Patatje speciaal
America has its food trucks, and Holland has its patatkramen. An oasis of all things fried in a quiet neighborhood, or a small shack on the daily market, the patatkraam is usually the neighborhood gathering place around dinner time, and a favorite place to grab a quick snack or a greasy lunch.

Kids will come in and order "french fries for five euros" and will be handed a large family size paper bag filled to the rim with golden fried potatoes to take home and have it served as the starch for dinner. The glass case is filled with raw or precooked meat items such as hotdogs, frikandellen, kroketten, bitterballen, bereklauwen, all piled up in neat stacks from which to choose.

And the fries do not come without choice either: whereas the shape may vary only slightly (steak fries, french fries or shoestring), the amount of sauces and condiments to douse these golden spears with is vast: apart from the traditional mayonnaise (just try it), you can also choose curry ketchup (a spiced up type of ketchup), tomato ketchup, mustard, piccalilli, peanut sauce, joppiesaus (a fairly newcomer to the market of fry sauces, it's flavored with yellow curry). ...and then there are ofcourse the combinations: patatje met ( "fries with", meaning fries with mayo), patatje oorlog ("war fries": fries with mayo, peanut sauce and chopped onion), patatje speciaal (mayo, curry ketchup and chopped onion), patatje stoofvlees (french fries with a savory stewed beef sauce).....
Patatje oorlog

Patat is the generic name for the fries, patatje means a single serving. Fries are served in either a paper cone bag, or a white plastic shallow tray. The cone will allow you to tear the paper as you eat, so your hands don't get dirty from the sauce(s) as you pick at the fries with a small wooden pronged tool. If you have fries served on a plate, it's perfectly okay to eat them using your fingers.

Fries are traditionally prepared in ossewit (beef tallow) or less commonly so, horse fat. During the seventies, the saturated fats were replaced by vegetable fat such as Diamant, and most patatkramen stepped away from the tallow. It impacted the fry fat industry positively, and a myriad of television ads appeared, praising the qualities of vegetable fat and pushing moms to serve patat at least once a week. To this day, Wednesday's dinner is usually patat with a side choice.

The secret to crispy, golden french fries is to fry the taters twice. Once to par-fry them, if you will, then let them rest, and finish it off with a second fry to crisp the outer skin and bring out the golden colors. The traditional potato to use for fries is the Bintje. In the United States, choose a white or yellow potato, preferably starchy, like a Russet, since Bintjes are practically non-existent here. Since beef tallow is hard to come by, use canola oil for frying instead.

4 large Russet potatoes
Canola oil

Peel the potatoes and slice in inch thick slices, then cut in strips. Heat the oil to 325F. Rinse the potatoes (removing some of the starch will prevent the fries browning prematurely and ending up with a bitter taste) and dry in a cotton towel. Fry in small batches until lightly golden. Remove from the oil and rest the potatoes in a colander for about 25 minutes, then heat the oil to 375F and fry again, in small batches, until the fries are golden. Toss with salt.

Serve immediately.

What's op with drop?

Oh, how we love our sweet treats in the Netherlands! Candy aisles are stocked with all kinds of colorful goodies, cookie aisles equally so, and the chocolate shelves are overrun with seasonal and regular offerings year round. Yet one of the favorite sweets, for lack of a better word, is an unassuming, rubbery black candy called drop, licorice.

Dutch licorice is a popular and traditional candy that comes in many shapes, sizes and ranging from sweet to various degrees of saltiness, the saltiest* being a small briquette-shaped licorice called DubbelZout (twice as salty). The licorice is made with an extract from the Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) plant and a generous amount of salmiak, or ammonium chloride, which provides a distinctive salty and slightly bitter taste that is also particularly popular in the Nordic countries.

Drop, in all shapes and sizes, is consumed in large quantities and it is rumored that the average Dutch person nibbles away approximately five pounds a year, sharing about 32,000 kilos (about 70 thousand pounds) between themselves. Dutch licorice is definitely an acquired taste and seldom liked by non-natives, as noted by an incident in my office not too long ago.

"What's this drop stuff?" my co-worker asked, pointing to a small bag on my desk.

"It's Dutch licorice," I said, squinting at my computer screen. "You won't like it."

"Oh, it's black licorice ! I love black licorice!". Her hand reached for the bag as I pushed it aside.

"It's not the same. Your black licorice is very different from our black licorice".

"No, it's not, it looks just the same. Why can't I try some?"


I handed over a piece of Dutch licorice. Triumphantly, she put it in her mouth and grinned at me. "See? I like it!" Not so fast, I thought, and reached for the waste basket under my desk. And not a second too late, either.

"EWWWWWWW!!!!" It never fails. About ten seconds after they try Dutch licorice, the ammonium taste will hit the buds, with a vengeance. People will pull an ugly face and start looking around desperately for a place to get rid of it. That's when I hold up the trash can, where they gratefully (albeit not gracefully) spit out the contents of their mouth.

"OHMAGAWD!! That is SOOOO gross!! How can you EAT that???" Her eyes open wide, her mouth still reeling from the palatal pummeling it just experienced, she suddenly stopped speaking and glared at me, her eyes narrowing slightly. Was this a prank? Surely, this was a prank!? I could see her thinking. It's hard for others to understand how we can love our drop so much, and I don't even try to explain it anymore. The Icelanders have their hákarl, the Chinese have their fermented or so-called stinky tofu, and the Dutch have their licorice. We all love something different!

For as much as we like our sweets, licorice is one of those oddities that makes the Dutch food culture so unique and interesting. Grocery stores, candy stores and even drugstores will have bulk-sized bins with a rich assortment of various licorices to scoop, weigh and take home. Cat shapes, coins, railroad ties, shoe laces, farm animals, buttons......drop comes in so many flavors, shapes and levels of sweet- or saltiness that there's something for everyone.Well......almost everyone.

* I distinctly remember one called Driedubbelzoute drop, although that one is harder to find.  

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