How many times have you considered your dining options and thought: “Let’s go Dutch?” Not as in split the bill, but as in eat the cuisine of the Netherlands. And if you were able to locate a Dutch restaurant in Saigon – best of luck with that – do you have any idea what you’d find on the menu?
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.
“There’s a reason for that,” explains Peter Cijsouw, proud Dutchman and owner of the newly opened restaurant The Bourgondier (Number 62, Street 65, Tan Phong, District 7). “To be perfectly honest, Dutch cuisine is not truly gourmet cuisine. Dutch food is not like French food. It is made of commonplace ingredients, simple techniques and hearty flavors and it absolutely lacks that glamorous flair that makes it instantly recognizable and adaptable.”
And a sweet staple that exemplifies the simple but hearty Dutch cuisine is the appelflap (VND70,000). In the barest description, an appelflap is a hand-sized Dutch spin on the classic American apple pie. The dessert consists of fresh Goudreinet (a type of sweet and sour apple grown in Holland) apple slices, cinnamon and assorted fruits wrapped inside a thick pastry shell and oven baked for 20 to 25 minutes. The finished product is a golden brown triangle that is hot and crispy on the outside and sweet and juicy on the inside.
“Everybody in Holland eats the appelflap,” says Peter. “Everybody! It is served from ordinary food stands and at high-class restaurants. Rich folks eat it.
Not so rich folks also eat it. Eat it as a dessert or eat it as a snack. Eat it hot and fresh from the oven or microwaved from the fridge. And just about anyone can make one so long as they have the basic kitchen equipment.”
However, as popular as the appelflap is, there is an even more quintessential Dutch dessert out there – the Haagse bluf (VND35,000) – a dessert that can rightly put on airs. The Haagse in the name derives from Den Haag (The Hague),
the capital city of the province of South Holland. Loosely translated, it means ‘Hague bluff,’ supposedly because the wealthy residents of the city are full of hot air. The name has since become an endearment to the national favorite dessert. Unlike the appelflap, Haagse bluf has no cultural equivalent anywhere in the world, nor is it a popular menu item in restaurants in or outside of Holland, according to Peter.
“I’ve spent decades around the world, from West to East and not once have I seen it in any restaurants outside Holland,” Peter claims. The fault for this startling unpopularity, he says, lies in the extremely short shelf-life of the dish.
“The key ingredient of Haagse bluf is raw egg white. Even with a good refrigerator, it will only stay good for a couple of hours.” The other ingredients are sugar, berries (blended and fresh) and ladyfingers. A highly skilled chef can whip the mixture of egg white, sugar and blended berries into a sweet, frothy, pink puff, place it into a stem glass and garnish the dainty combination with fresh berries and ladyfingers in under five minutes. The final product is a sweet, delicate dish so airy it won’t even register in your stomach.
“Which means that you don’t have to hold back when it comes to this dessert,” says Peter. “You can eat to your heart’s content and not worry about leaving room for the last course. Imagine having your sweet treat on top of a sumptuous traditional four-course Bourgondian dinner. A perfect end to a meal, isn’t it?”
* Text by Michael Arnold, James Pham, NPD Khanh
* Images by Ngoc Tran, Neil Featherstone