One of the joys of travelling is trying local food in the countries you visit. In Holland you will of course think first of typically Dutch food. After that, remember that Holland was once a colonial nation. Therefore it houses quite a few migrants from the former colonies, specifically from Suriname and Indonesia. These migrants brought their culinary traditions with them and there are many places in Holland for you to enjoy just that. In this blog I’ll introduce you to Surinamese food. Why not try some during your stay in Holland?
Suriname and Holland: a very short history
Suriname is a country in South America that has historical ties to the Netherlands. From 1667 to 1954 Suriname was a Dutch colony. And from 1954 to its independence in 1975 it was a country within the Dutch Kingdom.
Many Surinamese moved to Holland in 1975 and 1976, around the independence day. More followed in 1982 after a range of political murders and social unrest in Suriname. There are about 350.000 people of Surinamese descent in Holland nowadays. Compared to the 575.000 inhabitants still in Suriname you see that that is a huge part of the population. Lucky for us in Holland, the Surinamese brought along their culinary traditions for everyone to enjoy.
The roots of Surinamese people and Surinamese food
Suriname is an ethnically diverse country and this shows in Surinamese cuisine. Surinamese people could have any of the following roots (or a mixture of them):
- Native south American
- Dutch, Jewish or other European. Europeans moved to Suriname to start plantations cultivating sugar, tobacco, cacao and cotton for example.
- African. The Dutch brought slaves from Africa to work on their plantations. These people mainly came from the areas around present day Ghana and Angola.
- Asian. When slavery was abolished in 1863 the shortage of labor on the plantations was resolved by bringing in contract laborers. They came from India, Indonesia, China and the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria and Palestine). Many of these laborers never returned to their native countries.
What is typical Surinamese food?
This is a tough question! As the Surinamese have roots in so many parts of the world, a lot of the dishes in Surinamese restaurants may remind you of other cuisines. For example Indian, Indonesian or Chinese cuisine: rice, spiced meat and veggies. Of course, not all the traditional ingredients were available in Suriname. People started using local ingredients instead, which is how they developed a particular Surinamese style.
When trying dishes in a Surinamese restaurant you could of course eat any Asian inspired rice dish. However, a couple of dishes and ingredients stand out as typically Surinamese; you wouldn’t find these in your typical Indian or Chinese restaurant. I think that if you have the opportunity to visit a Surinamese restaurant you should try one or more of the following:
Roti is the name of the flatbread served with this dish. You use the roti to scoop up the other ingredients, which typically include potatoes, kousenband (long beans/snake beans), chicken and a boiled egg, all prepared with masala spices. Roti reminds one of the Indian chapati; this dish represents the Indian influence on Suriname food.
For the vegetarians among you: most Surinamese restaurants serve a vegetarian roti. Unimaginative cooks will just leave out the chicken and the egg, which will make the roti a little boring. More imaginative Surinamese chefs will add all kind of other ingredients such as fried tempeh, tofu, eggplant or pumpkin.
Bakkeljauw is codfish that is dried and salted. This is the old fashioned way to preserve fish for longer periods of time. This method was common in Holland too, before we had fridges and freezers. We called it stokvis. Stokvis is not a common ingredient in Dutch cuisine anymore, but the use of it survived in other parts of the world, such as Portugal, Spain and…. Suriname!
Before it is served, bakkeljauw is desalted by cooking it in water. This will make it fall apart in small flakes. You may often find bakkeljauw served on a bread roll, accompanied by some pickled cucumber or spicy peppers. A hearty and quick lunch! Bakkeljauw can also serve as a side dish, without the bread roll.
Bakabana is a battered and fried plantain. This is a side dish to go with rice dishes. Or perhaps even a dessert, in which case it could be served with a peanut sauce. It is the Surinamese take on the Indonesian pisang goreng and is one of the Indonesian/Javanese contributions to Surinamese cuisine.
Mosksi meti, the name alone sounds good, doesn’t it? Moksi meti literally means mixed meat, so this is a no go for vegetarians. It usually contains grilled chicken, as well as several varieties of pig-meat and sausages or even duck. There is no set recipe for this dish. Moksi meti has it roots in Chinese cuisine.
Pom is essentially a fusion dish and its origins may be either African Surinamese or Jewish. Or a mixture of the two influencing each other. Its main ingredient is a local root called pomtayer, in short pom. In English you call this plant the arrowleaf elephant ear. In most South American countries they eat the plant; it is only in Suriname that they use the roots.
Pom is an oven dish that consists of layers of pomtayer and layers of chicken. It’s quite complicated and time consuming to make and it’s associated with special occasions. It’s an interesting dish to try if you have the opportunity. You may either order this as a meal, or on a bread roll as a lunch.
Bara’s are another example of the Indian roots of Surinamese cuisine. A bara has the shape of a donut and is deep fried like the donut, but it has different ingredients. Though every family seems to have its own particular recipe, bara’s are usually made of flour and mashed mung beans or yellow split peas, herbs and the leaves of the tayer plant (see the description of pom above) or spinach. You should eat the bara with a chutney. It’s a hearty vegetarian snack.
Saoto is a chicken soup that has its roots in the Indonesian (Javanese) cuisine. Apart from chicken and herbs it usually contains bean sprouts, an egg, potatoes and noodles. It’s almost a full meal!
You can easily combine most of the dished mentioned above with a refreshing light beer. If you’re more into soft drinks why not try a can of Fernandes. Fernandes is a Surinamese brand of softdrinks in bright colors. Most Surinamese restaurants have some available.
Where can I find Surinamese food?
You can find Surinamese restaurants all over the Netherlands, with a huge concentration in the cities in the west such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Search on the internet for a Surinamese restaurant near you. Note that some supermarkets may sell lookalike Surinamese dishes such as roti to heat in the microwave. Don’t try these: the quality will always be inferior.
Some examples of Surinamese restaurants that I like:
- Rams Roti in Amsterdam (west) is great especially for its vegetarian take on the roti, best one I’ve tried (so far)
- Warung Mini XL in The Hague has excellent filled bread rolls and soups. This place can be overcrowded during lunchtime!
- Broodje van ‘s Gravenhage close to The Hague central station does amazing filled bread rolls to take away
Most Surinamese restaurants are small family style restaurants. Some focus on take away food. You may be able to sit down and be served at your table, but don’t expect anything fancy. I wouldn’t recommend these restaurants for a romantic dinner, rather for a quick and tasty lunch. In summer: ask for take away food and eat your meal in a nearby park for example.