In the Netherlands, an important part of celebrating Christmas and New Years Eve is cooking and eating together. While this is the case in many cultures across the world, few give it an interpretation as miserable as the Dutch when they say gourmetten. One of the reasons it is so popular is because it is believed to allow the participants to cook and eat together (gezellig!) while still leaving each able to to eat according to their own dietary wishes.
For gourmetten, people sit around a gourmetstel; a small machine with a metal plate of 50 by 30 centimeters, vaguely resembling an indoor grill. While I have been told that once plugged in, the machine heats up, I personally have never witnessed a gourmetstel get warm enough to actually prepare a meal on it.
In many cases the thick layer of grease from the previous time the machine was used, probably months ago, will still be very much present when you use it. Nonetheless, you can expect your Dutch companions to throw on an additional stick of butter at the start of the gourmet session. When applying the butter to the grill, someone will probably take a slab of meat, as juicy and greasy as possible, to use it as a mop to distribute the butter – now mixed with whatever sorts of fat were dripping from the meat – across the grill plate.
From here on, things only get worse. One of the reasons people claim gourmetten is such a great group activity is because it allows vegetarians and non-vegetarians to dine together, without adjusting to each other´s dietary restrictions. While this is technically true when ignoring the meat juice infused butter, gourmetten without meat does not really allow for a meal the size of an actual dinner: vegetarians will have to make do with roasted bell pepper, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and, in rare cases, a soy burger. I don’t know if you have ever tried to fill your stomach by eating a dinner solely consisting of roasted bell peppers and tomatoes, but you will have to eat an unfathomable amount before feeling somewhat stuffed. The grill being overcrowded only allows you to heat up a limited amount of vegetables at once, and since it never really heats up, you spend half an hour watching your 3 bell peppers sizzling in a pool of meat juice, just to find out upon the first bite that an outside burnt to coal does not rule out the possibility of the inside being cold and crunchy.
The inefficiency of gourmetten strikes all, and while a raw bell pepper can be eaten, food poisoning is a very real danger for those who opt for steak or chicken breast.
When dinner is over – unless you opened all your windows, which you obviously didn’t do since it’s way too cold – your entire house will smell like burnt fat. And yet… the most unpleasant sensation is not in your nose. Whatever you threw on that plate was not enough to fill your stomach, and now you face the consequences: Hunger.
After all these words of negativity about Dutch food culture, let me add some words of praise.
What does one do, a few hours after dinner time, absolutely starving, but far too lazy to cook a meal? Right, you get food delivered. While I will not pretend to be a fan of Dutch cuisine, there is one meal that gives me a feeling I would almost label as a sense of national pride: Kapsalon.
Kapsalon, like every other Dutch dish, is an absolute atrocity, but where this word has a negative meaning for every other dish, in the case of Kapsalon, it is positive. Fries, raw onions, döner or a vegetarian alternative, melted cheese, lettuce, garlic sauce, and sambal. It has an incredible amount of calories, and is thus guaranteed to satisfy your hunger. The dish is a true disaster, but one thing is certain: at any hour, any day of the year, some place selling Kapsalon will be open, which is why you can be guaranteed that Kapsalon will be there in the darkest moments of your life.
Be good to yourself: Reject gourmetten, embrace Kapsalon.
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