Typical Dutch Christmas traditions

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There are some typical Dutch things a lot of foreigners don’t know:

There are also some devices that may raise some eyebrows. You probably know the klomp. But have you ever seen something like a flessenlikker ?

In this video I gave students a machine that looked like something that you use in cooking. But what’s it really for and why is it typically Dutch?

What is it?

You see this big thing but do you know what it is?

  • An inside barbecue?
  • A mini barbecue?
  • A device for making pannenkoeken? For cheese?

The Dutch call this a gourmet (French loanword) and the action is called gourmetten.

How do Dutch people use this device?

Gourmetten is an activity in which a group of people sit at the table and cook their own dish in small pans.

And what are they cooking? You can use different ingredients which are placed on the table.

Favourite things for gourmetten?

  • Lots of portions of small pieces of meat
  • Small pieces of vegetables
  • Pancakes
  • Fish
  • Vegetarian snacks

And after you cook it, you eat it. And then it’s time for something new.

On a lot of gourmets you will see colours on the pans. Why is this?

This is so that you know which one is yours. Because, don’t forget, if you are all gourmetten and having a gezellige evening, you might lose track of your own pan.

And an important rule for gourmetten: my pan is my pan!

Favourite thing for Christmas

According to different research (done by supermarkets, so I’m not sure how reliable it is) four out of five Dutch people eat a gourmet during Christmas.

It helps that the Dutch Christmas can lead to up to three dinners.

Because in the Netherlands there is:

1 – Kerstavond 

2 – Eerste Kerstdag

3 – Tweede Kerstdag.

There is a good chance that on one of these days a Dutch person will eat their own-cooked meal.

From the comments: “Only one day a year?”

In the video I say most people use it on one specific day of the year. Well … in the comments some Dutch people didn’t agree with me. Maybe it’s more popular than I thought:

‘Lol most Dutch use it on 1 specific day? Im like, sinterklaas 1ste kerst 2de kerst en Nieuwjaar’

‘Most Dutch people use it on one specific day? We use it at almost every freaking holiday ? and yes it looks weird. But it’s tasty and fun!’

Classy dining

The Dutch think it’s classy, hence the name: gourmetten.

We don’t know for sure, but there are two thoughts about the origins of the word. Both relate to ‘eating fancy’.

  1. On the one hand people think ‘gourmet’ stands for ‘food connoisseur/gastronome’.
  2. Another explanation for the word comes from the gourmandises. A French word which means ‘exclusive snacks’.

Which one it is doesn’t matter. It has to do with ‘eating fancy’.

History: How did it become so popular?

It may sound strange but gourmetten is very popular because of a promotional campaign.

At the end of the seventies, cheese fondue (which is more popular world wide) became more and more popular in the Netherlands. This was bad news for the butchers and the meat industry.

So they decided to mount a campaign to promote meat. The slogan of the campaign was: Gourmet, probeer ‘t eens! (Gourmet, give it a try!). And it worked, the Dutch fell for it and turned to the gourmet.

Big disadvantage: the smell!

The biggest fear of Dutch people and gourmetten, is not that they eat really fatty meat. Or that they are sometimes too impatient to wait until it’s fully cooked. It’s not the fact that they are afraid that the guests will not like it. In the end, it’s not your responsibility because everyone is their own chef.

No, it’s the smell.

The Dutch really don’t like the fact that it produces a smell that stays in your house for the rest of the year. It’s logical if you think that for a whole evening there are multiple pans with a lot of butter and oil and meat cooking in the living room.

There are even people who are afraid of wearing certain clothes to an evening of gourmetten. They think they’ll be ruined afterwards.

Is this typical Dutch cuisine?

I think it’s safe to say: yes! This is typical Dutch cuisine.

Why? Dutch cuisine is often characterised as being functional. The people are known for not taking too much time for eating. The preparation of a simple cheese sandwich is enough for lunch. Soup for dinner.

And on the other side Dutch like to make it gezellig. Which means to be together with friends and family and have a good time.

Gourmetten is the perfect combination

The food you eat is generally not the most spectacular. It’s vegetables and small pieces of meat, fish or snacks. Where in other countries Christmas is about a big meal being prepared in the kitchen for hours, maybe even days. In the Netherlands it’s like this: here’s a big plate and go!

On the other hand people love being close to each other. Making food together. The warmth of the gourmet makes it even more gezellig! Thanks to the fact that everyone is busy, no heated discussions can occur, and there’s no room for awkward silences.

And don’t forget: it’s also fun for the children. Children don’t have to wait all evening and sit still. They like the fact that they can make their own dinner; it’s also a fun activity for them. And they can decide what they make.

So it also has to do with comfort. The Dutch are not people who like to make it more difficult than it is. Especially in the kitchen.

We avoid the stress of the holidays by choosing the easy way.

Vocabulary for an evening gourmetten

  • Zullen we beginnen? (Shall we begin?)
  • Smakelijk eten! (Enjoy your meal / Bon appetit!)
  • Mag ik … hebben? (Can I have the … )
  • Welk pannetje is van mij? (Which pan is mine?)
  • Mag ik een extra pannetje? (Can I have an extra pan?)
  • Wat zit er in jouw pannetje? (What’s in your pan?)
  • Het was lekker (It was good)
  • Het was gezellig (It was gezellig)
  • Het was heerlijk (It was delicious)
  • Ik moet even uitbuiken (I need to uitbuiken).

Uitbuiken is a typical Dutch word, and there’s not a good translation for it. It means that your buik (stomach) needs to rest a little. You have eaten so much, you have to lie down.

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School