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Continuity and Change in the Culinary History of the Netherlands, 1945-75

Author(s): Catherine Salzman

Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Oct., 1986), pp. 605-628
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/260588
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Continuityand Change in the

CulinaryHistoryof the Netherlands,
There are a number of factors which have inhibited the study of
culinary history. Firstly, there has been a tendency to consider eating
habits as of marginal importance. A more difficult problem is that the
historian seldom has an opportunity to look directly at the evidence:
by the time it has become history it has either been eaten or decayed.
In the past few years, however, several books have been written by
historians and anthropologists interested in culinary history as an
aspect of social, economic or cultural history. In general, four types
of primarysources are available:quantitativesources, questionnaires,
literary sources and recipes. Each type of source has its own
advantages and disadvantages.
Quantitative sources include aggregate statistics on production
and consumption as well as budget data. Such sources, especially
those concerning the twentieth century, are easily accessible and are
essential for the study of the influence of income on nutrition or the
relative importance of various types of foods in the total diet, such as
vegetables and proteins. However, not only is it often impossible to
find quantitative data covering a long period without gaps, it is also
impossible on the basis of quantitative material alone to see how a
single product is used and how it is combined with other products in a
national or regional cuisine. The precision of quantitative sources is
more apparent than real.
Literary and other artistic sources, on the other hand, can be
extremely helpful to a historian trying to place a type of food in its
dietary context.2 The major disadvantage of literary sources is that
they are widely scattered.
Another type of source which is helpful in building up a more
complete picture of changes in patterns of consumption is the
questionnaire.3 Not only is this kind of research extremely timeconsuming and therefore costly, it also 'cannot but reflect the
structure of thought which the investigators carry to their problems'.4
Journal of ContemporaryHistory (SAGE, London, Beverly Hills, Newbury Park and
New Delhi), Vol. 21 (1986), 605-628

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

This article makes use of the results of a survey conducted in 1980 by

the NIAM (Nederlands Instituut voor Agrarisch Marktonderzoek or
the Dutch Institute for Agricultural Marketing Research),5involving
1600 households. The results cannot, of course, document historical
changes, but they do illustrate the situation as it is today and show
what socio-cultural factors play a role in influencing eating habits.
Recipes, which form the most important primary source for this
article, have a different kind of advantage and disadvantage. Their
main advantage is that they show how food is actually prepared. But
the presence of a recipe in a cookbook or periodical does not mean
that it is widely used. The vast majority of cookbooks have been
written for cooks preparing food for the most wealthy social classes.
Even they do not tell us very much about what elite groups eat on a
day-to-day basis. In this field, as in others, everyday matters are often
not considered worth the trouble of writing down.
In the twentieth century, and especially after the second world war,
the number of cookbooks published increased exponentially. But
very few of the recipes in them can be used for the study of culinary
history, except, perhaps those printed in popular women's magazines,
such as Margriet, or in a cookbook that has been regularly updated,
like The Hague Cookbook (Het Haagse Kookboek).
Margriet first appeared in 1938 and became the women's magazine
with the highest circulation in the Netherlands. Margriet's personal
advice column, called 'Margriet knows what to do', has already been
analysed by two sociologists, Christien Brinkgreve and Michel
Korzec. Brinkgreve and Korzec's conclusions regarding the personal
advice column correspond to my own findings on Margriet'sculinary
advice. They point out that it was the editors' policy to try to be in the
vanguard of social change, encouraging their readers to discard
traditional taboos while at the same time making their ideas
acceptable to as large a proportion of the population as possible, as
well as to advertisers.6The same can be said of Margriet's culinary
The editors of Margriet constantly make judgements about what is
acceptable to the public, as is reflected in the contents of the columns.
For example, when Margriet's culinary columns began to publish
recipes which included wine or other alcoholic beverages, this did not
mean that there was a sudden shift in the way most housewives
cooked. It did reflect a judgement, however, and certainly a correct
judgement, that such recipes were now acceptable to the vast majority
of the population, at least for special occasions.7

