Food With Alessia: Dutch Breakfast (with video)

Posted on 21. Apr, 2014 by in Culture, History

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The purpose of these “Food with Alessia” posts is to demonstrate and try some Dutch foods! Together with my Italian friend Alessia, who does not know so much about Dutch food yet, I will post a video every two weeks with an accompanying post. So get ready to enjoy some very delicious minutes of Dutch food…

We will start off with Breakfast! We chose 5 products that are typical for the Dutch morning cuisine: hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), tijgerbrood (“tiger bread”), ontbijtkoek (“breakfast cake”), pindakaas (peanut butter), and, of course, oude kaas (old cheese). So what does Alessia think about these things?


This was the basis for our other “test objects”. Tijgerbrood is a typical Dutch kind of bread. There is nothing really special about the dough or taste, but the structure on top of the bread – it looks like tiger fur. It is, as Dutch bread usually is, quite soft, very comparable to American bread. However, opposed to American bread, Dutch bread does usually not contain any sweeteners and other stuff… It is pretty good!

Tijgerbrood – see the structure? (C) Bakkerij Coudeville


Hagelslag has a nice story to it. Apparently, there was a 7-year old boy that sent a letter to the chocolate company Venz, and asked if they could make chocolate that he could put on his bread – and they came up with hagelslag. Alessia really liked it, but wondered why the sprinkle shape was chosen. The sprinkle shape….


Pindakaas itself is American, invented by Dr. Kellogg in a time of a peanut surplus in 1893. Calvé only started making pindakaas in 1948 when there was much need for nutritious food after the Second World War. But in most other countries where pindakaas is popular, it is called peanut butter, which would have been pindaboter in the Netherlands. So why peanut cheese?

The word probably originates in Suriname, a former colony of The Netherlands. They had a product made of peanuts, but with the structure of cheese. This word, “peanut cheese”, then was used by the Dutch merchants for peanut butter for the first time in 1872. When in 1948 peanut butter entered the Dutch market, it was not allowed to be called pindaboter. The word boter was only allowed to refer to real butter – and thus it could not be used. When it was compared to leverkaas, also a cheese-free bread spread, the word pindakaas was chosen.


Peijnenburg, the original Dutch company that makes this delicious “breakfast cake” introduced the well-known koekhappen (“Cake snapping”), where a slice of this ontbijtkoek is hung up on a cord and you are to bite it off. The company started in 1883. They have some really great commercials with this, like this one. Happen naar Peijnenburg!

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Another, quite similar kind of koek is kruidkoek. But we will get to that one another time.

Also important to note is this: when you say koekje (“Small cake”) it actually means shortbread or biscuit. Koek practically always refers to the cake like the ontbijtkoek. So heed that difference!

Oude Kaas

We chose to go for Old Amsterdam, a cheese that even has its own store in Amsterdam. Old Amsterdam means Oud Amsterdam. Oude kaas is old cheese, meaning it ripened longer. Then the cheese can develop a genuine and unique character, which can spice up the taste quite a bit. The Westland family has made and developed this cheese  throughout the last century. It is really tasty! And it must be – otherwise it would not have its own store, right?

(C) Old Amsterdam


Have you had any of these foods before? Do you have suggestions for other Dutch foods we should test? Please let me know!


Easter Revolution – The Passion

Posted on 17. Apr, 2014 by in Uncategorized

The storyteller and the actors playing Peter, Jesus, and Mary

Tonight, April 17, 2014 is, or here in the Netherlands was, a huge event. It tries to bring the people back to what currently already half of the Dutch population has forgotten or has never known. Something that had always been part of Dutch culture, no matter how divided it was. I am talking about The Passion.

The Passion is a musical play that tells the paasverhaal (Easter tale) in a new way, revolutionary one might even say. Dutch actors play Jesus and his twelve disciples and the other important roles in the story. This year, the third Passion was held in the major northern city of the Netherlands, Groningen. The big stage was at the Vismarkt, a square in the heart of town. The crucifixion was done there – but no worries, no Dutch actor was actually nailed to a cross.

The Neon Cross at the Vismarkt

Instead, the modern version of Pontius Pilatus explained what such a crucifixion would encompass: 18 centimeter (about 7 inches) long nails would be hammered through wrists and ankles, and the victim would die of suffocation as hanging down from your wrists does not allow normal breathing anymore.

