Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dutch Cooking Reviewed

Still life with ham, lobster and fruit/Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Have you ever tasted Dutch food? Have you ever visited a Dutch restaurant? Probably not if you live in the U.S. A recent article in the New York Times reflects an overly critical view of the Dutch culinary experience: it describes the visit of their journalists to Amsterdam restaurants alongside Mark Schiefelbein, a 44-year-old native of Germany who moved to Amsterdam from Strasbourg, France and has a local food blog. Don't take me wrong, mr. Schiefelbein has a nice blog and seems very aware of quality food, but his views on Dutch food are a bit harsh.

Personally, born and raised in the Netherlands and having lived for a long time in Amsterdam - and also in New York -,  I agree that the offering of many average Dutch restaurants could be improved, especially when compared to Schiefelbein's Alsatian experience, which by the way is a region with one of the richest culinary cultures. I find it quite exaggerated, when he describes his first experiences coming to Amsterdam in 1999 as follows: " Amsterdam was a food wasteland at the time....And I talked to people and they said, "Oh, it's really improved." I'm thinking, "My God, how bad could it have been?'".........

Very bad, is his answer. Even though the article then continues with showcasing a number of fine Amsterdam restaurants, which are to mr. Scheifelbein's liking, I'd like to highlight a few other positives about Dutch food, not mentioned in this article.

One is that there are a lot of great Indonesian restaurants in Holland. Due to its colonial history with Indonesia, this has become one of the more popular foods in Holland. The story goes that when Queen Beatrix visited President Reagan in 1982 the official Dutch banquet offered to President Reagan consisted of an Indonesian Rijsttafel, in English "rice tabel, which according to Wikipedia is "an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch following the presentation of food from the Padang region of West Sumatra. It consists of many (forty is not an unusual number) side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways. Popular side dishes include egg rolls, sambals, satay, fish, fruit, vegetables, pickels and nuts. If you are in Holland, then visit Tempo Doeloe in Amsterdam and Garoeda in The Hague.

Indonesian food is among the best in the world, but also largely unknown and hardly present in New York. One Indonesian restaurant in Manhattan is Bali Nusah Indah, not as good as I'm used to in Holland, but still worth trying.

Then something about some traditional Dutch foods, which when well-prepared are delicious, some of my favorites are for example: Erwtensoep (the traditional Dutch split pea soup); veal croquettes, something you can get almost anywhere from Dutch pubs to restaurants; Asparagus Hollandaise, (with white asparagus, not the green ones which are much better known in the U.S.); Mussel pot with trapist beer; stroopwafels (Dutch syrup waffles, which sometimes can be found in the U.S.), and a wide variety of famous Dutch cheeses.  For more Dutch traditional recipes visit About.com's Dutch Food edited by Karin Engelbrecht, who also is quoted in the New York Times article.

Let's end where we started: have you ever visited a Dutch restaurant?  There are plenty of them on your next visit to Holland. Unfortunately, as far as I know none in New York. Hopefully a Dutch culinary entrepreneur will follow the example of the Belgians, neighbors to the Dutch and French and sharing in both their respective food traditions.The Belgian restaurants in New York are so widespread they have even a Belgian restaurant week. I could recommend a Belgian restaurant, which in its name and some of its dishes shows that the Dutch and Belgians have something in common: Brabant, named after the Belgian province while the Dutch province on the other side of the border is called Noord-Brabant: here you can enjoy some Belgian-Dutch flavors, such as uitsmijter ( an open-faced sandwich with two sunny side eggs), North Sea Shrimp roll, and  white asparagus. Let me know what you think. Eet smakelijk!

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