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CUISINE

Secrets of the Rijsttafel -- The Indonesian feast rijsttafel is Holland's favorite meal and has been ever since the United East India Company sea captains introduced it to the wealthy burghers of Amsterdam in the 17th century. The rijsttafel (literally "rice table") originated with Dutch plantation overseers in Indonesia, who liked to sample selectively from Indonesian cuisine. It became a kind of tradition, one upheld by Indonesian immigrants to Holland who opened restaurants and, knowing the Dutch fondness for rijsttafel, made it a standard menu item. Rijsttafels are only a small part of the menu in an Indonesian restaurant, and there is a trend among the Dutch to look down on them as being just for tourists; the Dutch generally have a good understanding of Indonesian cuisine and prefer to order an individual dish rather than the mixed hash of flavors of a rijsttafel. However, rijsttafels remain popular, and many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants have copied the idea.

The basic concept of a rijsttafel is to eat a bit of this and a bit of that, blending the flavors and textures. A simple, unadorned bed of rice is the base and the mediator between spicy meats and bland vegetables or fruits, between sweet-and-sour tastes, soft-and-crunchy textures. Although a rijsttafel for one is possible, this feast is better shared by two or by a table full of people. In the case of a solitary diner or a couple, a 17-dish rijsttafel will be enough food; with four or more, order a 24- or 30-dish rijsttafel and you can experience the total taste treat. Use your international cell phone rental to locate a restaurant that serves these dishes.

Before you begin to imagine 30 dinner-size plates of food, it's important to mention that the dishes used to serve an Indonesian meal are small and the portions served are gauged by the number of people expected to share them. Remember, the idea is to have tastes of many things rather than a full meal of any single item. Also, there are no separate courses in an Indonesian rijsttafel. Once your table has been set with a row of low, Sterno-powered plate warmers, all 17 or 24 or 30 dishes arrive all at one time, like a culinary avalanche, the sweets along with the sours and the spicy, so you're left to plot your own course through the extravaganza.

Among the customary dishes and ingredients of a rijsttafel are loempia (classic Chinese-style egg rolls); satay, or sateh (small kebabs of pork, grilled and served with a spicy peanut sauce); perkedel (meatballs); gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce); daging smoor (beef in soy sauce); babi ketjap (pork in soy sauce); kroepoek (crunchy, puffy shrimp toast); serundeng (fried coconut); roedjak manis (fruit in sweet sauce); and pisang goreng (fried banana). Beware of one very appealing dish of sauce with small chunks of what looks to be bright-red onion -- that is sambal badjak, or simply sambal, and it's hotter than hot. Use your Netherlands cellular phone rentals to make reservations at local restaurants.

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