What is typical Dutch food? I asked this question in Amsterdam and Haarlem, on a bus ride to Marken, and while riding through the picturesque woodlands around Vierhouten. Getting an answer wasn't easy.
It seems the Dutch partake freely of every cuisine - French, Indonesian, Chinese, to name a few - except their own. As one young man who, according to his friends, is an accomplished amateur chef, put it:
''We Dutch are rather like the English. We eat nourishing food but we're not very imaginative when it comes to preparing it.''
But persistence paid off, and slowly references to ''winter food'' began to surface. What the Dutch farmer and those who have manned the North Sea dikes down the centuries eat year round is what the rest of Holland partakes of during the winter season.
Polite visitors refer to it as ethnic food, but the Dutch themselves are less pretentious.
Peasant food, they call it. Hearty, nourishing, stay-with-you food - rib-sticking is the appropriate cliche - designed to fortify when cold winds blow in under a leaden sky.
There were no clouds around the day we tried traditional Dutch food for the first time. In fact the sun shone as brightly and cheerily as it can.
But for much of the day we had tramped along the dikes around both Marken and Vollendam and walked the winding streets of these two picturesque fishing villages on the Zuider Zee (IJssel Meer). So our appetites had been thoroughly sharpened when we turned in through the door at 336 Nieuwe Zijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam for some ''winter fare'' at Dorrius's.
The coasters on the table announce that Dorrius started in business back in 1800. At the time virtually every other eating establishment served traditional Dutch food. But one by one the others switched to foreign cuisines, and only a handful of Dutch restaurants remain in Amsterdam today.
In bucking the trend, Dorrius has not only survived but thrived. It serves medium-priced meals that are high on flavor. Peasant food never had to be short on taste, and at Dorrius's it never is.
The restaurant serves up more than a thousand meals a day with names the English tongue does not wrap around easily:
Raasdonders, bramstagloperssoep, erwtensoep, hutspot met klapstuk, kaassoep are just a few. There isn't a dainty dish among them. If you're not hungry, then don't go Dutch is sound advice.
I ordered a ''cup'' of erwtensoep (pea soup), followed by raasdonders (marrow fat, peas, fresh and fried onions, boiled potatoes, pickled onions, piccalilli, silver onions, and a meat sauce).
Raasdonders is a traditional dish of the Dutch Navy that translates as ''thundering cannonballs'' in English. It tastes far better than it sounds, but is no less filling. The mistake in this instance was to order the two together. A ''cup'' at Dorrius's translates into a medium-size bowl, and a standard serving of raasdonders is almost enough for two.
As winter approaches on this side of the Atlantic, the need for hearty meals increases here, too. So going Dutch in the kitchen might not be a bad idea. Here is a recipe for a hearty soup. Erwtensoep (Pea Soup) 2 cups (1 pound) dried split peas 2 large pigs' feet 1/2 pound of salt pork, rind removed 4 quarts water 1 1/2 pounds peeled potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch cubes 4 leeks, trimmed, washed, finely chopped, with some green top 1 medium-size celeriac, peeled, cut in 1/4-inch cubes 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh celery leaves 1/2 pound precooked, smoked sausage, cut in 1/4-inch slices 1/4 teaspoon summer savory Freshly ground black pepper
In an 8-quart pot combine peas, pigs' feet, salt pork, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat and skim off foam. Reduce heat, partly cover the pot, and simmer 3 hours.
Add potatoes, leeks, celeriac, and celery leaves. Simmer 30 minutes more.
Remove pigs' feet and salt pork. Discard skin, gristle, and bones. Cut remaining meat and salt pork into cubes and return to soup.
Add sliced sausage, crumbled summer savory, and a few grindings of black pepper. Over moderate heat, bring soup to a simmer, stirring constantly.
Cook a few more minutes to heat up sausage thoroughly. Taste for seasoning. Serves 8 to 10.