In April, on the 27th of April, the Kingdom of the Netherlands will explode into a big, orange frenzy. The whole country turns into one huge party: live concerts, yardsales and food, food, food everywhere. What's the joyous occasion? It's King's Day!

First observed as a national holiday in 1885, the celebration started as Princess Day, to honor then princess Wilhelmina's fifth birthday, on August 31st. When she became queen in 1890, at the very young age of 10, it was renamed Queen's Day, a title it has held since. When her daughter Juliana became queen, in 1948, Queen's Day moved from August 31st to April 30th, Juliana's birthday.

The logical step would have been to move the national holiday to January, the now former queen Beatrix's birthday, when she succeeded her mother Juliana in 1980. But by then, the traditional outdoor activities around Queen's Day had taken such root that moving to January would have quite possibly rendered all activities impossible to maintain. When William Alexander took the throne in 2013, and since then Queen's Day has become King's day, and celebrated on his birthday, April 27th. This Royal Day is, per definition, a festivity celebrated with others: outside, in parks, on the street, on the canals. It's the one day a year where, in a country that does not know weekly yard or garage sales, everybody displays all their sellable wares for others to buy.

It's also the one day a year, except for some national soccer events, that food will be colored orange: orange tompoezen, orange potato chips, orange cakes and, let's not forget that old traditional Dutch drink, the oranjebitter. Few like it, and even fewer people will order it outside of Queen's Day, but one cannot imagine this national holiday without a shot of bitter, orange-flavored booze.

Bitters are alcoholic beverages that are flavored with herbs, fruit and/or spices. Oranjelikeur, similar to a bitter but with the addition of sugar, was first heard of in 1620, but gained national appreciation after a member of the house of Orange, Willem I, became the nation's king in 1814. The drink was reintroduced, now as a nationalistic and patriotic beverage, and has remained as such ever since.

For a long time, bitters were very popular, but we like our beverages sweet nowadays, so slowly but surely the bitter manufacturers have been adding sugar back into the drink. Still nowhere as sweet as a liqueur, this oranjebitter does have some sugar to sweeten the flavor.

If you don't care for it as a beverage, try it sweetened over ice cream or in hot tea.

1 teaspoon whole aniseed
6 cardamom pods
1 large orange
1 large lemon
2 cups (500 ml) vodka
3 tablespoons sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick

For the syrup
1 cup (236 ml) water
1 cup (200 grams) sugar

Scrub the orange and lemon, and peel thinly, without much pith. Juice the fruit and save the seeds. Dry the fruit peels and the seeds in a warmed oven or on a hot air vent, until crisp.

In a mortar, bruise the dried peel, the dried seeds, the aniseed, cardamom pods, and the three tablespoons of sugar with a couple of good stomps from the pestle: you're not grinding it, just breaking it up a bit. Scrape everything into a clean, large mason jar. Pour two cups of vodka on top and two cups of water, and the orange and lemon juice. Add the star anise and the cinnamon stick, give everything a good swirl and screw the lid on the jar.

Place the jar in a dark, room temperature area, such as your kitchen cabinet or in the broom closet by the water heater. Give it a careful shake every two or three days.

After three weeks, taste-test and see if you like the strength of the flavors. If yes, good. If not, screw the lid back on and let the jar sit for another week.

Now carefully line a strainer with a wet paper coffee filter on top of a clean jar, and pour the liquid into the strainer. Clear, golden orange liquid should now filter into the vessel below.

In the meantime, bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar carefully to a boil, stir it until the sugar has dissolved, and let it cool. Add enough to the oranjebitter to bring it up to the level of sweetness you like. Multiple tastings will be in order ;-). Whatever is left, serve cold over ice or straight.

Happy King's Day!!!

You can "enhance" the oranjebitter with a drop of red and yellow food coloring, to give it a more commercial orange look, or add a drop of orange essence to increase the orange flavor.


  1. I think this is a very intriguing variation on something I do already a regular basis (in fact I just did a batch yesterday with organic tangelo rind). I think the additional aromatics in your recipe could really liven-up one's pallate. I find bitters to be a wonderful aperitif and think they are coming back into style (albeit slowly in certain circles). In support of the notion of a bitter(s) renaissance, I would offer this recent article from the NY Times. Thanks for the new/old recipe and the background of its significance!

  2. Eb, thank you for the article. I love it when old-fashioned, traditional foods are being brought back to life, that's just great. Your tangelo batch sounds very intriguing!

  3. Hi Nicole, I am Nici from the UK. I have a Dutch boyfriend who lives with me here in the UK and is really missing certain foods from his motherland. We have already made Stampot Boerenkoel (I hope I got the spelling right, this is all so new for me!) which both me and all three of my children found really lovely, so thanks so much for the recipe for that. I have a batch of Spekulaas in the oven now and that also smells divine, again thanks. We are committed already to trying several more of your recipes and have found thanks to you an online supplier of certain food. The trouble is that the fresh ones are sent in icepacks which are really expensive. We travel to the Netherlands regularly so can stock up on some things (space dependant) and you have so many recipes here that it is awesome. There is one that we are struggling to find, however and wondered if you might know a recipe for it as it is one of the ones that are expensive to order online. It is I believe called Berehap (again hope I have the spelling right?) and it was his favourite from the fry shop back home. If you have a recipe for that for me to make for him here, I would be grateful beyond measure.
    Keep up the good work, this site is completely amazing.
    Best Wishes from the UK

    Nici (and Pascal who is also very grateful!) xxx

    1. Nici, check "bereklauw" in the recipe list on the right, I'm pretty sure that's what Pascal is looking for :-). Some call it "klauw", others "hap". Glad you like the site, thank you for the compliments!!


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