Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Dutch Bar Snacks (the "bitterballs" question)

Customer: "Do you have bitterballs?" Barman: "No idea. I've never tried sucking them."

Dutch pubs do some things very well. Not buggering up the interior with cheap, crappy renovations is one. Letting my kids in is another. And let's not forget the almost universal availability of Westmalle Tripel. (For those days when you need to reach oblivion fast.) Korenwijn. That's a good one, too. Though I had promised myself not to reveal the pleasures of jenever in case it got too popular and the price went up. (Even Bols Korenwijn is eminently drinkable. Not a patch on Janssens 1 year old Rogge, but still drinkable.)

That's not too bad a list of positives. But there's one thing Dutch pubs are (in general) crap at: food. Given their average size, I can understand why few sell hot meals. The snacks aren't great, either. Tostis (toasted sandwiches), sliced osseworst, cubes of cheese - that's about it. If you're lucky, the cheese will be decent. Many beer pubs have Trappist cheese. My son Andrew finds that a bit too stinky for his taste. He prefers jonge or belegen Dutch cheese.

Larger pubs, especially those going for the after work trade, often sell hot snacks. In Holland that means fried things. Dim sum, mini spring rolls or bitterballs. My favourite are the dim sums. Depending on my level of starvation, I will also tuck into the other two.

What are bitterballs? A sort of kroket. I know your next question: "What's a kroket?" It's a staple of Dutch snack bars. You can spot them drying out under the lights in the coin-operated hatches in Febo. Basically they're a breadcrumb tube filled with gravy. Sound yummy, don't they? (I shouldn't get too nasty. One of my guilty pleasures is a "broodje kroket" - a flattened out kroket in a spongy industrial white roll.) Bitterballs are mini, spherical krokets, about the size of a golf ball and ever so slightly less edible.

11 comments:

Stonch said...

They were selling these in De Hems in London's Chinatown (a West End pub with lasting associations to the Netherlands) until a couple of years ago when the pubco owners imposed its corporate menu identity on the place.

Alan said...

Just to be clear, my first Dutch meal was Oud Brune and bitterballs.

Anonymous said...

I would like to learn more about jenever. I have been unable to find any detailed information in English.

John Clarke said...

The bitterballen at the Elfde Gebod on Zeedijk are pretty good (aftre taking your order they go and get them from somewhere else). This is one of my favourite Amsterdam bars (from memory, your write up needs updating) - great lambic menu now - Hansens, Boon, Drie Fonteinen and even the rare-ish Giradin Faro.

Ron Pattinson said...

anonymous, I have a fairly good book about jenever, but it's in Dutch.

I've just had a look at the wikipedia page and it's both brief and not entirely accurate.

I may post something about the basic types of jenever whe I run out of things to say about beer.

Ron Pattinson said...

John, you could be right. I was there not that long ago but didn't notice the lambics. Never noticed the bitterballen either. Not very observant, am I?

Knut Albert said...

When you run out of things to say about beer, uh? Might be some time, then!

Lew Bryson said...

The List progresses...

My wife just got back from a trip to Leiden (too short notice for me to go along, or I'd have tracked you down and hammered on your door until you agreed to let me buy you some beers) and brought back two bottles of Bols, jonge and korenwijn. She was going on vague directions at the duty-free. I'm just happy to see them; it's damned near impossible to find them here. Looking forward to it.

Ron Pattinson said...

Lew, you're the sort of unexpected guest I would be happy to see. Or anyone else who wants to buy me beer.

Bols Korenwijn is a decent drink. It's a bit like Draught Bass used to be - ubiquitous, macro, but still acceptable. The Jonge, I'm afraid, is like a cross between rubbing alcohol and embalming fluid. Maybe I'm exaggerating its good qualities.

Next time you're over here, you can buy me beer and I'll give you a tour of Amsterdam's best jenever spots.

Ron Pattinson said...

knut, you could be right. I have a backlog of five years conversation that no-one around me wanted to hear. But I still have mixed feelings about publicising jenever. Even the really good ones are still very reasonably priced. I don't want to empty my bladder on my own frites. Isn't it nice to have at least one terra incognita?

Ted Blair said...

Krokets! I was once attending one of our conferences at the Spaarnwoude Resort, nr Haarlem, and that's all they seemed to serve for breakfast and lunch. An acquired taste in a masochistic way....

I've had bitterballen in the Lowlander on Drury Lane though I was in there earlier this week and they're no longer on the menu.

I always thought the Dutch would go for pork scratchings - the proper ones of course. They seem to be the ideal sort of snack for them - it would certainly enhance the culinary range of the Ij brewery tap....