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Traditional Dutch cooking reflects not only the products that were grown in each region, but the seasons too. Before the widespread availability of fruit and vegetables from abroad or the introduction of artificial cultivation in heated greenhouses, the Dutch could only enjoy fresh produce during the summer months. In the depths of winter they survived on long-life foods such as smoked sausage, bacon, potato and cabbage. The fertile soil of the Netherlands provided the ingredients for simple, yet energy-rich meals that nourished the farmers who worked the fields.
Today, each region has its own particular take on typical Dutch recipes which are often a variation on meat, potatoes and vegetables, a filling soup such as ‘erwtensoep’ (pea soup) and ‘bruine bonensoep’ (brown bean soup), or sweet pancakes served with ‘stroop’ (syrup).
Food Products from Northern and Eastern Provinces
Friesland and Groningen are renowned for their wealth of delicious regional products and tasty delicacies. Most visitors to the Netherlands will have sampled ‘Groninger koek’ (cake), ‘Groninger gemberkoek’ (gingerbread) and ‘Groninger mosterd’ (mustard), without necessarily having travelled to the province. These items are so popular that they can be purchased in supermarkets across the country. ‘Hooghoudt jenever’ (a speciality gin), ‘Boerenjongens’ and ‘Groninger brandewijn’ (types of brandy) are favourite Groniger tipples that are also regularly stocked in Dutch cafés and bars outside of the Groningen. Some special recipes from Groningen are much more difficult to come by though and these alone can make a trip to the region worthwhile! They include curiously named delights such as ‘bloedbrood’ (blood bread), ‘fieterknutten’ (a variety of cake) and ‘stip in ’t gat’ (a buckwheat porridge).
Friesland can experience the country’s coldest weather which is why many of the region’s products are created with invigoration in mind. ‘Beerenburg’, a ‘jenever’ (Dutch gin) based drink, prepared using a number of herbs, was reserved for exceptionally cold days, when farmers and fishermen would drink it to warm up after a day spent toiling in the freezing fields or fishing on the Waddenzee. Strong Frisian cheeses such as ‘nagelkaas’ or ‘kanterkaas’ are a perfect accompaniment to Beerenburg which is now commonly served as an aperitif. Hearty Frisian meals demand a healthy appetite and ‘workumer palingsoep’ (eel soup) followed by ‘potjekoek in de vleespan’ (a sweet pastry) are no exception. Frisians enjoy their pastries and cakes with a cup of coffee containing milk from leading Dutch dairy, ‘Friesche Vlag’, which was established by Frisian farmers in 1913.
If you happen to be in Drenthe at New Year you may get the opportunity to try ‘spekkendikken’ (waffles with bacon). If so, make sure you look out for the piece of cotton that is sometimes hidden in the waffle as a practical joke!
Food Products from Central and Western Provinces
Central and Western provinces are famous for their imaginative recipes created from locally sourced ingredients such as fresh fish from the North Sea and the Ijsselmeer, cabbage from Langedijk and internationally acclaimed cheeses from Gouda and Edam. Many of the products, including ‘Gouda’, ‘Edam’ and ‘Boeren-Leidse’ cheese and even the unassuming ‘opperdoezer’ potato, benefit from a protected EU status that formally recognises their uniqueness and the fact that they cannot be reproduced anywhere else on the planet.
The region also boasts a fine selection of confectionary that include firm Dutch favourites such as ‘Haagse hopjes’ (coffee sweets), ‘muntdrop’ (liquorice) and high quality chocolate. Dutch chocolate manufacturer ‘Droste’, which produces the iconic cocoa tins with their unmistakable logo of an old-fashioned Dutch nurse, exports large quantities of its delicious Droste chocolate abroad.
Food Products from the South
Zeeland might be best known outside the Netherlands for its superior seafood including mussels and local ‘yerseke’ oysters, which are considered delicacies around the world, but it is also revered nationally for its bacon inspired dishes. ‘Zeeuws spek’ a subliminal dish of roasted or grilled pork, marinated in a delectable blend of mustard, soy sauce, onion, garlic, paprika and pepper is a perfect illustration.
The inhabitants of Noord-Brabant and Limburg live life to the full and have a reputation for being bon-viveurs at heart. In Limburg this culminates in the ‘Limburgse vlaai’, a round, flat tart crammed with rice or local fruits such as delicate apricots, sweet cherries or tangy gooseberries, while in Brabant it is the extravagant ‘Bossche bollen’, indulgent, super-sized choux buns stuffed with fresh cream and generously coated in rich chocolate, that really shine.
Another Limburg speciality is ‘zoervleisj’ (literally sour meat), that despite its off-putting name is a mouth watering stew containing horse meat, vinegar, ginger and syrup. You can buy this ready-made from snack bars throughout the province, where it is usually served with a portion of French fries, mayonnaise and a dash of pride! It is no coincidence that syrup is an integral ingredient in this lovely dish either. Limburg is the home of both ‘stroop’ (syrup) and the Canisius factory which produces one of the nations most popular products – ‘Rinse appelstroop’ (apple syrup), which has been spread on pancakes, sandwiches and the tasty ‘Limburgs roggebrood’ (rye bread) for generations!