Tag Archives: Dutch Food

Dutch Herring

Dutch Herring

My favourite fish stall to buy herring. I love to take food tour clients here.

Dutch Herring:

Excitement is building here in the Netherlands.  Ever since it was announced in April social media has been chattering with events and my mailbox has been slowly filling with invitations.  This year the official start date of the herring season is 15th June.    Although herring can be caught through the months of May and June, there is always an official season start date picked by experts earlier in the year.  They decide when the herring are at their best based on, amongst other things, plankton levels in the North sea, this gives an indication of how fat the fish will be and when.  It’s a huge thing here and announcements are made in National media keeping us up to date with the condition of this year’s herring.  Parties and events are held all over the country to celebrate the landing of the herring.  The most famous of which is ‘vlaggetjesdag’ or flag day in the seaside town of Scheveningen near Den Haag.  This party takes place around the day of the opening of the season and the first barrel of herring is auctioned off for charity and always raises thousands.

This all makes it sound as if herring is only available at a specific time of year, but in fact we eat it year round.  Once caught in the herring season, the fish is frozen and defrosted throughout the year to ensure the best of the catch is available whenever we want it.

Dutch Herring

Fresh herring from the fish stall with little onions and pickles. On the side you can see ‘kibbeling’.

A lot of fuss about a little fish you might think?  Well I did too until I learned more about the significance of this tradition.  For starters, with all this publicity and excitement people are aware of where their food comes from, not only that, we also learn about the state of our sea – not a bad thing.  And of course where would Amsterdam be without herring?  Probably still a little town fighting to keep its head above water – literally and financially.  Amsterdam in particular has a lot to thank the little herring for.  It gave a huge boost to the economy of the evolving city hundreds of years ago.  Amsterdam’s origins are inseparable from the sea, herring was plentiful and so was always one of the main catches, as it was for so many cities and countries bordering the North sea.  But, the Dutch made a discovery that gave them the competitive edge when it came to catching the fish.  They found that by leaving a certain part of the stomach in the fish and not gutting it completely, enzymes were produced which kept the herring fresh for longer.  This had huge consequences for the industry and for Amsterdam.  Fishermen could stay at sea longer, make bigger catches for less cost and then the herring industry really took off and Amsterdam along with it.  Boat builders were needed to make the bigger vessels needed to catch and transport their precious cargo and of course numerous other trades and industries were needed to service the thriving herring industry.

Dutch Herring

You’ll see signs next to fish stalls celebrating the new catch.

Herring is eaten today as a street food.  You won’t see it in a restaurant, well, you might, but probably cooked or pickled or in some other fancy guise than the authentic raw version.  Yes, I said raw, the Dutch eat their herring raw.  Not pickled, that’s Germany or Scandinavia, not here.  You’ll get the best herring from stalls on the street or at markets.  Every area of every city has its herring stall.   These stalls sell other fish snacks like ‘kibbeling’ which is deep fried, seasoned pieces of white fish.  Traditionally cod, but when stocks became low and prices went up in recent years it was replaced by other white fish.  The word ‘kibbeling’ is a mix up of ‘kabeljauwwang’ which means cod cheek and is a really tasty alternative if you can’t quite handle raw herring.  I would urge you to try though, it is delicious, if it’s nice and fresh it’s hardly even fishy tasting, just creamy and sweet.  And of course it’s packed full of that famous healthy Omega 3 oil which does us so much good.  Think of it as Dutch sushi (no wonder Japanese travellers go wild for it!).

Dutch Herring

Fish Stalls dressed up to celebrate the new herring season.

If you’re an Amsterdammer, you’ll more than likely want pickles with your herring.  This combination is a centuries old version of fusion food (really, there is nothing new).  Pickling is big here in Amsterdam and was brought to the city by Jewish people.

So, if you want to eat your herring like and Amsterdammer, get over to the Albert Cuyp Market, look for the fish stalls – which will stand out from the crowd at this time of year with their big banners with ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’, written on them meaning that they have taken delivery of the new season herring  and ask for ‘Haring met uitjes en zuur’  – herring with little onions and pickled gherkins.  Then stand at the stall with your fellow herring connoisseurs from all walks of life and all ages whilst you stab at small pieces of herring with your Dutch flagged cocktail sticks muttering about this year’s quality and saying ‘hmmm lekker!’ (tasty!) at regular intervals.  Oh, but maybe not tell the Dutch that their prized herring was probably caught in Danish or Scottish waters.

