Hot Times in Holland

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Story and Photos by Patrick Holian


Joop’s Special Sambal

Harissa Soup

Octopus in Spicy Soy Dressing

Cinnamon Chicken Vera Cruz

Marinated Texel Lamb


Potatoes are to Holland as corn is to the American Heartland. Since the times of Columbus, the Dutch have used this New World food (originally from Peru) to its fullest. This resilient tuber thrives in the black, fertile soil of the Lowlands, and it has become a dietary staple there. It has even been immortalized by artist Vincent Van Gogh in his famous painting, “The Potato Eaters” which is on permanent display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Traditional Dutch dishes are centered around potatoes. There is hutspot, a combination of potatoes, onions, and carrots all mashed together. There is stampot, a mix of potatoes and a vegetables (kale, spinach, or endive) usually accompanied by meat such as worst (sausage) or klapstuk (beef). But what does all this bland fare have to do with fiery foods?

To find out, you need to look beyond the dinner table, and partake of the country’s Number One fast-food treat, patat frites. These french fried potatoes are found in the many snack bars that dot the land. They are served in a cone-shaped, waxed paper which is grasped in one hand while you eat with the other. But no patat frites is complete without a sauce topping.

If you travel down the Taksteeg (Branch Alley) in downtown Amsterdam, you will run into De Dop (The Bottlecap) Sandwichshop, a typical Holland snack bar. Here you will be asked by Mrs. Dirks about your choice of topping. Mayonnaise, rather than ketchup, is the choice by most Dutch. But for those who like hot and spicy, the rest of the list gets interesting. There is a spicy, yellow curry sauce available. Or try the flavorful pindasaus (peanut sauce), a tasty, thick brown concoction of peanuts and chile peppers that hails from Indonesia. How this spicy food came to the land of potatoes is a story steeped in Holland’s history during a time known as the Golden Age.

In the 1600s, Holland was a world super power. Its wealth was built upon the success of the VOC, the Dutch East Indies Company, which dominated the Asian spice trade. Huge merchant ships plied the trade routes bringing back black pepper, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, and cloves. Later, the Dutch West Indies Company had similar success in the Americas, returning with chile peppers, ginger, and vanilla. Colonies were established in Indonesia in the East, and in Surinam in South America, as well as a number of Caribbean Island including Sint Maartin, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire.

Amsterdam Specialty Store

Peppers, fruits, and Vegetables
from Surinam are available at specialty
stores such as this.


Amsterdam garnered the lion’s share of this wealth and grew quickly to a thriving port city of over 200,000. It became a city of new ideas and tolerance. Dutch philosopher Erasmus led the Renaissance with innovative thinking. The city became a gathering place for those from other countries–some were political or religious refugees; others came from the Dutch colonies wanting to start a new life. What resulted was a city that embraced innovation, and that new thinking extended to the kitchen.

The effects of this early “melting pot” can be easily seen in Holland today. The Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) has been a favorite here for centuries. It offers dozens of different dishes, some spiced with hot Asian peppers. There is sate, a skewered chicken covered with the same spicy peanut sauce found on patat frites. There is rudjak manis, a fiery dish of mixed fruit in syrup. And there are various sambals–chile pepper pastes and thick sauces that accompany the rijsttafel.

Thai food is now the rage in Amsterdam, offering the usual spicy curry entries. But walk down many streets in the old part of the city and you will discover spicy cuisine from around the world–Javan, Indian, Mexican, Caribbean–the list is extensive. From tapas to tortillas, you can find it in Amsterdam.

For the chile lover, however, a trip to one of the city’s many outdoor markets can be equally satisfying. At the Dappermarkt in East Amsterdam, you’ll witness a colorful, raucous market as vendors yell out the special of the day. Since this neighborhood houses many immigrants from Surinam, Morocco, and Turkey, the market reflects their tastes. Sitting alongside the boerenkool (curly kale) and witlof (chickory) are brilliant red Spanish peppers. The vendor will tell you that most of these are bought by the immigrant population, but Dutch Amsterdammers will try a couple now and then to spice up their food.

Nearby the Dapperplein (Dapper Square), the center of the market, is a Surinam store. Surinam, formerly Dutch Guiana on South America’s northeast coast, gained its independence from the Netherlands decades ago. At that time, many Surinamers immigrated to Holland, and soon specialty stores catering to their fiery food needs began to appear. At the Dapperplein store, you will find a variety of peppers. In the summer, the store sells red and yellow ‘Dutch Hots’ grown in the modern greenhouses such as The Greenery International in Bleiswijk. In the winter, the store buys imported ayuma peppers grown in Surinam, a type of Scotch Bonnet pepper. A flashy yellow pepper called ‘Madam Jeanette’ also graces the shelves. The store clerk claimed this to be even hotter than the ayuma.

