Thursday, January 17, 2013

How Dutch cuisine died

The Netherlands, as these questions suggest, has never been known as a culinary destination. Actually, that’s an understatement. For years, the gastronomy of this country has lagged woefully behind many of its European neighbors (think Denmark, for one). Which is puzzling, given that the Dutch once dominated the world’s spice trade. And nowhere is this puzzle more obvious than in Amsterdam, a city of beguiling streetscapes, gorgeous canals and really lousy restaurants. ...

It wasn’t always so, writes Karin Engelbrecht, a restaurant critic for Time Out Amsterdam. The Dutch, she explains, cooked with élan until the start of the 19th century, and you can tell from still-life paintings of the era, which showed off tables piled high with delectables. A peek at cookbooks dating back a few hundred years reveals dishes like mussels with saffron and ginger, and roast goose with turmeric root. Meals were lavish, multicourse affairs that started with leafy greens and ended with pastries and hippocras, a wine sweetened with cinnamon and served warm.

Then, as the Dutch started to lose their colonies — mostly to the British — and population growth started to strain resources, the country’s golden age ended and a new frugality took hold. But what really set Dutch kitchens on a path toward stodgy was the popularity, starting in the late 19th century, of huishoudschool. A type of domestic-science school, it taught girls to ditch the herbs and spices and produce meals that favored nutrition and cheapness over flavor and pizazz. ...

That keep-it-basic approach endures. One of the more ubiquitous dinners here is stamppot, which is potatoes and vegetables, mashed and boiled in a pot, with some kind of meat tossed in. And that is sumptuous compared with a typical lunch. “I work with small Internet start-up companies,” Mr. Schiefelbein said, “and when lunchtime comes, somebody goes around and collects a few coins and somebody heads to the supermarket around the corner and gets some slices of cheese and sliced bread. That’s what people have for lunch.”
--David Segal, NYT, on where not to go for food tourism