Dutch drinks, rather than food, have played a much more important role on a global scale thanks to the importance given to beer and its brewing over the centuries. In 1700 there were over seven hundred breweries although today there are only twenty-five working breweries in the Netherlands. Nevertheless many revival breweries are popping up throughout the country and are extremely popular tourist attractions. The most famous of all native beers is Heineken and you can visit its original home in Amsterdam but the Dutch also brew Amstel, Brandt, Breda, Grolsch, Oranjebook and Skol.
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, they are also responsible for the brewing of Jenever, a straight gin made from the juniper berry which comes in two varieties ‘jonge’ which is young gin and ‘oude’ which is old. The difference is not in their age, however, but in their colour and flavour. Try them both for a true idea of the contrast – not that you need any encouragement.
When it comes to food typical Dutch cuisine is rarely regarded as exciting or original. The one thing that everyone will commend, however, is the size of the portions because these people certainly know how to pile it on. Not big on experimentation the emphasis is on practicality.
Typical Dutch dishes include pea erwtensoep - a thick pea soup served with smoked sausage and cubes of bacon with brown or white bread as an accompaniment, hutspot - a potato, carrot and onion stew, groentensoep – clear consommé with vegetables, pasta and meatballs and boerenkool met rookworst – kale and potatoes served with smoked sausage.
Seafood is extremely popular in the Netherlands, particularly herring, mussels, sole, shrimps and oysters. Herring is the most popular and is eaten fresh when it’s in season in May. If you are in the Netherlands at the beginning of herring season you will never be forgiven if you don’t sample the green herrings sold from pushcarts along city streets and it them in the special way where you hold it by the tail and slip it down your throat. If you miss this season, however, don’t despair as pickled herring is common all year round. Lucky you. And as if all this wasn’t appetising enough, another favourite is the freshwater eel which is usually smoked, filleted and served on toast but if this doesn’t whet your appetite you can also eat it stewed or fried.
If at this stage you’re a little worried about the Dutch menu, fear not. Deserts in the Netherlands are much more gastronomically pleasing. With over twenty-five different varieties of pancake or pannekoeken as well as waffles, pastries and cakes, you really have plenty to choose from.