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


In 1961, Margriet's publishers carried out a survey of its readers,

which indicated that these readers were representative of the
population as a whole, with respect to factors like income, religion
and place of domicile. Of course, even an editorial staff armed with
the best of surveys can misjudge its readers. A new initiative can be a
failure. But, in general, the type of articles published in a magazine
like Margriet tell the historian something about its readers and their
In addition to the culinary columns of Margriet, this article also
examines advertisements.When a new product begins to be advertised
regularly, it is a sign that it has become widely available. Of course,
there is a difference between the extent to which a given type of
product is advertised and the role it plays in the total diet. A new
product will often fail to catch on. More important, processed foods
are over-represented in advertisements in comparison to fresh foods,
because it only makes economic sense to advertise goods that the
producer can put on the market on a large scale. Producers of fresh
foods are rarely large enough to advertise. Dairy products are the
exception that proves the rule. Advertisements for these are made
possible by associations of dairy co-operatives.8
The Hague Cookbook was first published in 1934 and the sixtyninth edition appeared in 1982. The book has been continually
revised, but the basic format has changed very little. With the sixtyninth edition, the title was slightly altered to the New Hague
Cookbook, which is something of a misnomer. TheHague Cookbook
is, in fact, the most famous example of a type of cookbook very
common in the Netherlands, a domestic science school cookbook,
written by members of the staff and originally intended for its pupils.9
Not very many people regularly use recipes from cookbooks or
magazines, a point illustrated by the NIAM survey. While sixty-two
per cent of housewives asked said they sometimes used a cookbook
and forty-four per cent said they sometimes used recipes from a
magazine or newspaper, the proportion who did so at least once a
week was small, as shown in Table 1.
The fact that few housewives cook from a recipe more than once a
week reflects the fact that most cooking is routine. Seventy per cent of
women under thirty-five sometimes use a cookbook while only fiftyone per cent of those over fifty do so. This is because younger women
are inexperienced in cooking. Housewives who work more than
twenty hours a week outside the home are more apt to use a
cookbook than women who do not work outside the home (73 per

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory
Housewives Making Use of Recipes, in per cent

several times a week
once a week
2-3 times a month
once a month
4-5 times in 6 months
2-3 times in 6 months
once in 6 months or less


magazine or newspaper



cent v. 60 per cent) but less apt to use recipes from a magazine or
newspaper (35 per cent v. 44 per cent). Women from the top social
class are more apt to follow a recipe from a cookbook (70 per cent) or
magazine or newspaper (57 per cent) than women from the lowest
social class (43 per cent and 33 per cent).10
The frequency with which people cook from recipes is, however, of
secondary importance. It is the contention of this article that recipes
represent ideal meals and that changes in these ideals are part of a
society's cultural history. Via a study of a carefully chosen set of
recipes, it is possible to investigate these changes. By also examining
the type of ingredients used, it is possible to clarify the relationship
between the economics and the culture of food.
The first section of this article describes basic changes in diet in the
post-war period. The second section covers the culinary advice
offered in Margrietand TheHague Cookbookand how it has changed.
The third section deals with how the Dutch reacted to dishes from
abroad, in particular from the United States and Indonesia. The
concluding section analyses some of the factors that have resulted in
changes in eating habits and others which one might have expected to
result in changes but which, in fact, did not.
Dutch daily meals consist of one hot meal, with meat, vegetables and
almost always potatoes, two 'bread meals', made up of sandwiches,
and pauses for coffee or tea. This pattern has changed very little since
the war. 1 The most important change in the Dutch eating habit has
been in the time of day at which most people eat their hot meal.

