Discover Holland’s best kept secret: its food…
From the moment you walk through the large wooden merchant’s doors, into the warm brick and wood interior, it seems like The Bourgondier (62 Duong 65, Tan Phong, D7), is trying to coax you back in time. The walls are covered in paintings of trading ships from the golden age of the Dutch Empire, when, in the 17th century, the control of spice from modern-day Indonesia made little Holland the superpower of its time.
And like all empires, they became culinary magpies, collecting influences into their food from across Europe and Asia, from the sate of Jakarta to the smoked sausages of their Germanic neighbours. “I’m trying to bring a taste of Holland, to do something different. The Dutch brought the spice back, and food from Belgium, France and Germany. We keep it simple, and try to cook it like Grandma did,” says Peter Cijsouw, the owner of the restaurant.
Dutch food has a reputation for being a simple, hearty and rich cuisine, most notable for heavy stews, potato covered hotpots and thick soups. It may lack the sophistication of French cooking, but at its heart is the same dedication to high quality products. It’s clear that Peter is passionate about serving up traditional Dutch fare. “We are making everything that we can ourselves. From the mayonnaise to the smoked sausages, in order to make sure that they are just right.”
We start with a portion of the Bitterballen or mini beef croquettes (VND80,000 for eight). The Spanish occupied Holland during the 15th century, and it is easy to spot their influence all over this dish. “It is the Dutch tapas, a classic street food that you find all over Holland. It’s a must have,” Peter tells us. The croquettes are delicious, warm and crispy but yielding to reveal a light and very meaty filling of beef ragu. Washed down with a cold beer (in my case a Leffe, a classic Belgian wheat beer) they are dangerously moorish. (They are running a promotion for the next two months – a portion of bitterballen and a bottle of Stella Artois for VND140,000.)
For our appetizers we both opt for the pea soup, or Snert met Gerookte worst (VND120,000). This is a thick, unctuous and wholesome dish, more akin to a stew than a soup, and could stand as a main course in its own right. The soup is made with the simple flavous of vegetables, rightly led by the dominant flavor of pea, flecked with strands of succulent pork and topped off with a few slices of the house smoked sausage. This is gorgeous comfort food at its best, a kind of Dutch soul food.
Our main course is a sharing platter called the Dutch Trio (VND390,000). This consists of three different kinds of potato mash (endive, carrot and onion, and saurkraut) served with moist, locally produced slices of roast ham, a soft meatball and homemade smoked sausage, with a deep (and slightly sweet) onion gravy on the side. The meatballs are tender and packed with flavor. “They are inspired by a roadside meal that is popular with truck drivers in Holland,” explains Peter. “The meatballs are left to gently simmer for many hours in a sauce, making sure that they don’t dry out.”
The next dish we try bears the most obvious mark of the Dutch adventures in Asia – the Leeuwarden or Nasi goreng, sate and pangang (VND260,000). These Indonesian dishes were brought back to Holland by the early travelers and adapted to the Dutch palate, so the sate sauce is creamier, the heat of chilli not as present and the sweet and sour pork noticeably sweeter. “This is not Indonesian food,” explains Chef Antonius van Esch. “It is very much the Dutch interpretation of it, but this is also real family food – what my mother cooked me twice a week.”
There is a growing wine list, but we chose to wash down our main courses with a chilled carafe of the Spanish house red (VND220,000), which was both refreshing and good value for a bottle. We also tried the homemade mulled wine (VND70,000), which was mellow and light, unlike the typical British Christmas drink, with a more subtle flavor of cloves and spices.
In a Dutch restaurant there was only really one way to finish our meal – the famous Appelflap or apple turnover (VND100,000). Sweet and cinnamon flavored apple wrapped in a delicate pastry and eased down with vanilla ice cream. Simple perfection.
And it is this simplicity that is the hallmark of Dutch food – simple but very hearty. The Bourgondier has set its stall out to produce filling, homemade dishes straight from a family kitchen in Rotterdam – the true taste of Holland. “A Bourgondian is a lover of food,” says Peter. “Someone who sits down to enjoy the evening. Good food and good living.” So head down to D7, armed with a big appetite, and go Dutch for the evening.
* Images by Ngoc Tran.