It’s been about two months since I started my life in the Netherlands, and in that time I’ve been exploring the country as best as I know how: through its cuisine. Since arriving I’ve had numerous opportunities to try out various foods, in restaurants, at home, and out on the street. It’s a delightful mix of the new and familiar, where even the more mundane things take on an element of excitement. Did you know that chocolate sprinkles are a common bread topping here?
Having once been a colonial power, Dutch food consists both of dishes native to Dutch culture and those incorporated from other parts of the world, especially Asia. I noticed, however, that when I asked the people living here about Dutch food, they pointed me more towards the latter than the former. Some even went as far as telling me that “there’s no such thing as Dutch cuisine.”
The dish above is called “Hutspot,” a mix of mashed potatoes, carrots and onions, often served with a piece of meat such as a chuck roast or shoulder. It is widely associated with a holiday called “Leidens Onzet,” which celebrates the end of the siege on the city of Leiden back in the late 1500s. Like many foods, it is a product of circumstance where the ingredients consist of whatever was available. Hutspot itself is a variation on “Stamppot,” which I believe is a more general term for mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables. Of course, when I asked people about Stamppot and Hutspot, they talked about how it isn’t very exciting and how it doesn’t really compare with Indonesian or Thai or French or Italian. A similar response is given for the enormous Dutch pancake, as well as the Croquette, a deep-fried stick usually with some kind of ragout or potato inside.
Allow me to put on my AMERICAN hat for just a second to say that, where I come from (America in case you forgot), mashed potatoes and fried finger foods are widely considered to be “awesome.” They are the things kids and adults alike look forward to eating. When I go to a restaurant and order steak, the side I get most often is potatoes, mashed. What is there to be ashamed about? I know that France and Italy and Germany are right there, and that their cuisines have found popularity all over the world, including in the Netherlands itself, but it just gives me the impression that Dutch food is something that produces shame, and I don’t think that should be the case. I’d love to have a Dutch restaurant in New York City. Why isn’t there one?
When I think about it, the embarrassment I see over “Dutch” food is not that different from the kind I see from anime fans. There’s a complex that surrounds the anime fandom, one that manifests itself in various ways, whether it’s otaku being embarrassed about the anime they like, fearing being associated with “those” anime fans, or speaking of some great divide, be it genre-based, gender-based, or generational. I want Dutch people to be proud of Dutch food. I want anime fans to be proud of anime (and anime fans). It got us this far, didn’t it?
Of course, on the other side, there’s the anime fan who goes so far as to boast anime or their favorite types of shows are the best things out there and that everything else pales in comparison. At this point, they become like the guy who boasts about his trip to France and how ever since then all over foods have tasted like dish soap.
Or perhaps a more apt example would have been the guy who goes to Japan.