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


Traditionally, this was served at midday. But by 1980, 71 per cent of

all Dutch households always took their hot meal on weekdays in the
evening. On Saturdays and Sundays this was only 38 per cent and 47
per cent respectively.12
Many Dutch people and all foreigners who have spent any length
of time in the Netherlands will agree with A.P. den Hartog's
description of the Dutch cuisine: 'A certain soberness in the meals
cannot be denied'. 3Post-war prosperity brought new dishes and new
ingredients, somewhat lessening this soberness.
There has been a decrease in the consumption of inexpensive and
starchy foods, like potatoes and bread, and an increase in the
consumption of more expensive foods like meat and processed foods,
and therefore in the consumption of fats. The average person now
obtains more than 40 per cent of his or her calorie intake from fats, as
compared to 33 per cent in 1936. While it is true that since the
mid-1960s there has been some decrease in the use of'visible' fats, like
butter and vegetable oils, the use of 'invisible' fats, such as those in
meat, cheese and packaged snacks has continued to rise. Various
sorts of potato chips and peanuts began to be advertised in Margriet
in 1967. Excess consumption was accompanied by concern. In fact,
since the early 1970s, the Dutch housewife, like her counterparts in
other countries, can be said to have developed a schizophrenic
attitude with respect to fat. Advertisements for artificial sweeteners
and artificially sweetened beverages began appearingin 1967. In 1971
the first advertisements for diet margarine, diet mayonnaise and diet
evaporated milk, which the Dutch use in their coffee, began
appearing alongside advertisements for the normal varieties. One
reason why these 'diet' products have become so widely available is
that they are extremely profitable for their manufacturers.14 Readers
of women's magazines are given more and more low calorie recipes
from which to choose. Beginning in the late 1960s, the Nutrition
Information Office added a number of brochures on weight control
to its standard series on subjects such as preparing vegetables and
hygiene in the kitchen.
Drinking habits have also changed. The consumption of coffee, of
carbonated drinks and of alcohol has increased dramatically. In
Margriet, the first advertisements for Coca-Cola appeared in 1954.
Advertisements for beer, wine and liquors began to appear regularly
in 1959 and for all types of carbonated drinks in 1964.
Technological changes have meant that a wide variety of industrially processed foods, like canned and packaged soups, vegetables

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

and fruit and 'convenience' foods, such as frozen dinners, instant

puddings and rice and instant coffee have come on the market. To
judge from the advertisements, frozen vegetables were available in
1951, but it was not until about 1970 that they really seem to have
been sold on a large scale. The first advertisements for instant coffee
appeared in 1955 and for instant rice in 1960. Instant puddings were
advertised in Margriet in 1951. It was only in the 1970s, with the
advent of inexpensive plastic packaging, that desserts from the
refrigerated section of the supermarket became commonplace.
The transportation revolution has meant that fresh fruit and
vegetables can be imported from distant countries. With the help of
hothouses, heated by cheap natural gas, some of these fruit and
vegetables are produced in the Netherlands. Melons, peppers,
mushrooms and aubergines have come on the market and women's
magazines and cookbooks teach the housewife what to do with them.
Another result of technology is that between 2,000 and 3,000
different synthetic food additives are available to industry.15 This has
produced increased interest in 'naturalfoods'. As of 1983, one third of
all Dutch households purchased natural foods at least occasionally.16
Most people up until 1940 and everyone from 1940 to 1945 had to
be economical with respect to food. This necessity was made into a
virtue. Since the 1950s, however, this virtue has gradually been
discarded. The sandwiches the Dutch still eat twice a day have
become more thickly spread. Bread now takes second place to what is
put on it. Furthermore, it was estimated that ten per cent of all bread
bought in 1976 ended up being thrown away.'7 Other signs of
diminished frugality include the increasing tendency to purchase
meals or snacks outside the home, sometimes in restaurants, but
more often in canteens or out of a machine. More people also eat
snacks between meals or in the evening, a trend which can be seen as a
change in eating habits generally.
In the post-war period, the culinary advice offered in Margriet
changed fundamentally. The single most important change appeared
in the 1960s and 1970s when more and more emphasis came to be
placed on variety, on the pleasure of trying something different. In
1951, this theme was mentioned in only six of the culinary columns.
In 1975 it was mentioned in twenty-four.
Ironically enough, recipes 'that grandma used to make' have
become more and more popular, although one can be sure that

