Queen's golden carriage used only once a year at the Prinsjesdag (Prince's Day), when she gives a speech in front of the Parliament to open the new year's session
This past week, I joined my husband on a work-related trip to the Netherlands. It was his first visit but my second as I came several years ago to see my Dutch friend and passed through Leiden, Delft, Den Haag, and Amsterdam. My friend gave me a wonderful tour of Dutch food: over a three-day weekend, I tried fondue (okay, not that Dutch), Dutch pancakes, "stroop" (syrup), Gouda cheese "jong" (young) and "oud" (old), Leyden cheese (Gouda with cumin), raw herring, "bitterbal" (fried meat balls), "kaassouflé" (fried cheese), "bamihap" (breaded and fried Indonesian stir-fried noodles), "krentenbollen" (raisin bun), "appeltaart", and "drop" (liquorice). I had really enjoyed my visit and was happy to be back to share some of the happy memories with my husband (when he could squeeze some time from work, that is). This trip was much less food-centered, but I did manage a few culinary moments.
Private Dutch buffet breakfast
Our hotel was a very lovely small family-owned business. Every morning, we were served a private Dutch breakfast buffet. Eggs; three to four choices of bread, including Christmas bread "kerststol" and raisin bun "krentenbollen"; chocolate sprinkles (in place of nutella) to top the bread; slices of Gouda and cold cut meats; yoghurt; the occasional local strawberries; and, of course, orange juice, tea, and coffee. Certainly a breakfast of champions! I was even welcomed with an unexpected twin-yolked egg at my first breakfast!
F. Plasman bakery inside
In the afternoons coffee became my respite, offering the necessary energy boost and break for my poor feet from hours of walking. On one of these occasions, I stepped into F. Plasman, a bakery/patisserie right behind our hotel that tempted me every time I walked past it. I was greeted with a marvelous display of pastries and biscuits and a large rotating chocolate bon-bon tower that accompanied me as I enjoyed my coffee. Signs with "Bakker met Ster 2011" adorned the whole shop, and curious, I asked the attendant as I paid. As of May 2011, the bakery/patisserie won two stars in the Dutch bakery/patisserie equivalent of Michelin restaurant stars. It is one of 10 in all of the Netherlands with two stars, and the only one in Den Haag. Only one other bakery/patisserie in the country holds three stars.
F. Plasman owner baker (in white shirt on the right) and his wife (in pink shirt on the left) with guests
I also learned of "Douwe Egberts", a coffee brand that looked extremely familiar. It held its own shop fronts throughout the Netherlands and understandably so as the first shop was opened in 1753 by Egberts Douwe and his wife in Joure, the Netherlands. The original shop sold more than just coffee, but it gained enough popularity to become a national company in 1919. By 1978, it merged with Sara Lee and subsequently entered the international market. My timing with the coffee shops was a bit unfortunate, but I finally found the chance to visit a branch on my last day. Nice dark flavours, but ever so slightly bitter and one-dimensional.
I did not manage any raw herrings on this trip, but my husband did and, to my delight, equally found them enjoyable. Raw herrings have in some ways become the national food of the Netherlands. Every year, in May, the Vlaggetjesdag ("Flag Day") festival at the Scheveningen harbour heralds the new raw herring season with ships, traditional costumes, folk music, and, of course, raw herrings. Even Scheveningen's coat of arms contains raw herrings. This strong presence is stemmed in Dutch history. The herring business had started in the Netherlands in the 14th century, and the Dutchman Willem Buekelszoon developed the "gibbing" process, whereby the gills and part of the giblets were removed and the liver and pancreas were left to cure the fish itself. Since then, the Dutch had exported the raw herrings throughout Europe. The herrings are typically eaten on bread with or without onions, but the most "correct" way is to hold the herrings by its tail over one's mouth and enjoyed head first.
Me with my raw herring in 2007 (from original blog post)
Our remaining meals were not very Dutch-centered, as we were somewhat limited by location and pre-planned meal meetings. We wanted to try some Indonesian food, as Indonesia was a Dutch colony, and its cuisine has a strong presence in the Netherlands (hence, its peanut butter is slightly different). But in the end, we only managed a lovely Thai restaurant with delicious food and very friendly service. Regardless of this fact, it was a wonderful trip with good weather at least on our arrival and departure days, enjoyable company, and many more lovely Dutch memories.
Herring paragraph composed with assistance from New York Times Travel article "Fare of the Country; Cured New Herring of the Netherlands"