The recent immigration to the Netherlands has sparked a renewed interest in peppers among the Dutch themselves. There are hints of a “fiery renaissance” throughout Amsterdam. In the west of the city, you will find Dennis Leeuw’s Kookstudio (cooking studio) which offers instructional cooking classes. His sign prominently displays a gracefully-long, red chile pepper.

influence of chiles everywhere

The influence of chiles is everywhere.



Travel east to MOKO, a very trendy café located in the ground floor of a 16th century church. Here, spicy experiments are conducted by placing hot Spanish peppers in long, glass tubes filled with vodka. The manager claims the taste was fine the first day. Thereafter, the pungency increased to where no one would drink the fiery fluid. He thought that MOKO may experiment further with the pepper/vodka drink, so the quest is on to tame the heat.

At a recent exhibition at Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical gardens, chile peppers took center stage. They presented a “botanical theatre” which featured the uses of herbs and spices from around the world. Hot and spicy recipes were offered for Harissa Soup (based on North African cuisine), Joop’s Special Sambal (Indonesian influence), and Cinnamon Chicken Vera Cruz (using red chile peppers).

Chile at the Tropical Greenhouse of Hortus Botanicus

Chile pepper at the Tropical
Greenhouse of Hortus Botanicus.



Touring the Hortus Botanicus is a pleasure in itself. It is one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens, having opened in 1638. Located at Plantage Middenlaan 2a, it houses more than 8,000 plants. Many of these are the descendants of those gathered by the Dutch East and West Indies Companies during the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of these plants are located in the 3-climates greenhouse, one of the most advanced of its kind. Wander to the tropical section and you will find a number of brightly-colored chile plants that hail from the jungles and rain forests of South America.

Fusion restaurants have also recently sprung up throughout the city, bringing new hot and spicy plates to Dutch palates . Among the finest is De Tropen (The Tropics) owned by Mieke Puijk and her husband and chef Jacob Preijde. Jacob has an eclectic background in food. He started his career working as a chef in an Amsterdam Chinese restaurant. He then moved to France and worked in a restaurant there, learning the sauces and techniques of the region.

Later, Jacob was chef at a French restaurant on the Caribbean island of Curacao, one of the Netherlands Antilles. It was there that he met Mieke, furthered his French culinary skills, and learned about Caribbean heat. Jacob tells how the boats from Venezuela would make the 25-mile trip to Curacao, forming a floating market upon their arrival. This is how the chefs in Curacao received fresh produce. This unique open market greatly advanced his knowledge of chile peppers.

After returning to Amsterdam five years ago, the couple opened Restaurant De Tropen in the funky Jordaan neighborhood–an area of dense streets, ‘brown cafes,’ and small canals. Jacob is bringing all his past cuisine knowledge together. Gone are the days of Curacao’s floating market. He now shops the modern Amsterdam Food Center three times a week. It is a huge wholesale warehouse complex where the city’s market vendors and chefs buy their food.

A visit to Bel Impex B.V. provides Jacob with most of his chile pepper needs. This small company specializes in Caribbean and South American food. Ayuma and ‘Madam Jeanette’ peppers are plentiful here, delivering island heat to the cool Dutch climate. Jacob does most of his buying at Kweker, a large wholesaler that sells everything from fresh fish to wild game. Pepper products abound, representing foods from India, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and others.

Jacob shops wholesale at Kweker

Jacob shops wholesale at Kweker.



Returning to De Tropen, Jacob prepares two wonderfully spiced dishes that are on that evening’s menu. The first is an appetizer, octopus in a spicy soy dressing. The dressing is a blend of garlic, ginger, cilantro, scallions, a bit of salt, soy sauce and several rawit peppers from Indonesia. These are tiny green and red peppers that Jacob deftly cuts into very fine pieces. He heats two cups of vegetable oil until it smokes and then pours the hot oil, in 3 or 4 tries, into the ingredients. This mixture is then poured hot over finely sliced pieces of octopus and garnished with djersek poeroet (Indonesian limes) and European cucumber (the long, ribbed kind).

For the main course, Texel lamb, Jacob makes a mildly spicy marinade. It includes garlic, ginger, Dijon mustard, a bit of soy sauce, and five Spanish red peppers. To temper the heat and allow the other tastes to contribute, Jacob removes all seeds and white inner material from the peppers before slicing. The lamb is marinated for several hours, quickly cooked (one minute each side) in a pan of olive oil and butter, and then broiled. Texel lamb comes from the North Sea island of Texel (pronounced tess-el) off the Dutch coast. It is known for its high quality lamb. Jacob garnished the dish with bok choy and ramen noodles for a delightful complement.

