To be honest, I didn’t really know what, if anything, Dutch cuisine was before arriving in Holland. For other countries, the identification is much easier and can be the reason to plan a trip. Since arriving, and in the weeks following when I started ‘living’ here, I’ve started to get a sense of that cuisine, and how people eat. While still a bit vague, it is very much tied to the country’s farming culture. Potatoes were introduced in the 1700s and remain a serious staple today. The Dutch are also one of the most important European exporters of cheese (Gouda, a famous city) and milk – and the cheese here is very good. It, along with bread, is a staple in the Dutch diet, often making up an everyday breakfast. Even the neighborhood supermarkets bake loaves of bread fresh behind the counter. I bought a whole-wheat sliced sandwich loaf last week that was still warm in its plastic bag.
The greenhouses here are commonplace, an example of Dutch innovation and intelligence. Vegetables (and flowers) are produced efficiently and deliciously, often on land reclaimed from the sea. Even my bike ride to the beach took us past several greenhouse farms, sometimes called Glass Cities, growing lettuce and other produce.
And, of course, there is the herring. Raw, with onions, and best eaten outside. It’s definitely a daredevil food, which says something about the Dutch personality, I think. Blunt and confident, for sure, but equally fun-hearted.
What I had wanted to try for a couple weeks, though, is Pannenkoek. Pannenkoeken are Dutch pancakes. Flour, milk, eggs, and salt, they sound like pancakes from home. But in form, they’re really thin and really big and taste a bit more savory. After hours of wandering up and down narrow streets, admiring Amsterdam’s charming canals, and museum-hopping like nobody’s business, pannenkoeken was the goal. The city must have known, because we barely walked a block before happening on The Pancake Bakery. It was dark outside and the restaurant’s windows and open door set off a warm glow.
The atmosphere was worn in and seemed to promise good food… the menu is mouthwatering! And difficult for the indecisive. The point of a pannenkoek is how you choose to have it – with ham, cheese, and mushrooms? Spinach, brie and cashews? Walnuts, Mocha-caramel sauce, amaretto, and apples? Nutella, of course. Pears, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream? Hmmm?? I wanted savory and was stuck between 3 choices: Cheese and mushrooms, cheese and ginger (you’re curious, aren’t you? I chickened out), or the Masai: broccoli, carrots, peppers, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, leeks and cheese. I went with the first, but I still think about the second one. My friend Ruth chose pannenkoek with baked apples, whipped cream, cinnamon ice cream, and cinnamon liqueur. So freakin’ good.