Fine dining in Holland has yet to win the esteem of that in, say, neighboring Belgium, but on the street, the cuisine is fat city, indeed. Here’s a sampling of the fast and cheap savored during recent stays in Amsterdam and the countryside.
1. Patat Frites
No doubt it’s the mayonnaise, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. Patat frites, those long, thick, seemingly double-fried fries, bundled hot into a paper cone, are just better, and they’re better because the mayonnaise they’re dipped or slathered in is better. I can’t say whether the mayo is creamier, tangier, or just what, but it is, and be it the mayo, or fritessaus, as the Dutch call it, patat frites are the Dutch treat on the street.
A sure sign of spring in Holland are the fish carts and vendor vans parked by canal bridges and market lots and parks and village greens dispensing a variety of take-away seafood delights, fresh and fried, but mostly, for me, herring.
Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World, about Nieuw Amsterdam before the English rechristened it New York, and Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, had this to say in the New York Times recently about this quintessential Dutch street fare:
Dutch herring, called maatjes, is made by steeping adolescent fish in a light brine mixture. The result is almost but not quite raw: The flesh is rich and oily; the flavor is bright.
There are two ways to eat Dutch herring: the Amsterdam way and the manner favored everywhere else. The non-Amsterdam method is, in a word, just wrong: The “diner” holds the fish aloft by the tail, tilts his or her head back, opens the mouth, and slowly lowers the thing in. Unseemly, no? In Amsterdam, the herring comes on a dignified paper plate, cut in slices, or (my preference) on a roll: a broodje haring, or herring sandwich. Traditionally it’s served with chopped raw onions and sweet pickles, and that’s how I get it.
Unlike Shorto, I prefer the non-Amsterdam down-the-hatch protocol, and with chopped onions.
No street treat in Holland charms my wife as much as stroopwafels, especially those freshly made and warm from an open-window bakery, such as the one in the central market in Arnhem. The stroopwafel is two thin layers of, well, waffles, shaped in a circle, with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle. Buy them by the packaged stack in any shop or market, or, as mentioned, fresh from the bakery oven in any open-air market.
Another of my weaknesses is the saucijzenbroodje, a hot and golden roll of puff pastry filled with what may or may not be sausage or some other kind of seasoned meat. The savory saucijzenbroodjes are everywhere: In butcher shops and bakeries, department store food courts, railroad station cafes and take-out counters, quick-stop snack bars. They are often kept under a heat lamp or heated upon request.
Along with saucijzenbroodjes, in the pantheon of hot Dutch treats, are the ubiquitous and curious – at least regarding the filling – kroketten. We would say “croquettes.” Dispensed from automats or from the same provisioners as the saucijzenbroodjes, the kroketten usually are made of a meat (or, more recently, shrimp) ragout, a thick and pasty filling, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried until crispy. They are eaten with a Dijon-like mustard. Restaurants often serve them with bread, though such a sandwich is rather redundant. A favorite accompaniment for an early evening drink or nip (or, in Dutch, borrel) are bitterballen, which are kroketten reshaped into bite-sized balls and also served hot with mustard.