Small Group Dinners at Staff Homes: A 'gezellig' evening!
As a former CIEE student, certain activities or events are especially enjoyable and memorable for me now as a staff member. One such activity is the small group dinners that CIEE staff members host at their homes for students during the semester. I remember so distinctly going to our former Resident Director’s house for dinner and how much fun it was to get to see where she lived and to be in a “real” Dutch home after spending weeks in a dorm. Last week was the first time I was able to host my very own small group dinner since beginning my job at CIEE seven months ago. As hosts of these lovely dinners, we often try to make a very traditional Dutch meal for students so as to further facilitate their integration into Dutch culture. Many people ask, “what is traditional Dutch food like?” Unlike some other cultures, the answer to this question in the Dutch case is pretty simple: potatoes, meat, vegetables… all of which are well (some would say over) cooked with few exciting spices. Now, this is a bit unfair, as Dutch cuisine has certainly improved and been influenced by many other food traditions such as those of Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. The Dutch have moved away from boiled potatoes and meat to include many healthy and interesting new culinary traditions.
However, one of the most traditional and frequently made meals in the Netherlands are hutspot or stampot. Potatoes are boiled and mashed together traditionally with different types of vegetables like carrots, endive, onions and a bit of milk and butter. The dish is topped off with big chunks of smoked worst and gravy. Contrary to what you might be thinking, it’s delicious! Although I am half Dutch and spent many summers at my grandmother’s house, she is not a fan of traditional Dutch food and so I never ate hutspot very often. And I had definitely never made it myself! So I nervously rushed off to the Albert Heijn, the biggest grocery store chain, to collect all my supplies. The Dutch have put a new spin on this traditional recipe, changing the ingredients mashed with potatoes. I decided to make two traditional recipes and one with a twist. Although it’s quite easy to make these meals as you eventually just mash everything together, juggling three different recipes was not without its challenges. I decided to make one hutspot with potatoes, carrots, and onions, another with endive and onion, and finally one with roasted pumpkin, apple, cumin, and goat cheese. Things were under control until my Dutch roommate came home and started asking questions and tasting things. Thank goodness she could sweep in and add a little more milk or salt where it was needed and make the gravy that I had absentmindedly forgotten. After setting out drinks and appetizers, I was sweating over my hutspot when the bell rang…. The first students!
Finally all the students had arrived and with drinks in hand, they could chat to each other and get to know my cat while I ferried all the different dishes out into the living room. My roommate, Lotte, was able to demonstrate how you put the hutspot on your plate and make a hole in the middle to pour the gravy into and then place your worst on the side with mustard. Then you’re ready to eat! Soon there was silence as everyone started tucking into what turned out to be (thankfully) a very delicious meal, if I may say so myself. As I expected, the salad remained almost untouched and the three pots of hutspot quickly disappeared. The students always ask me lots of questions when they get a chance to, about my own experience as a CIEE student and what I think about living in Amsterdam. We chatted about their experiences so far and their observations about the city and Dutch culture. Students compared their experiences in classes and their struggles on a bike. Then it was time for a traditional Dutch dessert of apple pie (store bought I admit!) and whipped cream. The conversations continued and I sat back to enjoy listening to the laughter, debates, and stories that filled my living room. Before we knew it, it was already 10:30 and the students gathered their things to leave and very sweetly thanked me for their dinner. I found a small container for William to take what little was leftover home and eventually everyone was on their way, unlocking their bikes for the trip home. This dinner was a wonderful opportunity and just as gezellig (the Dutch word roughly translated to cozy) as I remembered it being when I was a student. I hope the students had just as an enjoyable evening as I did!
Student Services Coordinator