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In the seventeenth century, during a particularly affluent period in the country’s history known as the ‘Golden Age’, the Netherlands became a dominant colonial power. At this time, international trade flourished and Dutch companies enjoyed a monopoly on shipping and commerce in Africa and Asia. By 1815, however, the wealth and prosperity of the Kingdom of the Netherlands had declined dramatically and its colonial empire dwindled to just a handful of countries that included the Dutch East Indies (modern day Indonesia), Dutch New Guinea, Surinam and the Dutch Antilles. In 1949 Indonesia won a bloody battle for independence, quickly followed by Surinam in 1975. Today only the beautiful islands that make up the Dutch Antilles officially remain part of the Netherlands and even they benefit from a special municipality status and a large degree of autonomy.
Fascinatingly, the Netherlands not only left a deep impression on her colonies, but was in turn forever influenced by the peoples and cultures of those once occupied lands. And nowhere can this be witnessed more clearly than in Dutch cuisine.
Dutch Indonesian Food
Indonesian cooking is incredibly popular in the Netherlands, although it actually bears little resemblance to authentic Indonesian cuisine. In fact, Dutch colonists in the Dutch East Indies found the exotic and often spicy Indonesian food hard to stomach and many traditional Indonesian dishes were subsequently toned down to cater for their delicate taste buds. Dishes either contained significantly less chilli or were served in a completely different way. A great example is the ‘Indische rijsttafel’ (Indonesian rice table), a lavish meal created entirely for voracious Dutch visitors who preferred to be waited on with an excessive number of dishes by an extravagant number of staff. The rijstafel features a large assortment of both main and side dishes, typically served together. The meal will include a selection of fragrant meat dishes such as ‘babi pangang’ (roasted pig) and ‘babi ketjap’ (pork marinated in soy sauce), fried rice or noodles known as ‘nasi goreng’ and ’bami goreng’ respectively, accompanied by a variety of tasty side dishes such as ‘tjampoer’ (pickled vegetables), ‘sambal oelek’ (a hot pepper sauce), ‘kroepoek’ (prawn crackers) and ‘seroendeng’ (grated coconut mixed with peanuts, fried onions and spices).
After the Netherlands officially recognised Indonesian Independence, the country welcomed a large influx of Chinese-Indonesian immigrants who altered Dutch Indonesian cuisine forever. Dutch towns and cities were swamped with Chinese-Indonesian restaurants that introduced an inquisitive Dutch public to classic dishes such as ‘nasi goreng’ (fried rice) and ‘loempia’ (spring rolls), that remain firm favourites even today. And, whilst contemporary Dutch Indonesian cuisine bears few similarities to the type of food that your average Indonesian family regularly enjoys, it is still a delicious treat nonetheless!
Dutch Surinamese Cooking
Food from Surinam became widely available in the Netherlands after the south American country won independence in 1975, although even today Surinamese restaurants and takeaways tend to be concentrated in large towns and cities. Surinam boasts a culturally diverse population whose inhabitants represent many corners of the globe including India, Africa, China and Indonesia. As a result Surinamese cooking is extremely varied and showcases a range of tempting dishes influenced by Hindu, Creole, Chinese and Javanese cookery.
Rice, roti and the versatile cassava form the basis of most meals, which are usually served with chicken or fish. Popular dishes in Dutch Surinamese restaurants include ‘pom’ (a hearty oven dish made from a root vegetable known as ‘tayer’), ‘zoutvlees’ (salted beef) and ‘bakkeljauw’ (dried cod). These often come with a side portion of ‘kouseband’ (a long variety of bean), okra or ‘boulanger’ (a type of aubergine). Extra heat is provided by adding ‘Madame Jeanette’ peppers, a seriously hot chilli pepper from Surinam which must be treated with respect! The ubiquitous ‘broodje kipkerrie met pepers en zuur’ (a bread roll crammed with chicken curry and tangy, sweet and sour pickles) has become a Dutch lunchtime favourite that provides a welcome alternative to a ‘broodje kaas’ (a traditional Dutch sandwich with cheese).
These days Dutch supermarkets cater to their local communities and where there are Surinamese residents, you can bet there are plenty of traditional Surinamese products such as Surinamese pindasaus’ (peanut sauce) and ‘masala’ (curry powder) on the shelves.
Dutch Antillean Cuisine
Like Surinamese cooking, the Caribbean style Dutch Antillean cuisine is extremely varied and has been coloured by a people that originated from all around the world. The Dutch are increasingly falling in love with its wide range of interesting dishes such as ‘funchi’ (a variety of polenta) served with stewed or fried meat, ‘pan bati’ (pancakes) and ‘sopitu’ ( a lovely meal containing fish and meat gently cooked in coconut milk).
Food from the Dutch Antilles is certainly less prevalent than Surinamese or Indonesian cooking, but if you’re visiting the Netherlands it’s well worth taking the effort to seek it out. Restaurants, which are predominantly centred around Dutch Antillean communities, reward patrons with both sublime Antillean cuisine and a memorable dining experience. Each year the ‘Biljmer’ district in Amsterdam bursts into life with the vivid sights, pulsing sounds and tantalising smells of the ‘Kwakoe’ festival – a lively, open air, three week Dutch Antillean carnival which evolved from a humble football tournament into an annual event not to be missed. There is simply nowhere better to sample quality, home-cooked, Surinamese food and enjoy a fun, Caribbean style party in the Netherlands!