is in. And I will no longer ‘simmer’ my meat, I will make it ‘sudder’.
And now, I am going to get on a tram and drive long one of the channels until I find a small town. And there I will look for the townsquare because I am guaranteed at least three things: a church, the townhall and a pub. I will skip to the first two and take up residence in the third. And I will have a beer and a plate of ‘bitterballen’.
I will lift my glass to the sky, the cityhall and the church, and in my best fake Dutch accent I’ll shout a toast:
“Het leven is een bitterbal!”
This column was penned while I was visiting the lovely Danella and Koen and their furried house-mates in Den Haag in August 2012.