Amsterdam, Baby, Can We Talk About Your Food?

by Andy

Listen. The Dutch have done a lot. They created one of the most extensive maritime networks in history. They produced one of the most important artists of the 20th century in Vincent Van Gogh. And they built Amsterdam, which is one of the most charming cities on the planet.

But holy shit. Their food is terrible.

(It’s OK, I can say it. I’m a quarter Dutch. Or so I’m told. Still haven’t gotten my 23 & Me packet in the mail yet.)

 So many reason to love Amsterdam: canals...

So many reason to love Amsterdam: canals...

 windmills...

windmills...

 biking...

biking...

 late nights on boats... 

late nights on boats... 

 

After our whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia this past spring, we decided to pick somewhere easier (read: not 100 degrees) for a bit. And Amsterdam is easy. It’s pretty, we have friends there, and sometimes, even in August, it’s sweater weather. It was fun to post up for a few weeks and imagine what living there would be like.

Answer: It would be great, except for the parts where we’d have to eat.

Seriously. What is wrong with you, The Netherlands? (Can I call you “The Netherlands”?)

 A Dutch cookbook we found in our Airbnb that sort of says it all

A Dutch cookbook we found in our Airbnb that sort of says it all

If you’ve never had Dutch food, I’m jealous. The best way to describe it is to imagine that a bunch of tall blonde people looked around their kitchen, grabbed the first ten ingredients they could find, tossed those all onto a plate, and then added cooked raisins. Beef? Sour cream? Some pickles? Carrots? Apricot? Sure. Just throw ‘em all on there and let the Lord sort ‘em. Oh, and don’t forget the raisins.

Dining out is a minefield. Seemingly innocuous dishes are transformed into bizarre Dada compositions. There were even a few times I was actually offended by a dish. (Why would you ruin a perfectly delicious, delicate lobster by covering it in dill?? Why???)

 A "typical Dutch meal": some weird soup, a weird meat goo on a roll, a fried thing on a roll, a glob of mayo and potato, a few leaves of lettuce and mustard mayo for some unknown reason

A "typical Dutch meal": some weird soup, a weird meat goo on a roll, a fried thing on a roll, a glob of mayo and potato, a few leaves of lettuce and mustard mayo for some unknown reason

 This is a bourbon cocktail that they added ham to... #becauseDutch

This is a bourbon cocktail that they added ham to... #becauseDutch

 Lunch made for a friend's office, here's the description: cauliflower marinated in juice of beetroots, kidney beans with tarragon, sandwich with peanut butter and toffee of banana, cane sugar and Madame Jeanette hot peppers

Lunch made for a friend's office, here's the description: cauliflower marinated in juice of beetroots, kidney beans with tarragon, sandwich with peanut butter and toffee of banana, cane sugar and Madame Jeanette hot peppers

 Another work lunch, hard to identify, but I think it's: endive with pumpkin and celery, brown bread with salted meat and parsnip

Another work lunch, hard to identify, but I think it's: endive with pumpkin and celery, brown bread with salted meat and parsnip

 We resorted to cooking most meals in our apartment

We resorted to cooking most meals in our apartment

If there were a national dish, it would be the ubiquitous bitterballen. What are bitterballen? Essentially a bunch of fried gravy balls. (Admittedly, these are kind of good, but for a nation that controlled the international spice trade for upwards of 200 years, it feels like they could’ve come up something a little more interesting.)

And if you don’t want a mushy pea/yogurt/chicken/sauerkraut/eggplant monstrosity or fried bar food, your other option is cheese and/or meat. Again, I love cheese. But after just a few days of eating cheese for 83% of your daily calories, it gets a little old. (It also gets a little hard to poop.) And if you’re craving any vegetables at all? Kill yourself.

 Liverwurst and cheese and mustard and the Dutch flag x 12

Liverwurst and cheese and mustard and the Dutch flag x 12

 Another Dutch classic: ossenworst (i.e. raw, flavorless ground beef arranged on a plate)

Another Dutch classic: ossenworst (i.e. raw, flavorless ground beef arranged on a plate)

 Another Dutch delicacy: slimy herring

Another Dutch delicacy: slimy herring

But here’s the most infuriating thing about Dutch cuisine: They have no excuse. Remember how they established the biggest trading company in the world? What do you think they were trading? SPICES. They legitimately helped bring cuisine to the rest of the “civilized” world. Yet, they seemed to learn nothing in the process. Unless you count the part where they pick everything up and throw it in a bowl with raisins.

The Netherlands are really close to France AND Scandinavia—two regions that are openly CRUSHING cuisine. Heck, we took a brief daytrip to Antwerp, Belgium, and even the meal we had there was better than anything we’d had in Amsterdam for a month.

It just doesn’t make sense, Dutchies. You’ve created an advanced, progressive society and it’s clear you appreciate the arts, cycling, and feeling bad about how you acted during the Holocaust. But somehow you just didn’t bother to think about that thing that you do THREE TIMES A DAY. I’ve never been anywhere in the world that cares less about making food both nourishing and delicious. Even Laos is crushing you, and most Laotians don’t even have running water.

 Estonian chefs putting the Dutch to shame with this amazing elk meat dish we had at Kaks Kokka in Tallinn

Estonian chefs putting the Dutch to shame with this amazing elk meat dish we had at Kaks Kokka in Tallinn

 Laos had AMAZING food, like this $3 fish and kampot curry with sticky rice

Laos had AMAZING food, like this $3 fish and kampot curry with sticky rice

So, apologies to my forefathers, but man, you guys are really bad at food.

(Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve gained at least ten pounds in gouda weight alone.)