Expat Impressions of The Hague Food & Drinks

Another enduring memory is of long evenings spent with friends in the dark ‘brown bars’ of Den Haag. The ‘Paraplu’ was a favourite haunt, a sign of the ‘Durham Heifer’ reminding us of university days in England. We loved the curious variety of Belgian beers, the freshly-pressed orange juice, the glasses of advocaat with cream that you ate with a tiny spoon, the background blues and jazz. The bars became, for us, a potent symbol of the Continent (text: expat from the UK, 1998, Destination Magazine).

Image left: Stephen Evenhuis, The Hague City Archive, ca. 1991. Image right: Jan Stegeman, The Hague City Archives, ca. 1975

When not at our lessons there was plenty of time to explore the bars, coffee shops and restaurants of the Hague. I remember that the coffee seemed to be a great improvement on English coffee but the real novelty was the Indonesian restaurants and the vending machines that sold satay sticks and loempias. You put a coin in the slot, opened the little window and grabbed the snack. It was called ‘uit de muur eten’ eating out of the wall. I lost my taste for English bitter in the Hague and have drunk lagers like Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch and Oranjeboom ever since.

Text: expat from the United Kingdom, 1961. Image: Julie Makri

Catering for ourselves using the local shops could be entertaining. We soon found the Maison Kelder cake shop which sold delicious ‘hazelnoot gebak’. Once we ran out of paraffin for a heater, looked up the word in our Dutch/English dictionary and asked for ‘paraffine’ at the local ironmonger who told us that ‘paraffine’ was sold at the chemist. We duly asked for five litres at the chemist who was astonished at our need for so much medicinal laxative (text: expat from the UK, 1961).

Image left: Natalie McIlroy. Image right: Natalie McIlroy

Some Dutch foods, like stroopwafels and poffertjes, are easy to enjoy, even as a foreigner unaccustomed to the taste. Others require a more adventurous spirit. In the latter category for me was herring. I planned my first taste carefully, since I was determined to like it. I waited for a day when I was well and truly starving at lunch to give myself the best chance. Rather than going for the full, tail-up experience, I ordered a sandwich, complete with pickles and onion. The first bite was delicious, an explosion of complementary flavours, tasting of the sea on a fine, crisp autumn day. But what got to me was the texture—smooth and soft, but a little resistant to the teeth. It felt so very primal inside my mouth. I think I will eat it again, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to grab it by the tail (text: expat from the United States, 2015).

So it was that the beginning of April saw tables and chairs appear on every open space in and around every café and restaurant in Den Haag. Where winter shoppers had rushed in straight lines from retail fix to retail fix, the change of date had thrown up an obstacle course of metal and wicker. Waiters in quilted jackets, boots and gloves, rushed to deliver rapidly-cooling soup and deep-frozen rolls to punters who scoffed at the risk of frostbite and flicked their scarves and scorn at we who huddled inside (text: Nationality Unknown, 2006, Destination Magazine).