Read my article on the best place (and most famous) to buy your authentic Amsterdam pickles.  De Leeuw.

Dutch Herring

Five generations of pickling tradition. Even Van Gogh enjoyed this family recipe.

 

 

Carels Restaurant Amsterdam

Carels Restuarant Amsterdam

Carels Restaurant Amsterdam:

A few months back I started to hear excited rumblings from all foodie corners of the city  ‘Carels is coming back!’ They said.  At first I didn’t want to show my ignorance so I just nodded and said ‘hmmm’.  After a bit of research I understood what all the anticipatory fuss was about.

It turns out that Carels Café Restaurant was an institution in ‘De Pijp’ in Amsterdam.  A traditional, classic Amsterdam brasserie and drinking spot that was always full, always ‘gezellig’ (fun, comfortable, cozy), and the food was always good.  The menu was small and hardly ever changed.  Another good sign was it had many many regular guests, loyal for years.  Then, almost 30 years ago, it closed.  I haven’t been able to find out why, could have just been one of those things, but this is Amsterdam, this is the hospitality industry in Amsterdam, so you never really know.

Carels Restaurant Amsterdam

The restaurant, under new ownership has been resurrected.  They opened their doors at the end of last year.  The concept has been updated, but not, (thank you, thank you!) to be a copycat of so many new eateries in the city.  They have kept the best bits of Amsterdam brasseries (or as they are called here ‘eetcafes’).  And that is: small menu: no pretentions: good quality meat, especially steaks: fresh fish: seasonal daily specials: beautiful bar area.

When I first came to Amsterdam this style of restaurant wasn’t hard to find, but now, they are becoming fewer and further between.  Being replaced, at a rate of knots, with soulless, mediocre restaurants (think American style burgers and lobster, smoothies, juice and yogurt bars) each one cheaper and nastier than the last.

Standing outside Carels I felt my spirits lift.  My heart sang at the sight of all that wood and those big windows.   The interior is, in my opinion, beautiful.  Classic, modern, Amsterdam.  The greeting is friendly and not overly formal.  Professional.  The staff know what they should be doing and they know the menu.  There is an area like a sort of conservatory, glass covered and that joins on to the bar.  I came to eat, but I realised that you could easily just have drinks here – they have a great snack menu too, and they are open for lunch.

This is what I chose:

Spumante ‘Il Grigio: €7,00 per glass:  I know, I can’t help myself.  After going on about all that traditional Amsterdam stuff and I go and order some Italian fizz.  Ok, but it was good.

Carels Restaurant Amsteram

A glass of house wine, red, Domeine Mont d’Hordes, grenache/shiraz €4,50: Perfect with my steak.

Confit farmhouse chicken with winter salad: €9,50:  Tender, sweet and flavoursome chicken that melted in the mouth with a crunchy, simple winter salad.

Carels Restaurant Amsterdam

Steak with Fries and Salad: €23,50:  This was the meat dish of the day.  I ordered it medium rare and it was perfectly cooked.  Served with some Jerusalem artichokes which was a great match.  Fries served of course with lashings of mayonnaise, Dutch style, and the salad was simple, crispy and fresh.  The sauce with the steak, a gravy was sweet and had great depth of flavour.

Carels Restuarant Amsterdam

Cheese Board: €11,00: As well as being one of my favourite ways to end a meal, ordering a cheeseboard is always a bit of a gamble.  I don’t do it everywhere.  The reason?  Well, as simple as it seems, most restaurants get it horribly wrong.  But here I had no reservations about asking for it.  I enjoyed the meal and the service so much that I knew everything would be ok.  And of course, it was.  Cheese served at room temperature, just the right side of ripe and classic flavour and cheese type combinations.

Carels Restaurant Amsterdam

Carels
Frans Halsstraat 76, 1072 BV Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 – 73 72 479

 

 

Thuis aan de Amstel – a home from home

 

Thuis aan de Amstel

Thuis aan de Amstel

‘At Home on the Amstel’, that’s what the name means.

The area where Thuis aan de Amstel is situated has a new name, the ‘Amstelkwartier’, and is in the rather rapid process of getting a new look.  Thuis aan de Amstel is in the middle of all this re-development in what used to be where the old gasworks was.  Most of the area has been flattened and is already being covered in new hotels and apartments.  All except a couple of buildings with (luckily) ‘monument’ status.  This means that they can’t be knocked down, in fact, they can’t be altered much at all, because of their distinct style or historical importance.  The building which has been known as ‘Thuis aan de Amstel’ since 2013 was the home of the directors of the gasworks and their families up until the 1960’s.

