Finding the recipe for settling into Dutch life

1st April 2004, Comments 0 comments

Once the initial 'honeymoon period' ends, expats often find themselves feeling isolated and alone in the Netherlands. Here is the personal story of one woman who has turned to cooking as a way to help her adjust to her new life.

Harold and Suzanne

In early 1997 I announced in an internet chatroom that I  never get email and followed up with the daring move of posting my own email address. 

One member, who called himself Frisian, privately messaged me and said that he had emailed me.  I checked my mail and his mail wasn't there.  I checked a few more times and thought to myself "what an idiot I am to think that someone would e-mail me like that."

Frisian insisted that he had, so I checked the email address I had posted in the chatroom. I had made a mistake, leaving out an important dot.

I sent Frisian the correct email and that was the beginning of my online romance with a Dutchman nicknamed Frisian, real name Harold. 

I arrived in the Netherlands to start my new life here on 13 March 1998. It was a Friday and it couldn't have been a better Friday the 13th.  It was a beautiful Spring day and I saw a tulip field or two on the way from Schiphol to Friesland (now you know why Harold called himself Frisian).

When we arrived at Harold's house we found a cake, some yellow tulips, and  new bike for me!  On a visit the previous Christmas, I had jokingly said to Harold's parents that I would need a new bike if I moved to the Netherlands.  Too bad I didn't say I would need a new car.

The first six months or so were the "honeymoon period"  you hear about.  Everyhing is new and exciting and it's like being on vacation.  You don't worry about not speaking Dutch as everyone tries to speak English with you.  Harold helped me to get acquainted with the house, neighborhood, and the town. I loved the feel of being in a new country and being in Tulip Land in the spring was wonderful!

But the honeymoon period eventually ended and then it realy hit. I had already started Dutch lessons and getting ingeburgered (integrated) but learning Dutch is slow and hard, especially at age 40.

Suzanne on the Island of Terschelling

I grew frustrated with not understanding the radio, television, and other people.  I became somewhat of a recluse, going out by myself to go shopping only if it was necessary, otherwise I waited for Harold to be home.

I never answered the door or telephone.  It was difficult as I was a very outgoing and independent person and being dependent on Harold for practically everything was hard.  I had to constantly remind myself that Harold was going through his own inburgering of sorts, having an American woman and her cat move in and being dependent on him.

Not knowing how to speak Dutch was the first hurdle, then cooking and shopping to cook was the second.

Harold did his best to help me find the ingredients I needed to make my favorite dishes but he wasn't always able to.  I missed a lot of things, mostly food items like Velveeta Cheese, Fritos, baking soda, chocolate chips. 

My frustrations turned often to tears as I made one disastrous meal after another, or as my attempts at baking something turned into a big flop.  My first attempt at banana bread here was the most disgusting thing I ever saw.

My saving grace was an expat email group that I belonged to called Dutch American Couples (DAC).

Through the group, I met a lot of other American women who had moved to, or were planning on moving to, the NL.  It was nice to know that there were other women going through what I was.  We shared all of our frustrations and discoveries over learning Dutch, driving, cooking and so on.

Several members, myself included, drove the list crazy talking constantly about food.  Whenever someone joined the DAC, quite often one of their first questions would be "where do I find chocolate chips/baking soda/cheddar cheese?"  We also talked a lot about different foods we missed and shared recipes. 

I seem to remember that someone at DAC complained about all of our food talk, so I went to Yahoo! groups and Cooking Dutch was born.  That was 6 February 2000.

At the moment we have 153 members, mostly Americans living in The Netherlands, but we do have a few Dutch that have moved to America, a few Americans still in America that are contemplating moving to The Netherlands, and a few from other countries.

We don't regularly organise get-togethers but have successfully had a few.  We usually try and do a potluck so that everyone can show off their culinary skills.  Another time we got together in Amsterdam and shopped the markets, ate at Gary’s Muffins, and then had dinner

I have always loved to cook, baking mostly, but never really cooked much when I was single.  I now do all of the cooking here and have learned a lot from cookbooks and members of Cooking Dutch. 

I am trying to keep our meals healthy (having lost over 100 pounds in 2 years!) and that can be challenging in the land of Croma and very little selection in low/non-fat foods. 

Mostly I try to use fresh ingredients, we eat no red meat or chicken, and stick to fish, grains, fruits and vegetables. My husband, however, being the typical Dutchie that he is, could live on bread forever. Thank goodness I came along to save him.

After 6 years of ups and downs, I feel I am pretty well ingeburgered.  I received my Dutch passport in May 2003 and now have dual citizenship.  My Dutch is pretty good but I still have problems understanding a conversation sometimes.  Doesn't help that I live in Friesland and most everyone speaks Frisian! 

I have been working for TPG Post as a postbode, or mail carrier, since October 2002. I no longer fear going to the store and am now a regular at most shops in town. Most of the cashiers know who I am ("that American").  I still don’t like answering the door or the phone though.

People often write and ask what kind of advice I would give someone thinking about moving to The Netherlands.  My answer is always pretty simple: bring a sense of humor and an open mind.  


Stamppot zuurkool

Stamppot Zuurkool (sauerkraut hodgepodge)

This recipe is for two hungry people and can easily be doubled.


  • 3-4 medium potatoes (aardappelen)
  • 175g chopped smoked bacon (gerookte spekreepjes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion (ui), chopped
  • 1 cup sauerkraut (zuurkool)
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 smoked sausage (rookworst) from HEMA

The smoked sausage needs to be cooked in hot, but not boiling, water for 20 minutes.  I get that going so that it will be ready when the stamppot is finished.

Peel the potatoes and slice; boil until soft enough to be mashed. When done, mash the potatoes with a little butter, salt and pepper.

While the potatoes are boiling, fry the chopped onion and bacon in the olive oil or butter. When the onions and  bacon are nicely browned, add the sauerkraut and fry it for a bit along with the onion and bacon.  Add the ¼ cup water to the pan to deglaze it, or scrape up the brown bits, then let simmer until water disappears. 

This helps to cook the sauerkraut a bit. When the water disappears, add the onion/bacon/sauerkraut mixture to the mashed potatoes.  Mash everything together so that it is well mixed.

Serve with the HEMA rookworst and green beans (sperziebonen) or brussel sprouts (spruitjes).  You can also make a little brown gravy, or "jus", to drizzle over the stamppot.

Over the years Harold and I have tried several brands of rookworst, doing our own taste test.  We have found the rookworst from HEMA to be our favorite.  You can certainly use a Unox rookworst, a store brand, or one from your favorite butcher.

Once you have mastered this dish, you are half way to being integrated into Dutch life.

1 April 2004

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