I love The Netherlands and am an unashamed supporter. It’s an oft-disregarded tourist destination even though it’s easy to get to from London. Short breaks are more usually taken in Paris or Berlin. That’s a shame as Dutch cities offer history, architectural charm and delicious food. Yes, dear reader, that statement isn’t an affectation of a rampant auto-correction error.
The Hague is a refined and beautiful city with a wealth of high-end dining options. One can eat relatively cheaply on local specialities but there is also a style of dining that one is unlikely to find elsewhere. I refer to the celebrated Rijsttafel which is hardly known outside The Netherlands, but it has nothing to do with cheese or herrings. This array of dishes has its birth in faraway Indonesia.
Dutch Indonesian cuisine has its roots in the former Dutch colonies of the East Indies which became Indonesia. It was brought back to the Netherlands by former colonials and exiled Indonesians after Indonesia gained its independence in 1945. The rijsttafel remained popular with those returning Dutch families. Ironically, when Indonesia became independent, nationalism increased and Dutch colonial traditions, including the rijsttafel, were largely swept away. It has almost entirely disappeared from Indonesia’s own restaurants.
Come with a sense of culinary adventure
Dutch cuisine, in general, has been much influenced by other cultures and their foods. Holland headed the lucrative international spice trade in the 17th century. This wasn’t just one-way traffic as the colonists also introduced coffee to Indonesia. In fact Indonesia was the first country outside Arabia and Ethiopia to grow coffee.
The Dutch feast, the rijsttafel, is a marriage of Indonesian dishes and, if one believes some explanations, Dutch frugality. An Indonesian told me, although with a twinkle in his eye, that the spread of multiple dishes, the ‘rice table’, was a way of using up the leftovers from meals of previous days. I am not entirely convinced by that explanation as I would think the tropical heat and lack of a good fridge in those days would make eating lingering meaty plates a little dicey.
The Hague has many good Indonesian restaurants and one of those is Blauw, part of a small chain, which offers smart casual dining on a full menu of individual Indonesian dishes as well as the iconic rijsttafel, an extravaganza that is best shared with others, who should come with a sense of culinary adventure and big appetites. A feast at Blauw is memorable and spectacular. The dishes are varied, attractive and delicious, giving a gastronomic overview of the food and spices of Indonesia.
An equally-sizeable vegetarian option
The meat and fish selection consists of Chicken Satay which is an unmissable classic, Goat Satay, Turmeric Beef, Spicy Beef, Sweet Soy Pork, Meat-Potato Pastry, Spicy Fried Potatoes, Spicy Shrimp, Shrimp Satay, Fish Curry, Fish in Soy sauce, Steamed Fish, Vegetables with Peanut Sauce, Roasted Coconut, Sweet-Sour Cucumber, Fried Banana, Tofu in Soy Sauce, Egg in Sambal Sauce, Vegetables with Coconut Sauce. That should surely be enough to sate the healthiest of appetites. All the above are served with White Rice and Fried Rice which should be eaten with small portions of the spicy dishes. No need to pile your plate but rather choose a little of this and that, keeping the various curries and satays separate to enjoy their individual and distinctive flavours. Non-meat eaters are not forgotten at Blauw as there is also an equally-sizeable vegetarian option.
Discovering food and drink is such a big part of travel. It’s even more exciting when those discoveries are so unexpected and exotic. The Hague is home to embassies and head offices of international companies. The population of this grand city expect the best and it’s easy to find. Blauw offers the style of meal over which to linger along with discerning friends who will appreciate the rich tapestry of flavours and colours. Order the rijsttafel at Blauw for a meal that you will be talking about long after you return home.
2585 AB ‘s Gravenhage
Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands here
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018