These two dishes, served with a cold rosé wine, make for a delicious dinner. The octopus is very spicy with a solid heat factor. The Texel lamb is milder, but holds interest with a complex blend of flavors.

One thing is for sure. A trip to the Netherlands, and especially Amsterdam, affords the fan of hot and spicy cuisine many opportunities. Potatoes continue to be the staple, but for many, a new Golden Age in Holland has begun. This time, it is tinged with a bit of chile pepper red. The following recipes contain no potatoes.


Joop’s Special Sambal

This is one of the recipes offered by the Hortus Botanicus to illustrate the influence of chiles on modern Dutch cuisine. The recipe is by Joop Braakhekke of Le Garage restaurant. Serve it as a sauce over meat, chicken, and rice dishes.

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 3 jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, minced

  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

  • 1 tablespoon minced lemon grass

  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger

  • Salt to taste

  • Water as needed

In a pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and fry until almost brown. Add the chiles and continue to fry for one minute. Add the tomatoes, lemon grass, ginger, and salt to taste and simmer for 20 minutes, adding water if needed to make a medium thick sauce.

Yield: About 1 ½ cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Harissa Soup

From chef Jaymz Pool comes this beautiful, North African-inspired soup in the recipe booklet supplied by the Hortus Botanicus. Serve with a crusty French bread.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped

  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

  • 2 red jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, chopped

  • 5 red bell peppers, seeds and stems removed, chopped

  • 3 cups chicken stock

  • For the garnishes: finely chopped mint, a little yogurt, and ½ teaspoon cumin powder

In a sauce pan, heat the oil. Add the shallot, garlic, chile, and bell pepper and saute for ten minutes, stirring often. Add the chicken stock and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Pour the mixture, in batches, into a blender, and puree. Pour through a sieve and return to the sauce pan for reheating.

Pour into 4 shallow bowls and garnish with the mint, drops of yogurt, and a little cumin powder.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Octopus in Spicy Soy Dressing

This unusual appetizer is one of Jacob’s favorites from De Tropen.

Octopus in Spicy Soy Sauce

Octopus in Spicy Soy Sauce



  • 1 small fresh octopus, cleaned and cut into small pieces

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger

  • 2 tablespoons minced scallions

  • 1 tablespoon minced rawit Indonesian chiles, or substitute jalapeños

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • A few drops of sesame oil

  • 1 cup soy sauce

  • 2 cups vegetable oil

For the garnish: Minced cilantro, chopped European cucumber, sliced djersek poeroet (Indonesian lime)

Divide the octopus into four servings and place on plates.

In a bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, scallions, chiles, salt, sesame oil and soy sauce.

Place the vegetable oil in a saucepan and heat it until smoking. Pour the hot oil over the mixture in the bowl and immediately pour this over the octopus plates.

Garnish with the cilantro, cucumber, and lime.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Cinnamon Chicken Vera Cruz

Freelance chef Alejandra Montero created this recipe that was distributed by the Hortus Botanicus. It is usually served with rice that is fried in oil and garlic before it is cooked.

Alejandra suggests adding a half cup of fresh or frozen garden peas during the last 5 minutes.

  • 8 chicken legs

  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 3 shallots, chopped

  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 2 red bell peppers, seeds and stems removed, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon red chile powder

  • Water as needed

  • Salt to taste

Sprinkle the chicken legs with cinnamon and let them marinate, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the oil to a deep skillet and heat it. Sear the chicken legs over medium heat for about 8 minutes, turning often. Remove the legs to a plate, add the shallots and saute them until golden brown. Return the legs to the skillet, add the tomatoes and cinnamon stick, and a little water. The legs should be just covered by the liquid. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the cover, add the bell peppers and chile powder, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Adjust the salt and stir just before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Marinated Texel Lamb

As prepared at De Tropen Restaurant, Amsterdam. Use, young, tender lamb.

Finished main course, Texel lamb

Finished main course, Texel lamb



  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

  • 5 red Spanish peppers, or substitute 2 red jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, sliced crosswise

  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1 sprig rosemary

  • 2 pounds lamb, cut into slices ½-inch thick

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • Cooked ramen noodles

  • Steamed bok choy

In a bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, peppers, mustard, soy sauce, and rosemary and mix well. Add the lamb, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least three hours.

In a skillet, add the olive oil and butter. When bubbling, quickly saute the lamb slices for one minute on each side. Then place the slices on a cookie sheet under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, taking care not to burn them.

Serve the lamb accompanied by the ramen noodles and bok choy.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

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