Birthdays are always an interesting event to experience in the Netherlands, and if you can get invited to one, I encourage you to attend, if not for culinary reasons, then at least for the interesting developments as the evening progresses.

For starters, guests will be welcomed by the front door and have their coats taken, usually by a younger member of the family. They are then invited into the living room, garden area, or whichever room is chosen for the celebration. If they're the first ones to arrive, they will congratulate the host and hand over the gift or flowers they brought, and take place on the chairs that are strategically placed in a wide circle. As later guests arrive, they will do the same, but not before going around the circle, shaking everybody's hand, and congratulating them with the birthday of the host. This seems odd behavior, and unless you're born and raised doing it, you're not even aware of how weird it is. Seriously.

If the birthday host is considerate, he or she will wait with the first offering of refreshments until the circle has been completed, and the mayority of guests have arrived. The first round of refreshments will invariably be coffee or tea, and cake or pastries. If this is your first exposure to Dutch pastries, by all means avoid the tompoes and the Bossche bol! The late comers now have the inconvenience of a) shaking the hand of someone who is already trying to balance a cup of hot coffee and a plate of cake on their lap b) trying to find a place to sit c) possibly running out of cake or pastries to chose from.

After the first round of refreshments has been consumed, a second cup of coffee or tea will be offered. If there are no takers, the host will move on to the next round of food and beverage: bowls of potato chips, nuts, and other savory samples will be presented for snacking, and soda and alcoholic beverages will appear on the table. Much chatter and goodhearted ribbing of the host will ensue, and a good time will be had by all. After the second round, various people will call it a night. Junior, if still awake, will be asked to retrieve the coats and goodbyes will be said, but not before the mandatory handshaking around the circle has been completed.

It's the die-hards that stay. If you're lucky and your host is a bit of a culinarian, you may be partaking of some homemade foods during the third round of foods, usually after consuming several adult beverages: the food will traditionally be served hot and be more in the fashion of a mid-night snack: small pieces of frikandel, or some bitterballen, but also saté or even soup with bread.

Kaasvlinders, or cheese butterflies, are a traditional savory pastry that is served during the second refreshment tour. In case you don't have the opportunity to attend a typical Dutch birthday, or prefer to enjoy these snacks in the company of your own choosing, here's a recipe:

1 large sheet puff pastry
1 cup shredded sharp cheese
1 egg
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Dust the counter with a little bit of flour, and thaw the dough. Sprinkle the puff pastry with the shredded sharp cheese, and roll each end up, toward each other. Beat the egg, and brush the pastry dough where the rollups meet, so they'll stick together.

Cover or wrap with plastic film and set in the fridge for about thirty minutes, while the oven heats up to 375F. Remove the dough, and slice into half an inch pieces. Place each slice on its side, brush with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with some cheese (optional). Season with salt and pepper (just a dusting) and place the butterflies in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until puffy and golden. Cool on a rack.


  1. I have to laugh b/c while i am Dutch my family is Indo & no party of any kind is complete w/o enough food to feed a small army. No pastries to start a party either...always savory bites from many cultural backgrounds. And for close family & friends handshakes alone are not enough...3 kisses are a must. my best friend, who lives in Lelystad, always calls when someone in my family has a b-day much to the amazement of anyone who does not get it. :-)

  2. Wanted to do something Dutch for my Oma's birthday, through a revival of authentic Dutch food in our house, as an ode to Holland and now more than 50 years since mijn oma en opa's emigratie. Mijn moeder selected this recipe, after looking for a really Dutch reflective cooking site; these pages are bookmarked and are always referred back to when we want to make something special! We loved this recipe and often ensure we include some other meals ingredients on our grocery list. Thanks for providing this cultural source and opportunity to preserve and savor our unique and wonderful heritage; dank u wel!

  3. About 30 years ago the host would put a glass with cigarettes on the tables too so everyone got to smoke one :)
    (while Junior was hiding under the table so he would go unnoticed and be send to bed late :) )

  4. Made these kaasvlinders yesterday to take to a Super Bowl party. Big hit with the natives :-)
    Also, I had no idea till I moved to the States that congratulating everybody at a birthday party (yes really, everybody) might be considered weird or lead to people looking at you like you have two heads. But it's not nearly as socially awkward as going in for the three Dutch kisses greeting and finding yourself left hanging midair, face in kissing position after kiss one or two. Took me years to stop doing that :-)

  5. As a Dutch person everything you described is pretty much spot on, but I have never heard of kaasvlinders xD

    I might give it a try though


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