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Last updated : Nov 2009
Netherlands Social Profile
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Food and Drink

There are few dishes that can be described as quintessentially Dutch, and those that do fall into this category are a far cry from the elaborate creations of Italian or French cuisine.

Many of the larger towns have a wide range of restaurants specialising in their own brands of international dishes and include American, Balkan, British, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Indonesian cuisine, a result of the Dutch colonisation of the East Indies, with its use of spices and exotic ingredients, is particularly delicious.

A typical Dutch breakfast usually consists of several varieties of bread, thin slices of Dutch cheese, prepared meats and sausage, butter and jam or honey and often includes a boiled egg.

A working lunch would be koffietafel, once again with breads, various cold cuts, cheese and conserves. There will often be a side dish of omelette, cottage pie and salad. The most common daytime snack are broodjes (sandwiches) and are served in the ubiquitous sandwich bars, broodjeswinkels. Filled pancakes are also very popular. Lightly salted ‘green’ herring can be bought from street stalls (they are held by the tail and slipped down into the throat).

More substantial dishes are generally reserved by the Dutch themselves for the evening meal and inlude, erwtensoep (thick pea soup served with smoked sausage, cubes of bacon, pig’s knuckle and brown or white bread), groentensoep (clear consommé with vegetables, vermicelli and meatballs), hutspot (potatoes, carrots and onions), klapstuk (an accompaniment of stewed lean beef) and boerenkool met rookworst (frost-crisped kale and potatoes served with smoked sausage).

Seafood dishes are often excellent, particularly in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, and include gebakken zeetong (fried sole), lekkerbekjes (fried whiting), royal imperial oysters, shrimps, mussels, lobster and eel (smoked, filleted and served on toast or stewed or fried).

Favourite Dutch desserts include flensjes or pannekoeken (25 varieties of Dutch pancake), wafels met slagroom (waffles with whipped cream), offertje (small dough balls fried and dusted with sugar) and spekkoek (alternate layers of heavy buttered sponge and spices from Indonesia), which translated means ‘bacon cake’. Restaurants usually have table service. Bars and cafes generally have the same, though some are self-service.

Coffee, tea, chocolate and fruit juice are drunk at breakfast. The local spirit is jenever (Dutch gin), normally taken straight and chilled as a chaser with a glass of beer, but it is sometimes drunk with cola or vermouth. Favoured brands are Bols, Bokma, Claeryn and De Kuyper.

Dutch beer is excellent. It is a light, gassy pils type beer, always served chilled in small (slightly under half a pint) glasses. The most popular brand in Amsterdam is Amstel. Imported beers are also available, as are many other alcoholic beverages. Dutch liqueurs are excellent and include Curaçao, Parfait d’Amour, Triple Sec (similar to Cointreau) and Dutch-made versions of crème de menthe, apricot brandy and anisette.

There are no licensing laws and drink can be bought all day. Bars open later and stay open until the early hours of the morning at weekends.

Flower Markets

A visit to one of the famous Dutch flower markets is highly recommended. The best ones are in Amsterdam, where the famous Bloemenmarkt along the Singel canal is a major tourist attraction, Delft and Utrecht. Dutch flower bulbs are available for sale but it is essential to make sure the vendor sells them with an official export certificate. The most popular Dutch flowers are tulips and daffodils.

There are also various colourful flower parades (corso), notably the Bollenstreek flower parade (the country’s biggest). Many parades display spectacular flower ‘floats’ made of hyacinths, daffodils and daliahs. The Floriade, held every 10 years in The Netherlands, is one of the world’s most famous flower exhibitions. Last held in 2002 (from mid-April to mid-October), the city of Haarlemmermeer hosted this prestigious horticultural event. Visitors may also visit one of the country’s unique flower auctions, such as the ones in Aalsmeer (easy to reach from Amsterdam) and the ‘Flower Auction Holland’ near The Hague and Rotterdam in the Westland. The country’s traditional cheese market is held in Alkmaar, every Friday from 1000-1200, from mid-April to mid-September.

Nightlife

The larger cities have sophisticated nightclubs and discos, but late opening bars and cafes are just as popular within the provincial towns. There are theatres and cinemas in all the towns.

Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city, with some of the liveliest nightlife in Europe. There are legal casinos in Amsterdam, Breda, Eindhoven, Den Haag, Groningen, Nymegen, Rotterdam, Scheveningen, which claims to have the largest in Europe, Valkenburg and Zandvoort and all have an age limit of over 18 (passports must be shown).

Shopping

Special purchases include Delft (between The Hague and Rotterdam) blue pottery and pottery from Makkum and Workum, costume dolls, silverware from Schoonhoven, glass and crystal from Leerdam and diamonds from Amsterdam.

Shopping hours

Monday 1100 hrs-1800 hrs, Tuesday-Friday 0900 hrs-1800 hrs, Saturday 0900 hrs-1700 hrs.

In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other big cities, supermarkets are generally open from 0800 hrs-2000 hrs/2100 hrs.

In large city centres, shops are open Sunday 1200 hrs-1700 hrs. Shopping malls are also open on Sunday. Some cities also have late-night shopping on Thursdays or Fridays.

Note: Bulbs and plants may not be exported except by commercial growers, or by individuals with a health certificate from the Plant Disease Service.

Special Events

For a complete list of events and festivals held in The Netherlands, contact the Press and Public Relations Officer at The Royal Netherlands Embassy or The Netherlands Board of Tourism (see Contact Addresses section).

The following is a selection of special events occurring in Netherlands in 2005:
 
Jan 26th-Feb 6th Film Festival, Rotterdam
Feb 6th-9th Carnaval, Landelijk (parades throughout the country)
Jun 8th-18th Pasar Malam Besar (largest Eurasian festival in the world), Den Haag.
June 18th-24th Poetry International, Rotterdam
Jun 22nd-25th Folkloristisch Dansfestival, Bolsward
Jul 7th-9th Bospop, Weert
Jul 8th-10th North Sea Jazz Festival, Den Haag
Jul 23rd-28th Kwakoe Zomer Festival (multicultural festival), Amsterdam
Aug 3rd-7th International Folkloristisch Dansfestival, Odoorn
Aug 6th-8th Amsterdam Gay Pride (and Canal Parade)
Aug 26th-Sep 4th Holland Festival, Amsterdam
Oct 16th Amsterdam Marathon
Oct 18th-20th Zuidlaardermarkt (biggest horse and cattle market in Western Europe), Zuidlaren.
 
Social Conventions

It is customary to shake hands on greeting. English is spoken as a second language by many and is willingly used and many Dutch people will also speak German and French.

Hospitality is very much the same as for the rest of Europe and the USA. It is customary to take a small gift if invited for a meal.

Casual wear is widely acceptable. Men are expected to wear a suit for business and social functions. Formal wear may be required for smart restaurants, bars and clubs. Evening dress (black tie for men) is generally specified on invitation.

Tipping: All hotels and restaurants include 15 per cent service and VAT. It is customary to leave small change when paying a bill. €0,5-1,00 is usual for porters, doormen and taxi drivers. Hairdressers and barbers have inclusive service prices.
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