Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wat eten we vanavond?

 I'm currently working on a culinary project in England. While studying the traditional cuisine of the country, I realized how similar the English kitchen is to ours, in many ways. The colonial influence on the cuisine, as well as the ghost of long-time-ago traveled trading routes, is palpable and palatable. Spices and dried fruits are heavily present in traditional dishes and desserts, and Jamaican Ginger Cake tastes just like peperkoek.

But it wasn't the cake that made me reflect on our Dutch kitchen. A comment from one of my coworkers last week triggered it. Someone, somewhere, had paired up the "wrong" vegetable with a particular sausage dish for one of the menus. Not being familiar with the meat dish, I asked what the traditional vegetable to serve would have been, and was told "cabbage". Looking at the menu, I pointed out that cabbage was exactly what was served. "But it's red cabbage", the answer came back. "and that's wrong. It has to be green cabbage".

I realized that, unless very familiar with a country's cuisine, building menus and pairing ingredients can be a tricky deal. Many of the culinary combinations are steeped in tradition, and all of a sudden cabbage is not cabbage anymore: it's either right or wrong for a particular dish. Would the red cabbage not have complimented the sausage dish well? It would have in any other part of the world. But when tradition dictates otherwise, it becomes an awkward accompaniment.

Think about our own cuisine. Hutspot goes with klapstuk, zuurkool goes with spekjes, spinach is traditionally served with fish. Boerenkool is accompanied by a smoked kielbasa. You wouldn't think of serving zuurvlees with anything but fries, or mashed potatoes. You'd be pushing it with steamed rice, which would be considered edible, but most certainly not traditional,and brown rice would definitely catapult you straight into the "geitenwollensokken" category, whether you wear them or not.

The question "Wat eten we vanavond?" (What's for dinner?) is, in Holland, traditionally answered with only mentioning the vegetable. If you know the vegetable, the blanks regarding protein and starch are automatically filled in. Bloemkool, cauliflower, is traditionally served with a white sauce, boiled potatoes and a gehaktbal. If the answer is zuurkool, you know it will most likely be mashed with potatoes and either rendered pieces of bacon or, if you're lucky, both bacon and a kielbasa.

But if the answer is "hussen met je neus ertussen", you are just going to have to wait and see!

3 comments:

  1. Excellent little essay on culinary habits in the Netherlands and in general. I used to live in A'dam (I'm in Vancouver, Canada now) and I always enjoy reading your posts.

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  2. So true, as an American who lived in Holland the vegetable dictating the rest of the meal was always confusing.

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  3. What a lovely, little fascinating post! I live in England now after spending my early childhood in the Netherlands and my parents are Afrikaaners so we've constantly run into situations where the 'wrong' vegetable is used or where the 'right' one is unfamiliar and I just thought it was personal lack of judgement rather than seeing outside the box to the various cultural quirks! My parents can never seem to get it right - they took a long time to adapt to be automatic with a more British choice of vegetable and now their family complain that they#re trying to be 'fancy'!

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