Simplicity at the cornerstone of Dutch cuisine
By Chase Barron
At Amsterdam’s Central Station visitors have immediate access to the city’s essential trams, buses, trains, and ferries. Just south of this station visitors have immediate access to the city’s essential street food. At Stubbe’s Haring Stand, one family has been slinging raw fish to tourists and travelers since 1903.
The man behind the stand wears a nametag that reads “Stubbe” and insists that customers call him just that. Using a small, sharp knife Stubbe removes the organs and spines from ea
ch freshly caught herring before serving it in a variety of ways, including on a sandwich and over a pile of diced onions and pickles. The “Amsterdam way” calls for the fish to be cut into squares and served with toothpicks for eaters to use as utensils.
“The Dutch way is simplest,” says Stubbe. This style of herring is to be served without any further preparation after the gutting. Eaters simply hold the fish by the tail and lower it into their mouths like sword-swallowers.
“No ketchup. No mayonnaise. Don’t need it,” says Stubbe. “Taste the herring. A lot to taste. It’s fresh.”
“Fresh” is the word that many of Point Park University’s International Media students are using to describe the culinary landscape of Europe as they return from their excursions through London, Bruges, and Amsterdam.
“The biggest difference I noticed is that their cuisine is fresh. Plain and simple,” says Point Park graduate assistant Emily Kolek, 27, who accompanied the class on its European excursion. “I ordered homemade bread from a restaurant in Bruges, and it was going stale by the end of the meal. That’s how fresh it was!”
“The ingredient list on European food is noticeably shorter,” says Madison Krupp, a 23-year-old journalism major who returned to Pittsburgh with the class on May 20. “I love eating healthy, and I now realize how much harder and more expensive that is to do in America.”
Krupp is a self-described pescatarian, a vegetarian who also consumes fish. She believes that Europe seems to provide better quality foods to meet her dietary restrictions than the U.S. does.
Since the 1990s the EU has been regulating food quality at the Union level. The Commission of the European Communities released the White Paper on Food Safety in January of 2000, and the EU has been enforcing its protocols since publication. It states that its mission is to assure “that the EU has the highest standards of food safety” and that they aim to take “a radical new approach” to food safety legislation.
Thanks to this new approach, travelers may have a hard time finding artificial flavors or colorings on European food ingredient lists. For example, in the UK Heinz’s ketchup lacks the high-fructose corn syrup and other artificial additives that it would contain in the U.S.
According to research conducted by the Food & Water Watch consumer rights group in 2013, the EU checks for 50 drugs in seafood imports while the U.S. checks for only 16. The EU requires labeling on genetically modified foods while the U.S. does not. The EU bans inhumane livestock practices such as the use of growth hormones, rBGH, antibiotics, antiseptic washes and confining crates. The U.S. permits and utilizes all of these procedures to increase production rates at the cost of harming animals, damaging crops and reducing food quality.
“I don’t consider it to be food,” says Dutch tour guide Joost van der Wegen. “[the U.S.] is so big that fresh foods aren’t easy to get … In Holland we don’t eat much fast food.” Van der Wegen is proud to have a family that cooks dinner six or seven times a week, grows most of their own vegetables, and avoids fast-food chains (or “fake-food” chains as he calls them).
He reports being unsettled by the influx of American food chains and corporations into his home country since the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership placed new regulations on corporate expansion into Europe in 2014.
“We are worried about the T-TIP agreement, which makes it possible for the American industry to import food into Europe more easily,” says Van der Wegen.
The T-TTIP agreement is a collection of papers and negotiations that attempt to reduce the barriers that regulate the expansion of corporate business from the states into European nations. The office of the United States Trade Representative claims that this “will help unlock opportunity for American families, workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers” while “promoting U.S. international competitiveness, jobs, and growth.” The agreement allows corporations and conglomerates like Burger King, Starbucks, Kellogg’s and Kraft Heinz to cross the Atlantic with ease.
To combat the spread of the industrial food complex while promoting the farm-to-table movement, more markets have sprung up in urban centers throughout Europe. Located just beneath the southern edge of the London Bridge, The Borough Market is London’s largest trading area for organic goods. Here farmers and consumers can interact first-hand.
“We use only organic apples from our orchards up in Herefordshire,” says farmer Mary Top, who runs the New Forest Cider stand at the Borough Market. She is equipped with three kegs of hard cider and a large stack of recyclable pint-sized cups. The cider menu informs customers that the ciders are roughly 8 percent ABV.
“We got dry, mild, and sweet today. Don’t start with dry,” says Top.
London’s Borough Market is a hot spot for tourists and locals to purchase, eat, and discuss local food. Similarly, Amsterdam holds the Albert Cuyp Market located in the neighborhood of De Pijp, and Bruges holds a Farmers Market in its town square on Wednesdays.
In each of the three cities they visited, the International Media class witnessed a large local food movement.
“We bopped into a local Italian restaurant. It was the freshest and most delicious food we had throughout the trip,” says Point Park public relations student Lauren Joseph, 21.
Joseph also enjoys the slow-paced, laid-back atmosphere of dining in Europe. “I feel that back home we are always rushing to get out as fast as we can. [In Europe] everything is very slow. I kind of liked it being that way.”
Professor Bob O’Gara of Point Park University says that his biggest food memory from the trip was a “small bistro off the square in Bruges where the owner took great care to explain and praise [their] selections.” O’Gara says that if he could bring any aspect of European cuisine back to the states it would be “freshness and quality.”
Freshness and quality is what Stubbe said he tries to sell to patrons each day at his herring stand in Amsterdam.
“Quality,” says Stubbe. “That’s what we’ve got.”