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Chinese Food in Holland

by Len du Midi

Chinese Food in Europe

Spring Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(1) page(s): 15 and 27

My country, contrary to its fame for tolerance, is less so when it comes to food. In that domain, it is more faithful to its own menu and tastes than it is to tolerating the food of others. Dutch people like their own local vegetables, their own sausages and other meats, and above all, they love their own ways of preparing potatoes. A famous painting by Vincent van Gogh shows a family eating some potatoes, this vegetable in the plate’s center. Potatoes often take center stage on family plates where I live.

During the last century, upper class folk from the Dutch colonies would visit Holland, and when they did, be it for the holidays or on home leave, they brought foods from Indonesia such as the Rijsttafel, a famous Indonesian set of special foods. This was discussed in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 4(2) on pages 11-12 and 18. They also brought tastes and foods of China with and without Indonesian flavors. When reassigned back home, they still wanted foods with Chinese and Indonesian flavor. Later, after colonial independence, thousands traveled to and/or resettled in Holland. They brought back some of these flavored foods.

That is why today’s food scene here is quite different from earlier times. People and some of the new-to-Dutch foods have melded while other tastes remain distinct. This has helped many to get more sophisticated taste buds. For example, many in the Netherlands, another name for Holland, believe they can distinguish differences between Chinese and Indonesian-Chinese food. They think they can tell if a new finger food or snack item has roots in Chinese food or if that food really tastes Indonesian. Before this large influx, Chinese citizens living in Rotterdam were used to their own food tastes. Not very many Dutch people were adventurous enough to try them. That was in the nineteen twenties, a time when a factory produced baked rice and noodles in a city that was a center for Chinese workers, refugees and traders.

In 1923, a Mr. Cheung started to cook for some Chinese families. Then with his son, he developed a cookery empire of his foods called: The Far East. These two men knew how to get Dutch people to eat real Chinese foods; they prepared great tasting ones in a wok. Their food became so popular that soon you could find their Chinese dishes in many shops. Most popular were the rice and noodle preparations packed as a complete dish. It was not long before more Chinese food producers started to make similar dishes and a few others. At that time, they learned that there was one particular Chinese taste not well accepted, steamed foods; so they made none.

The Cheung family did try hard to sell more foods with Chinese taste, but needed to find a way to make more and more noodles as the Chinese had for centuries. They wanted to roll and stretch lots of pastry into thin threads. They searched extensively until they found the solution, a machine that made a popular candy in Western Europe, licorice laces. They could use that machine to manufacture their dough. Another thing needed was to recreate the authentic wok taste in a machine that would bake foods while producing wok taste.

In Germany, they discovered an English machine that had two side walls used to bake bacon. They purchased and adjusted it to cook noodle and rice dishes with wok taste. They saw to it that this machine mixed and baked grain foods mixed with raw vegetables. They made the machine move these foods from one very hot side to the other, baking the foods while constantly moving them back and forth, sort of a stir-fry-bake process.

After independence when thousands moved to Holland bringing familiar Chinese-Indonesian ways of cooking, local people saw what they were eating and became more open to foods from Asia, maybe because they saw Dutch people enjoying them. That is how rice and noodles, baked with raw vegetables, became well known. These dishes are called Nassi and Bami Goreng (Goreng meaning baked). These newer acceptable foods were among those locals wanted to purchase.

Now, in almost every supermarket, Nassi and Bami dishes can be found. They come in various shapes and flavours and can be found frozen, canned, vacuum-packed, and always adapted to Dutch tastes. China and other Asian countries produce foods with wok-taste and these manufactured products try to imitate them.

These newer food tastes are now accepted as more cities, town, and villages are dotted with a wider variety of foreign restaurants including Chinese, Indonesian, and Italian. Finger foods and other snacks have been developed to imitate the foods of these first two ethnicities. Some are Bami and Nassi item types, though shaped differently. They can be in a ball or in any shape. Some are coated, many deep-fried. They are so popular that they can be found as street food, at parties, and almost everywhere.

These new-to-Holland, that is new to Dutch foods, are a testament to my country's acceptance of Chinese and other Asian foods. Do my people know they actually are accepting foods of another culture? Perhaps, because eating out has become more common recently, and the number of foreign restaurants has increased dramatically.

When you come to my country and wander through our markets, a simple package of Bami, just one of the many made, is pictured in the hardcopy of this article so you can recognize it. Seek it out, try it, and enjoy a food now considered very Dutch. Hope you will like it as much as my family and friends do. Also, perhaps before you visit here, you may find some in a store featuring international foods. Then you can try it in your own home.

For those who wonder what the package illustrated in the hard copy says, it says Bami: a basic meal. Ingredients: noodles, leek, ham, carrot slices, cabbage, onion, green beans, sunflower oil, sweet pepper stripes, spicees, dextrose, flavour enhancer E 621. Bami (and Nassi Goreng) can be reheated in a frying pan or wok with some oil, or in a microwave-oven.

In order to create a complete meal serve the Bami or Nassi garnished with strips of omelet. In separate plates put some sweet and sour salads, Chinese style. Use fried prawn crackers, broken into small pieces and scattered over the plate. Use Emping: a cracker made out of Melinjo-nuts (or shrimp crackers). Drop a few into hot oil for a few seconds. They immediately expand a lot. Drain and let it cool before serving. Add hard-cooked eggs in chilli-sauce, roasted grated coconut mixed with fried peanuts stir fried in hot oil and drained on absorbent paper can be added. Drink beer or Chinese green or black tea with this.

Enjoy, and slamat makan which means 'bon appetit!'
Len du Midi is an enthusiastic cook, reader, writer; and ballet dancer who occasionally does contribute to Flavor and Fortune; and we are delighted that she does!

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