Thuis aan de Amstel

 

Needless to say the building is fantastic, still more or less in its original style (built between 1907 and 1913).  It’s open for breakfast through lunch, evening drinks and dinner.  Upstairs you’ll find rooms that have been set up as unique, quirky conference spaces where you can have meetings or workshops.  They use the building to display artists’ work and have live jazz music on Sunday afternoons.

Thuis aan de Amstel

The food always seems to be exactly what I’m looking for.  Lots of hearty salads and soups, pasta’s risotto’s as well as fish, meat and creative vegetarian options.  There are plenty of sandwiches, and you really must try the home baking.

Thuis aan de Amstel

The food, like the atmosphere is authentic, pure and honest.  Simple flavours that have been treated with care and speak for themselves – nothing fussy, just tasty.  They always hit the season on the head too.  Now, winter time, there are still lots of my favourite salads but with roast winter vegetables and berries.  And I’ve enjoyed their pea soup more than a few times – a Dutch winter classic slow cooked and nutritious, just what you need to set yourself up for a walk along a frosty Amstel river or to warm you after a bracing cycle.  In summer the glass doors at the front of the house are open and the terrace is in full use by cyclists, walkers, locals, rowers.

Thuis aan de Amstel

The food is as sunny as the garden terrace overlooking the river.  And, the garden isn’t just there for show – it’s been put to good use.  They grow lots of herbs and some vegetables which are of course used in their dishes.

Thuis aan de Amstel

There’s something really special about this place.  I think it must be a combination of the building, the location, the food, the atmosphere and the staff.  I can so easily sit there for hours, alone or with company.  It’s such an easy and pleasant place to be, to eat, to enjoy, to drink.  They couldn’t have chosen a more perfect name because it is indeed exactly like being ‘At Home on the Amstel.’

Thuis aan de Amstel

 

Dutch Mustard Soup

Dutch Mustard Soup

Dutch Mustard Soup

At first, when I heard about Mustard Soup, I thought it must be a joke.  It must be just a name surely, because of course you can’t make soup out of mustard – can you?  I began to wonder if we were talking about a version of the mythical ‘stone soup’.   I watched others eat it and it didn’t look apetizing, a sort of muddy sludge.  What I didn’t know at the time is that the Mustard Soups I had witnessed were ones from a packet.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I tried it in the safety of a friend’s house.  As he set the plates of mustard soup down, all I could do was make the same anticipatory noises as my fellow Dutch diners and hope for the best.  As I dove in for my first mouthful, I got mentally prepared and told myself to be polite and  not to grimace if it was awful.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  This was proper Dutch Mustard Soup, the way it was supposed to be.  Creamy and light with a background of mustard flavour – delicious!  I wouldn’t be without this recipe.

I really like to serve this as a starter to a fish based meal, but of course it is a great precursor to meats too.

You will notice that some of my ingredients are not quite Dutch, I have adapted this, if only slightly, to my own taste.

Preparation: less than 10 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

150gr / 5.3 oz. bacon lardons
40gr / 1.5 oz. plain flour
40gr / 1.5 oz. unsalted butter
1 x liter / 1.7 pt. (UK) / 2 x pt. (US) chicken stock
100ml / 3.4 fl. oz.  single cream
1 x medium sized shallot chopped very finely
2 x large cloves of garlic chopped very finely
2 x tbsp of grain mustard
2 x tsp of English Mustard
½ a fresh nutmeg grated
Salt and pepper
Freshly chopped spring onion to dress

Method

  1. Fry off the bacon in a frying pan until it is cooked and crispy, set aside. You can drain off any excess oil by placing the bacon on some kitchen paper for a while.
  2. In your soup pan, add the butter and heat until melted, then fry off the garlic and shallots gently so that they soften but don’t take on colour. This should take about a minute.
  3. Then it’s time to make the roux which is the base of this soup. Add the flour and stir quickly into the butter mix with a wooden spoon until coated, then add the stock and whisk through with a metal whisk.  Keep going until the soup starts to thicken.  This should take about 7 minutes.
  4. On a medium heat, add the cream, mustard and nutmeg. Stir through and then check for seasoning.  You may find that you don’t have to add any salt and pepper as the mustard can be salty as well as the stock.
  5. You can either add the bacon to the soup, or as I like to do sprinkle a little over each serving with some spring onion or chives.

