Any self-respecting Southerner knows the importance of fried food. If there’s not at least one deep-fried, deliciously golden brown item on your plate at a family gathering, there’s a problem. The first kitchen appliance I learned to use by myself was the deep fryer, and the first thing I learned to cook for myself was fried okra (freezer section, not from scratch, duh). That was conveniently my favorite food – and still is.
The only thing I knew about Dutch food prior to 2014 was mayonnaise. I had heard disgusting rumors that mayonnaise was the (unofficial) favorite ‘food’ of the Dutch. Anyone who has had food-related contact with me in the last 20 years is aware of my irrational aversion to mayonnaise. I not only go out of my way to make sure no mayonnaise touches my plate, I also encourage others to opt for mustard, ketchup, butter, even relish if circumstances allow. I went so far as to tell my French host family during my summer abroad that I had two allergies: tuna and mayonnaise. Lies. But how else are you to make sure it doesn’t show up on your plate? I’m annoying, I know.
Well, unfortunately it’s true. The Dutch love mayonnaise. They add it to EVERYTHING. There’s a whole refrigerated section at the store for weird mayonnaise-based dips and spreads. And it’s disrespectfully close to the cheese section which I frequent, um, every day. I shudder each time those shelves catch my eye, thinking of nightmarish scenarios in which I’m forced to taste test each item. The most sinful act of all, though, is dipping their delicious frietjes (fries) in mayonnaise. If I don’t want to get a plate of fries smothered in mayonnaise, I have to order frietjes zonder (fries without) or frietjes met ketchup. This is by far the most important thing I’ve learned here.
With that said, the Dutch do have a veritable smorgasbord of fried snacks and goodies that more than make up for their love of the fattiest condiment. These fried goodies can be found and consumed in large quantities at a magical place called a Snackbar. Yes, it’s as wonderful as it sounds. Snackbars are similar to Dairy Queens or those little, old-timey drive-ins you see on back-road highways across America. Ice cream cones, french fries, and pimply teenagers in droves. In Baarn alone, there are at least 6 Snackbars that I can name. TROUBLE.
Berenklauw – Displayed on the right plate in the photo above, a berenklauw (literally translates as ‘bear claw’) is a sliced meatball with sliced onion sandwiched between each layer. The snack is assembled on a stick then deep-fried and smothered in peanut sauce. This is a nod to the Indonesian food culture that is omnipresent throughout the Netherlands.
Bitterballen – Arguably the most popular of the fried food array. These are little fried balls filled with gooey meat gravy. Sounds sketchy, but they’re totally tasty and present at any legitimate social gathering. They’re on every single menu I’ve seen. No, I’m not exaggerating.
Frietjes/Patates – French Fries need no introduction, yo. And these are pretty damn respectable, if you ask me. And somehow the ketchup here is superior to American ketchups. It’s more tangy, and I’m all about the tang.
Kaastengels – Basically cheese sticks. But these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill mozzarella sticks. They’re like tiny cheese-filled, crispy egg rolls. The star of the show as far as I’m concerned.
But don’t get them confused with kaasstengels, also delicious but completely different. These are more like cheese straws.
Kroketten – Think Bitterballen but bigger and longer. Surprisingly good plunked down on bread with mustard and made into a sandwich.
Last but certainly not least – Oliebollen – the delightful little balls that make an appearance in the last two months of the year. The closest thing I can liken these to is funnel cakes. It’s similar to a ball of funnel cake dough (as is or with raisins or apples added) that is deep-fried then dusted with powdered sugar. Addictive. A must-have at New Years gatherings. Unfortunately these are not typically found at Snackbars. Gotta keep the holiday-exclusive hype alive.
As you can see, I sped through my little fried food photo shoot because I simply couldn’t wait to eat the props. Food isn’t meant to be photographed; it’s meant to be devoured piping hot.
I know I’m not alone in my love for all things fried. What’s your favorite fried food?
PS…But wait, there’s more! As one post could simply not do justice to the plethora of fried goodness in this country, this will be Part 1 in a Fried Food Series. Off to do more research!