Sandwich

Why the Dutch Eat This "Breakfast Sandwich" After Midnight

March  2, 2018

The Dutch word borrel, like the Danish word hygge, doesn’t have a precise English translation; it refers to a get-together involving drinks and borrelhapjes (salty, deep-fried snacks). Maybe you’ve tasted kaassouffle (deep-fried cheese) or bitterballen (small, round croquettes made of finely chopped meat held together with a roux, then breaded and fried) in Amsterdam—they both fall into this category. As you enjoyed borrelhapjes, those cold beers may have multiplied and, before you knew it, it was past midnight and you found yourself drunk and hungry, again. That’s where the Dutch meal uitsmijter comes in.

Pronounced “out-smiter,” uitsmijter translates to “bouncer,” the large man who might toss you out of the pub if you become too disruptive. Essentially an open-faced sandwich of ham and fried eggs, this meal sounds like a restorative breakfast but is actually a dish best cooked after returning home from the bar, before you crumple into bed. While the Dutch are not more prone to inebriation than anyone else, they are pragmatic in nature, never without a contingency plan: Hangovers might occasionally be inevitable, but uitsmijter is strategic. And while the ingredient list can vary—my partner Nick prefers his with tomatoes, which he says enhances the “healing” quality of the dish—it should always be the kind of thing you can pull together easily, without much fuss.

Open-faced or more bread—eat what your drunk and hungry self craves! Photo by Julia Gartland

I wrote about uitsmijter (and genever and Dutch beer-drinking) in my cookbook Dutch Feast, based on recipes from my partner’s family and our travels through the Netherlands. Nick’s family is from Friesland, one of the Netherlands’ northern provinces, and I was surprised to discover dishes that were incredibly wholesome and delicious, but not widely known outside of the local Dutch community.

In my home in Vancouver, uitsmijter is as essential as a glass of water and a couple of Advil before going to bed after a big night out. But as parents of a young child, Nick and I simply don’t get out as much as we used to. But when we do, we often wake up to a tiny hand tapping one of us on the cheek at some ungodly hour, and a small voice begging someone to please get up and turn on Power Rangers.

But recently, when our little one was sleeping over at a friend’s house, Nick and I found ourselves at a bar in Chinatown just in time for a 10 p.m. happy hour. With no babysitter to rush home to, we ordered gin drink after gin drink, laughing late into the night before stumbling out into the rain. At home, we had a few leftover slices of ham from the deli, a couple of tomatoes, a nub of cheese, some grainy Dutch mustard, and a jar of cornichons. Nick toasted the bread and I fried the eggs in some butter. Still damp in our “adult going out” clothes, we sat together on the couch in the dim light of one corner lamp and the glow of the streetlights outside, sharing a can of beer from the fridge as we balanced our plates on our laps. For a moment, we forgot how old we sometimes feel.

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