December may be the season for oliebollen, pepernoten and snert but it’s also the time of year when every family digs their gourmetten set out from the back of the closet. Our regular columnist Molly Quell thinks you can learn a lot about the Dutch from how they handle the most feestelijke of meals.
Earlier this month, I made the annual pilgrimage to the homeland of my husband to celebrate the non-racist parts of Sinterklaas. As is tradition, his family members turned up with trays of tiny bits of meat and vegetables.
And also pancake mix and scrambled eggs, which outraged the internet when I posed a photo of these delicacies. Many, many people had opinions about how to properly go about gourmetten. Others expressed outrage at the grilling method, the presence of seasoning and the lack of seasoning.
The Dutch do love to complain.
I asked over dinner about how their traditions varied from those of other Dutch people. My brother-in-law described family conventions so outrageous, I asked my sister-in-law how she has managed all these years.
Unlike American Thanksgiving, with a prescribed set of dishes, what is on offer for gourmetten varies from Dutch household to Dutch household. You can really get insight into the family by what they put out for their gourmetten meal.
My inlaws were snooty about not buying their meat from Lidl, not for animal welfare reasons but for quality reasons.
Though, my sister-in-law then mistook the veal for turkey so perhaps we shouldn’t have shelled out for the more expensive platter from the local butcher.
The aforementioned pancakes and eggs are not universal, but a family favourite. Chicken satay is a typical option that was missing from the table simply because my mother-in-law doesn’t like it.
As the gourmetten evening progresses (especially if the alcohol is flowing) the commentary on cooking choices becomes more pointed. Outrage was expressed when my husband made his third mini-hamburger. I was chided for cooking a piece of beef with bacon.
As a person with ADHD, gourmetten, with its infinite options and constant interactions, is essentially a perfect meal. As a foreigner, the ability to season your own food is a major selling point.
I might have made my formal pledge to uphold the laws of the Netherlands (something the political parties can’t seem to agree to) but I am a fairweather Dutchie. I am only a nationalist while standing in the EU passport line or when on a Belgian highway.
Something for everyone
But the Dutch have really created the perfect holiday meal. There is something for everyone. Vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free, non-dairy, GMO-free are all possible at the same table.
The level of preparation is low. The corresponding amount of cleanup is also low. Plus it doubles as an activity, keeping people engaged at the table rather than a normal meal with a few short periods of eating interspersed in a lot of sitting around.
Everyone always complains about the smell but that’s mostly a holdover from when Steno pots were used to heat the grill. Now everyone has an electric gourmetten set and you barely notice it the following day, though you’re socially obliged to complain about it anyway.
As with the borrelplankje, the Dutch should embrace their cultural heritage and be proud of this versatile option. Sure Belgian food may be better overall, but have you seen the roads
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