I am aware there are many, many things that people Do Not Understand about my home country, the United States. Some of them I can explain (tax rates are different everywhere! that’s why we add the tax at point of sale and don’t include it in listed prices!); some of them I can’t (but that’s a post for another time).
Somewhere in the middle, there are things that I “get,” myself, but can’t seem to articulate to people from other countries. King among these is the American art of terrible, terrible junk food.
Story time: when I was living in a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand, my mother told me she was sending a package and asked me what I wanted from the US.
I was stumped. I mean, you can’t ship Pizza Luce — what’s the point? Luckily Meesh, my English roommate, came to the rescue. “Ooh! Can your mom send us Twinkies? Ever since I saw Zomebieland I’ve wanted to try one.”
I passed the request along, and several weeks later (New Zealand is basically another planet), the Twinkies arrived. (Extra story time: my mother claimed she didn’t even know where to find Twinkies, an anecdote I considered a bit overblown until this recipe for a twinkie bundt from Smitten Kitchen backed her up. Sorry, Mom.) I’d never tried one, either, so we broke open the box excitedly, passed them around to various other hostel-dwellers, and dug in.
The consensus was not good.
Like, really not good. You’ll rarely hear backpackers complain about free food, so they didn’t riot or anything, but everyone was basically like, “What is it made out of? Is it food? I don’t get it.” (Honestly, I think the entire experience probably put Meesh off Zombieland.)
Now, I didn’t much care for the Twinkies, either — but I understood them. It didn’t matter that they tasted like styrofoam; that was kind of the point.
(See also: Taco Bell.)
I’m not trying to say Dutch junk food tastes like styrofoam. Honest. But it doesn’t always look pretty or sound very enticing to newcomers; and it rarely gets the kind of recognition it deserves for being just terrible enough to work. I’d say there’s a kind of spirit that we can all get behind — whether we’re Dutch, American, or anyone else with a sadly misunderstood, uh, “cuisine.”
With that, I’d like to tell you about a few of my favorite weird or ugly (but delicious) Dutch foods.
• Bitterballen: The plural of bitterbal, a very common snack served in pubs across the Netherlands. Bitterballen are breaded, deep-fried balls of meat goop, usually accompanied by mustard. I actually really disliked these at first (I mean, “meat goop,” you guys) but it turns out, they’re kind of an acquired taste. These days, I go for a beer just for the prospect of a few bitterballen.* (These are pictured at the top of this post.)
• Kroket: A bitterbal in a different (rather phallic) shape. Also occasionally eaten inside a bread roll, like a sandwich. (The Dutch really like sandwiches.)
• Stroopwafel: Thin crispy waffle-y cookies with caramel filling. Warning: these crumbly bastards are as messy as they are delicious. The next seven people you speak with will know that you’ve eaten one because it will be in your hair, all over your shirt, and probably in your eyebrows. (You will find no shame from me, my friend.)
• Kaassoufflé: More deep-fried snacky goodness, but with melted cheese inside. The kaassoufflé is basically the American mozzerella stick’s second cousin a few times removed. It is nothing like a soufflé.
• Droge worst: Literally, dried sausage. There are several varieties, though to be honest, I can’t offer strong opinions about any one in particular versus the others. Droge worst looks like and feels like a hard, wrinkled rope of plastic, but it has a delicious spicy flavour. Make sure you have some floss handy; it will get stuck between your teeth.
• Loempia: Or, as you may know them, spring rolls. (See also: Indonesian food for white people.) Small ones often come with “bittergarnitur” (little snack plates served at bars), and you’ll find them sold at kiosks at markets and events. They need to be eaten pizza roll style: that is, you bite a bit off the end to let the steaming hot filling cool before stuffing the rest in your mouth. (That’s…how everyone eats pizza rolls, right?)
As a sidenote, don’t go thinking the Dutch only eat junk. The fuckers basically invented kale.
*And the prospect of a few beers. FINE.