Of brown bars & bitterballen: My Dutch (guilty) pleasures

I’m not embarrassed to admit it. There are some (very) Dutch things I raised an eyebrow at upon discovering them some years ago, but which, over time, have gotten to me. Some small things that are not necessarily healthy, interesting to others, or pretty, but that I nonetheless enjoy here. Things at which my friends at home raise an eyebrow when told about.

So here is guilt relieved by confession. Hope you will share your Dutch guilty pleasures with me as well!

› Bitterballen
The ultimate Dutch snack, of a smooth, deep fried texture, bitterballen and the like are best served at various local spots and events, from bars to meeting rooms, birthday bashes to weddings.

When I first tasted one, I could not really make out what it contained, and burned my tongue a bit, yet continued on to a second and a third, not neglecting to dip them in sauce, and feeling somehow guilty about how at home I would dismiss my mom’s meatballs for the sake of maintaining a healthy diet.

› Stroop
In every Dutch household at least slightly enamoured of pancakes (and which one isn't?), there will be stroop, the sweet, sticky syrup also present in the famous Dutch stroopwafels. Ingredients: sugar, lots of it. Ways in which it can be used on pancakes and beyond: endless.

› George Baker Selection
I admit to many '70s and '80s guilty pleasures, for the happy, poppy sound and lyrics. George Baker (born Johannes Bouwens) is an even older one actually, dating back to when my parents confessed to having their first dance together to "Paloma blanca." And who can forget the "Little green bag" theme from the movie Reservoir Dogs? Epic.

My popularity doesn’t increase if I play George Baker at parties, but a dance move or two inevitably escapes from many of the other guests.

› November rain
Enduring so much rain was once beyond my wildest dreams. Now I actually find the long, grey Dutch November, with its strong winds and cold showers, calming, even romantic. I get things done when it rains.

Also, I learned not be put off by it when I want to go out (since I would hardly get to go out if I did mind the rain), and I can now see some humour in going to a festival armed with rubber boots and a plastic poncho to dance on a muddy field.

› Brown bars
These are the typical Dutch pubs, the often small, neighbourhood gathering places, with their dark wood (probably a consequence of many years of smoking inside), collectible decorations, at times nostalgic music, and laid-back atmosphere. And good (Belgian) beers.

Back in my home country, I would generally avoid neighbourhood bars, but since I established roots in Rotterdam, I keep being charmed by them, to the slight exasperation of some of my hip, club-going Dutch friends.

› The draaiorgel (barrel-organ)
To now further reveal my old-fashioned nature, the city-touring, loud melody-producing, highly decorated organ activated by clockwork is quite a sight in Rotterdam's modern downtown. Maybe it could use a bit of tuning, but in my eyes, the draaiorgel can do no wrong.

› No curtains
The guiltiest of them all... It isn't that I gave up owning curtains myself, as some Dutch households seem to have done. Just that, ever since I set foot on Dutch ground, I can’t help but take a peek into the houses. It’s too easy, maybe; I have a voyeuristic side, also possible; anyway, I’ve seen some nice, cosy living rooms and got inspiring ideas regarding dim lighting.

Some houses even looked to me to have come straight out of a catalogue advertising the perfect furniture to go with your perfect life (I come from Romania, perhaps that helped me to see things this way). I am aware I should look away though...

What did not make the list?
Well, not "drop," or licorice candy (I still haven't met any non-Dutch person who thinks they are tasty), nor excessive hair gel, nor the everything-including-social-activities agenda, nor the toilet-hanging birthday calendar or the spaarzegels (the little stamps you can buy from the supermarket in return for a later discount).

I’m somewhere in between, with present vouchers, three kiss greetings and sinks with cold water only. As for the rest of my Dutch pleasures, I guess they're guilt-free.

I’d love to hear about your guilty pleasures in the Netherlands!

Catalina Barzescu


Catalina Barzescu

Catalina is a media and journalism graduate from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and an avid writer and reader. Instead of returning to her Transylvanian roots when the studying was done...

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