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Revealing Dutch Secrets:bitterbal


By Jeroen van der Kolk, CEO InterConnection. j.vanderkolk@inter-connection.nl

Have you ever burned your mouth on one of the most traditional Dutch snacks, the bitterbal? Unlike the name suggests, this typical Dutch snack tastes anything but bitter.

Legend has it that the bitterbal was invented in 1783 by the wife of Jan Barendsz, a café owner in Amsterdam. Barendsz noticed that his guests left his café at the end of the afternoon to go home to eat. To satisfy their appetites, he started serving them slices of sausage and cheese so that they would stay a little longer.  One day, his wife had some ragout left over from the cooking and rolled the ragout in a mixture of eggs and breadcrumbs and fried it in hot oil. The little ragout balls were so delicious that Barendsz decided to serve them along with the sausage and cheese. Thus, the bitterbal was born! It became immensely popular as the perfect snack to accompany a (strong) drink. By now, the bitterbal, like its big brother the kroket – a ragout-filled bread-crumbed croquette – has become an essential part of the Dutch snack culture. And the Dutch snack culture is serious business, as becomes clear from the many take-over attempts among Dutch kroket and bitterbal manufacturers. In 2012, a major take-over attempt even forced the Dutch Competition Authority to step in!

Being a typical Dutch product, the bitterbal is exported regularly. Not to be sold in other countries, but to be served during parties at Dutch embassies. It has been said that some Dutch guests abroad sometimes especially attend these parties to finally be able to sink their teeth into a lovely Dutch bitterbal again.

Yes, the Dutch are proud of their bitterbal; but to tell the truth, not everybody likes them. Luckily, there are some good alternative snacks, like the kaassoufflé (bread-crumbed cheese-filled turnover) and vlammetjes (spicy mini spring rolls). Any real Dutch reception will make sure to serve these delicacies too. Finally, a warning is in place for all of those who have not yet had a bitterbal before: when served straight out of the pan, you run a high risk of burning your mouth! It is therefore strongly advisable to only eat a bitterbal when you have a drink in your other hand. No encouragement needed for that of course. And if you do not feel like having a bitterbal, just excuse yourself to your host with the universal reason: ‘I am on a diet!’ Whether it is true or not, everyone will accept it immediately.


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