While the thousands of people on the Vismarkt were attending the event, a 6 meter (about 20 feet) long white, neon cross was carried from the soccer stadium of FC Groningen all the way to the square. In that procession, many hundreds more had joined.

The climax of the story occurred when the Dutch Jesus was shown before the crowd and Pilatus gives the audience the choice to either keep him or a prisoner alive. All shouted, just like it allegedly happened, “kruisig hem!!!” (crucify him!!!). He was then taken away, and “stood up” again in the middle of the crowd. A final song ended the spectacular show.

This new look on the story of Easter may really have the intended effect. Even if it does not draw people closer to becoming Christian, it definitely reiterates what it is all about. Even if the Netherlands is not only Christian anymore, but is a mix of many different religions, this event fits well. It connects people. They walk together and just do something together, leaving aside the spiritual meaning of the story. And that is just wonderful.

The United States apparently also has interest in The Passion. Producer Michael Davis bought the concept and wants to realize it in 2015. Let’s see how the Americans will treat it!

Watch the entire Passion 2014 here.

What do you think? Is it a good idea to revolutionize the story like this? Or does it go a step too far?


Game of Thrones and Language Development

Posted on 14. Apr, 2014 by in Culture, Dutch Language

I bet you have heard of Game of Thrones – the HBO Series that became so popular. I am again and again stunned by the great performance of the actors in it. And their accents. It is interesting that in certain American series all actors speak another accent, mostly the English one. That is also the case in Game of Thrones. All British and some American actors then, one might think, right? Wrong. One of them is Dutch.

Who is it? The evil witch that uses black magic under the Lords of Light and Darkness – Melisandre! The person behind her is Carice van Houten.

Carice van Houten is a Dutch actress, born in 1976 in Leiderdorp in the Netherlands. She has lived in the Netherlands her whole life. She went to a Dutch school, and to the Kleinkunstacademie (School of performing arts) in Amsterdam. She mainly performed in Dutch productions, but has also been active in the United States. Most famously, she played in the Dutch film Zwartboek (Black Book), a remarkable movie about the Second World War, in Valkyrie with Tom Cruise, also about the Second World War, and now in Game of Thrones.

In the English productions, she obviously speaks English. Not a big deal, many people, also Dutch speak English. But she speaks it flawlessly, with a to my ears crystal clear British accent. Where did she pick that up?

I do not want to deny that some people just seem to have the talent to adopt to certain accents without much ado, but I have not met many of these people. What can be another reason for such a flawless accent is the childhood environment.

There has been a study at the University of Amsterdam that has shown that a person can adopt to the accent of the environment he or she lives in without major issues until puberty ends. After that, it is harder to do, but it is possible. The father of Carice van Houten is Dutch-British. He was born in the Netherlands too, but he grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. This allowed him to acquire a very good understanding of the English language, and to make it one of his own. He then passed this on to his daughter Carice. Even though her parents separated when she was 5, she moved back in with her father at the age of 17. So when she was still developing, she has frequently been exposed to a British English that she as such got used to.

So her flawless English can be traced back to her childhood and teen years. It is interesting to see how this ability to accustom oneself changes over time.

When I was in the United States, I met a woman in a store. I asked her, on hearing her accent, whether she was German – and she was. She had lived in the United States for over 30 years, but she had only moved there, and then got in touch with the language, when she was around 34. She never lost the distinguishable German accent – even though she had tried very hard.

Then on the other side, some children and teens learn a vast amount of languages as long as they are young, like this guy. I think it is absolutely fascinating.

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Of course it is important to keep the language up to date by regularly speaking it. And I think that this is the biggest problem – to have an environment around where this other language is spoken.

All the same, I do not think accents that deviate from the ideal English or American accents are bad or inferior. After all, who is to decide what this ideal accent is? It is impossible to find, as everybody speaks a language differently, and everybody hears and interprets accents and pronunciation differently. And even if this was not a factor, accents are nice. They tell something about the person behind that personal way of speaking. Here in Maastricht, I have met students from Poland, Italy, England, France, Belgium, and Germany, to name just a few. All have their own accent, and it makes them unique. So if you have an accent when you speak, don’t see it as wrong, but enjoy being unique!  :-)