Tips and Variations

  • You may have noticed that there are a couple of ingredients that are not authentic in this recipe, the English mustard is of course one of those. I like to use it as it gives an extra depth as well as colour.  Nutmeg is also my own personal addition.  I think it works well in this roux/cream soup it also adds a little to the depth of flavour.
  • I would always recommend good quality stock to make soups as this is will affect the flavour greatly. Try and go to your butcher for this or some supermarkets do nice ones too.  The stock cube tends to just be a little bomb of salt and trans fat.
  • This soup is nice served with some rye bread, perhaps with some Dutch mature Gouda (only if you can get the real stuff though), if not, I like Emmentaler with some fresh tomato.

Amsterdam Private Food Tours

If this has made you hungry for more, why not book one of my Private Amsterdam Food Tours?  Just you and your own party with some of the very best food the city has to offer.

Dutch Oliebollen

Dutch Oliebollen

Dutch Oliebollen

New Year is all about ‘oliebollen’ here in Amsterdam.  Well, not completely, they do like a glass or several of something bubbly too.  And the ‘oliebol’ is not just popular in the Netherlands, but can be found in Belgium and in surrounding areas under different aliases.  During the winter months you’ll see stalls springing up all over the place selling ‘oliebollen’

‘Oliebol’, directly translated means ‘oil sphere’, not an appetizing description, I’ll give you that.  But for those of you who are familiar with the Dutch language you’ll know that their pragmatism and direct nature overtakes the need for any descriptions that may lean towards the poetic.  My advice would be to focus on the Dutch words and not think about what they mean in English.  If you’re not familiar with the ‘Oliebol’ the closest description I can think of is a doughnut, but without the hole in the middle.  The loose dough is made from flour, eggs, yeast, salt and lukewarm milk or buttermilk.    Sometimes they are plain, sometimes raisins are added and sometimes apple.  The ones with apple are usually called ‘appelbeignets’.   Whatever your preference, they are best served warm and fresh from the deep fat fryer.  A snowy sprinkling of icing sugar tops them off perfectly.

Dutch Oliebollen

There are many stories as to the origin of the ‘oliebol’, but the most widely held is that it comes from the Germanic celebration of Yule.  A pagan winter festival that ran from 26 December to 6 January.  The belief was that many bad spirits roamed the earth during this period, but they could be appeased by offerings of food.  I can relate to that sentiment.  There’s nothing that’ll knock me out of a funk quicker than a sweet and sticky, warm and doughy product.  Anyway, the ‘oliebol’ seems to have had superpowers when it came to protecting yourself from these bad spirits.  Not only were they pleased with the tasty offerings, but the oil in which the ‘oliebol’ was fried made sure that the sword of Perchta (a particularly cranky goddess) slid right off you.  I love these kind of stories, of course I do, I’m from Scotland, our Hogmanay celebrations are steeped in all sorts of weird and wonderful traditions and rituals.  There’s another power the little oliebol poseses which my Scottishness appreciates, its ability to soak up lots of those New Year bubbles.  Seems like the ‘oliebol’ can repel all sorts of spirits.

So of course you’ll be wanting to know where you can get hold of these magical little treats.  Recommending a good spot can be a convoluted task.  The reason being is the Dutch have a national ‘Oliebollen’ test each year to find the best.  This is a bit of a Dutch obsession – they can’t help themselves but rate everything, they love nothing better than to give a number from one to ten. It can be anything, so if you visit the Netherlands, or have recently moved here, be prepared to rate any and all of your experiences in this way.  For example, you may get a question like ‘What did you think of the Van Gogh museum?’  Of course you can wax lyrical, but if you want to keep it succinct you can say ‘Yes, really great, I’d give it a 9 out of 10.’  Don’t worry, the Dutch don’t expect to get a 10 for anything, they like to have something to criticise.  So given this cultural quirk it’s no surprise food doesn’t escape.  They do this at various times during the year with various Dutch seasonal delicacies – you get used to it.  If you are in Amsterdam or anywhere in the Netherlands from about the beginning of December to mid-January, you’ll see ‘Oliebollen’ stalls start to spring up, but when it comes to oliebollen in Amsterdam, these are the places I buy from:

Hartog
Ruyschstraat 56,
1091 CE Amsterdam

Lanskroon
Singel 385,
1012 WL Amsterdam

Kuyt
Utrechtsestraat 109-111,
1017 VL Amsterdam

Dutch Oliebollen