Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Food & Drink

Food
As shown in Van Gogh’s Aardappeleters (The Potato Eaters), the main ingredient in old-fashioned Dutch cooking is potatoes. These are often boiled and are usually accompanied by meat and boiled vegetables. The Dutch traditionally don’t use very many spices and are very fond of pouring gravy onto everything. The food sounds bland but over the years I have had some incredible meals in Holland. One of my all time favourite restaurants is actually Dutch.

Aside from all the potatoes the consumption of dairy products is extremely high, which, according to some scientists, accounts for the high average height of Dutch men and women – personally, I blame their liberal views on drugs. Some of my favourite Cloggy cuisine includes:

Vla: This was my staple food when I lived in the Netherlands. I ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a thick sweet milk pudding which is similar to English custard. It’s available in numerous flavours – though the best is undoubtedly butterscotch. For true heaven add a box of Dutch style chocolate sprinkles to the vla.

Hagelslag: Found in small boxes on every Dutch breakfast table, these chocolate sprinkles are wonderful when sprinkled on bread or added to val. The white chocolate ones are especially lovely. Dutch people find it rather strange that other countries don’t have these.

Drop: Nothing is more Dutch than drop and I am reliably informed that I am the only non-Dutch person to ever like it. Dutch people consume this sticky liquorice sweet in industrial quantities – it verges on an addiction. Two Dutch people meeting anywhere away from their beloved flat land will always ask, ‘Do you have any drop.’

According to my girlfriend the times when one might enjoy drop are:

When you are depressed and need cheering up
When you are happy and want to celebrate
When you are hungry
When you have just eaten and need some help with digesting the meal
Just before bed
Before, during and after sex

Most people find the taste rather difficult to stomach and I have often heard it described as tasting like old socks.

Frikandel
Frikandel: A wonderful Dutch snack comprised off all the bits of horse the butcher hasn’t been able to sell rolled into a long sausage, deep fried and served piping hot. The best ones are sold from greasy spoon style fast food stalls at railway stations.

Fries: The Dutch love their French Fries and it’s somewhat of a national obsession to stand on street corners wolfing down a steaming bag of fries covered in saté sauce, or more traditionally, mayonnaise. As Vincent from Pulp Fiction reminds us:

Vincent: But you know what they put on French fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
Jules: What?
Vincent: Mayonnaise. I seen ‘em do it. And I don’t mean a little bit on the side of the plate, they fuckin’ drown ‘em in it.

Even more extreme is a patatje oorlog – literally meaning “French fries war” – indicating French fries with mayonnaise, ketchup and saté-sauce sprinkled with raw onions. The best fries can be found from stalls around Dam square and cost about US$0.50 for a large bag. Eating fries is one of the best things about Holland for me (perversely, my Dutch girlfriend refuses to let me eat fried food at home as it’s unhealthy).

Haring: Another common sight on the streets of Amsterdam is people sliding raw herrings down their throats. This is something of an acquired taste and one which I am still working on. The first catch of the season is called Hollandse nieuwe (‘Dutch new’) and is considered a special treat.

Pea Soup: Another famous Dutch delight. Traditional recipes are passed from mother to daughter and guarded almost as closely as the Dutch guard their money. Dutch pea soup is a meal in itself and is full of fresh winter vegetables and chunks of bacon and sausage. You should be able to stand a spoon upright in a good pea soup.

Dutch Cheese
Holland is justifiably famous for its cheese, even if it does generally export only the lower quality cheeses – which I am sure the Dutch find terribly amusing. I always used to think of Dutch cheese as bland until I visited a cheese shop in Amsterdam and tried some of the local cheeses. Most have strong, complex flavours and are best enjoyed with a bottle of wine of two. Locals shop at:

Runstraat 7, Grachtengordel: East (623 3483)
Tram 1, 2, 5.
Open: Oct-Mar noon-6pm Mon; 9am-6pm Tue-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat; closed Sun. Apr-Sept noon-6pm Mon; 9am-6pm Tue-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat; noon-5pm Sun

Drinks
The Dutch like a drink or two – especially if someone else is buying – and by far the most typical Dutch drink is Jenever, which is a fiery gin-like poison. The two main types of jenever are “jonge” (young) and “oude” (old). The difference between them lies not in their age, but in the flavour and the colour. Old jenever is light yellow in colour and has a fairly strong flavour (a bit like paint stripper), while young jenever is colourless and has a more neutral flavour (more like low-grade diesel). A few glasses will definitely start the evening off on a good note.

Traditionally jenever is served in small glasses which are filled to the brim so that you have to bend your head to the table to take the first sips. There is also the very un-Dutch tradition that should you order the last shot of jenever from the bottle you will be given the last dregs (which is normally about half a glass) free. This never seems to happen to me.

Beer remains the everyday Dutch drink. Famous breweries include Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch, Brandt, Skol, Breda and Oranjeboom. However, real connoisseurs of beer head straight for the bottled Belgium beers which range in alcoholic strength from a few percent up to about 45%.

The Cloggy drinking ritual can also be observed in the many “bruine kroegen” located throughout Holland. All these cafes have brown walls and ceilings, so coloured through time and cigarette smoke. However, each is distinct. Certain cafes are known to specialise in specific crowds. These cafes can be large taverns or tiny bars. In every bar there is a complete absence of music and all one hears is the buzz of the crowd and the clinking of the glasses. To sum it all up, the cafes radiate the Dutch “gezelligheid”, or coziness.

Eating in Amsterdam
If you can drag yourself away from the street food there are some good places to eat in Amsterdam. A good tip is to always check if there is a special ‘dish of the day’, ‘meal of the week’, ‘menu of the month’. This is usually (sometimes much) cheaper than the other dishes and of the same standards. Dutch terms used are: dagschotel (or less formal daghap), weekmenu, maandaanbieding.

Indonesian restaurants often have good deal known as rijsttafel. Upon ordering, your table (and sometimes an extra table added to yours) is covered with little dishes of Indonesian food such as pork sate, fried beef, ribs, rice and sometimes soup. The price is normally given per person, however some places have a minimum order of two persons and will charge you accordingly.

If you are vegetarian, there are two restaurants that you should consider visiting:
De Bolhoed Health Food Restaurant
Prinsengracht 60 (Jordaan) (tel: (020) 626 1803) and,

Vegetarisch Restaurant De Waaghals
Nes 102 (tel: (020) 679 9609).

Other good places to eat include:

Eetcafé Loetje
Johannes Vermeerstraat 52, Museum Quarter (662 8173)
Tram 16. Open 11am-1am Mon-Fri; 5:30pm-1am Sat. Kitchen 6-10pm Mon-Sat; closed Sun. Main courses ƒ10-ƒ33. No credit cards

Sometimes, after an honest day of sightseeing – or for the regulars, there is nothing better than a fillet of beefsteak, salad, fries and a huge wad of mayo. Loetje is a brown bar that serves just that, and for a nominal price, too. A refreshing antidote to the rarefied air you may have inhaled while gandering at a Rembrandt nearby.

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