If you live outside Europe, there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Dutch cuisine. Considering the Dutch have been world travellers since the medieval times it stands to reason that at least some of their dishes would be popular. It’s true that Gouda cheese is a popular export, Heineken is a well-known food-related brand and there is the occasional ‘Amsterdam chips‘ in Italy. Even touristy things like raw herring with onions and the stroopwafel (literally: syrup waffle) are semi-popular. But what is real Dutch food and is it worth going on a search for?
Before we get into our personal experience with Dutch delicacies, it’s good to set the context. If you came to the Netherlands today and had lunch with a Dutch colleague you’d probably be shocked at how boring their lunch is. It’s usually bread (in various forms) with a slice of cheese, a slice of meat and — if it’s a crazy day — a boiled egg. There is also the mention of ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ meals which I didn’t understand coming from India.
Wikipedia mentions this interesting fact about Dutch cuisine and why it’s so plain today:
In the twentieth century, the new availability of mass education meant that a great number of girls could be sent to a new school type, the Huishoudschool (housekeeping school), where young women were trained to become domestic servants and where lessons in cooking cheap and simple meals were a major part of the curriculum, often based on more traditional Dutch dishes, and leading to increased uniformity in the Dutch diet. Values taught in that school system included frugality, proper (table) manners, and healthy eating.
Traditional Dutch food was rustic: meat and vegetables with a high proportion of carbohydrates to support the labourers who toiled in the farms. Potatoes became the dominant vegetable (tuber?) around the 19th century and the Dutch love their aardappelen (literally: earth apples) to this day. But what many people don’t know is that Dutch food has a lot of stewing elements that simmer and cook for long periods of time. Even if you’ve heard of stamppot, you probably haven’t heard of a few dishes we’re going to mention below.
Moeders (literally: mothers) is one of the few ‘Dutch’ food restaurants we’ve heard of, not including the snackbars. It’s a quaint place close to the city centre of Amsterdam. When they started out, they asked all their customers for cutlery and crockery and that’s how they ended up with loads of unmatched knives, forks, spoons, glasses and plates. What makes it quaint as well is all the photographs of mothers from around the world that adorn its walls. Even the toilet doors and walls are filled with photo frames and quotes about mothers. They say you can bring a framed photograph of your own mother and they will put it up for you.
They also gave Rosa this cute little gift for her impending motherhood:
What we always order in this restaurant is the faux rijsttafel (literally: rice table). The word itself originated in Indonesia. The Dutch who lived there ate a midday meal that comprised rice with a lot of side dishes. This was called the rijsttafel. Want to know something interesting? Rijsttafel featured on the National Scripps Spelling Bee in 2004.
The reason that this is a misnomer is that it doesn’t contain any rice. Each of the seven elements is served separately.
Hachee (borrowed from the French word for chopping) and Suddervlees (simmered meat) are both beef stews with Hachee being the thicker of the two. Suddervlees has a more acidic kick to it. Both have been paired traditionally with potatoes and for good reason.
Speaking of potatoes, the boiled potatoes and the pan-fried potato wedges do a great job of soaking in the stews.
The first time we combined a sweet element in a savory dish was at an American friend’s thanksgiving party. The cranberry sauce with the turkey was novel to us and we loved it immediately. The apple sauce (appelmoes) and the red cabbage with apples do a similar job and raise the stew and potatoes to a new level.
And if the Dutch love of potatoes wasn’t clear enough, there were also potatoes with sauerkraut (zuurkoolstamppot). The sour notes in this dish were a perfect complement to the fatty bacon (spek) and the fat-heavy smoked sausage (rookworst) that were served with it. Fat-heavy anything is a win in our book.
We recommend Moeders; it’s a unique place to eat this kind of food. Make sure you have a reservation otherwise the tourists will beat you to the punch. It’s an allergy-friendly restaurant with clear markings, at least for gluten and lactose as well as vegetarian options.
It’s a shame that for a country that otherwise appreciates its culture and overuses the word delicious (lekker), the Netherlands doesn’t quite seem to value its kitchen enough. Maybe it’s the Calvinistic influence or the fact that food is seen as just fuel. However you slice it, if what we ate at Moeders is any representation, traditional Dutch food can be heerlijk and we hope that it comes back in a big way.