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


granny would never have recognized most of them.'8 The very

concept of being 'old-fashioned' has taken on a different meaning. In
the immediatepost-war period, old-fashioned cooking was mentioned
infrequently and only pejoratively. Since the 1960s, it has gained
positive attributes, associated with good health and honesty.
We have already mentioned the increase in attention to weight
control. This seems to have peaked in 1971, when eleven issues of
Margrietcontained some information on dieting. There has also been
a marked increase in the use of herbs and spices.
The greater social acceptance of the use of alcohol also found its
way into the culinary columns. In the second half of 1975 alone, ten
issues contained recipes requiring wine, beer, port or sherry or had a
bottle of wine pictured in the background.
More and more frequently, housewives have been advised to adapt
their menu to the time of year: for example, to use summer vegetables
in the summer and winter vegetables in the winter or to substitute
macaroni for old potatoes in the spring. It is somewhat surprising
that just as technology theoretically was making it possible for choice
of ingredients to become independent of season, more ratherthan less
emphasis came to be placed on seasonal variation.
The amount of space that Margriet devoted to culinary advice
expanded considerably in the post-war period, but so did the
magazine as a whole. What has changed relatively as well as
absolutely is the number of advertisements.
Another significant change is in the amount of interest expressed
by readers in culinary matters. When, in 1950, Margriet invited
readers to submit culinary questions, the response was very limited.
But, by 1975, Margriet was carrying on a sustained dialogue with
readers, answering their questions and publishing recipes submitted
by them.
There has been a major rise in the level of technology expected in
the kitchens of the readers of Margriet's culinary columns, but this
change appears to have taken place rather late compared with other
western countries. In 1959, Margriet told readers they did not need a
refrigerator in order to be able to serve desserts or drinks with
ice-cream in them, so long as they could get someone to produce the
ice-cream at the right moment. Cakes could be baked on top of the
stove in a 'wonderpan' and large cuts of meat could also be cooked on
top of the stove if one did not have an oven. As late as 1967, in a series
of articles on new kitchen equipment, two of the five kitchens
pictured had only gas burners, no oven.'9 It is only since the early

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

1970s that the presence of an oven in the kitchen has been more or less
assumed. Even today, few Dutch kitchens have blenders, let alone
food processors.
Among the unchanged aspects of Margriet's culinary columns is
the assumption that in every family the woman is responsible for the
kitchen. The NIAM report, under the influence of the women's
movement, states that the person interviewed was 'either the
housewife or the person who served that function in the household'.
In all but a tiny number of cases this was a woman. Margriet is more
conservative in this respect, or perhaps simply more realistic. In
Margriet, more and more attention came to be paid to the admiration
and even love a woman could receive from family and friends as a
result of her achievements in the kitchen. Surely this must be seen as a
substitute for the admiration many women were seeking, and even
more were thinking about seeking, outside the home. At least up until
1975, the woman of the house, as portrayed in Margriet's culinary
columns, could only expect to get a little help from husband or
children, and that help was largely confined to Mother's Day.
Also unchanged in Margriet's culinary advice is the amount of
emphasis placed on the nutritional value of the food served, which
was mentioned in about twelve per cent of the columns. In addition, a
relatively constant proportion of recipes, some fifteen per cent, were
intended for national or religious holidays.
The most interesting aspects of Margriet'sculinary advice are those
that encompass elements of stability and change at the same time.
One of the consistent themes in Margriet'scolumns is the housewife's
responsibility to be economical with the family's household budget,
but there has been a major change in the concept of what constitutes
being economical. The increase in disposable income meant that
products which were once luxuries became staples. A good example
of such a product is cheese. In February 1951,Margrietrecommended
making cheese dishes for a 'festive lunch' even though that was 'not
inexpensive'. But in October 1971, dishes with cheese were recommended partly because they were inexpensive. The single most
important food which the Dutch are used to the idea of not wasting is,
of course, their daily bread. In March 1946, Margriet published an
article with recipes for stale bread, including French toast and bread
pudding. The introduction commented that even though there was
now enough to go around it was still wrong to throw any away. But in
1972, when Margriet again published recipes using old bread, the
motivation given for trying them was taste. No mention was made of

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


economy.20 It is still quite un-Dutch and offensive to traditional

frugality to cover any piece of bread with more than one thin layer of
anything. But since the mid-1960s, Margriet has regularly made
suggestions for double-decker sandwiches or sandwiches with more
than one filling. This is evidently now judged acceptable for special
A similar change has occurred with regard to what constitutes a
festive occasion. In a column in March 1963, for example, readers
were given a cake recipe and told, 'If there's no special reason for a
celebration then let's make a reason'. This change should be seen in
the light of a shift that was taking place at the same time in the nature
of the advice in Margriet'spersonal advice column, a shift away from
thinking in terms of what society expected one to do and towards a
careful consideration of one's own goals and desires.21
Another constant feature of Margriet'sculinary advice is emphasis
on dishes that are not too difficult. But there has also been a change in
what is not considered difficult. In 1956, an attractively presented
meat dish, with vegetables and potatoes on the side, was something
that 'does not demand much extra effort or time'. But in 1971, a
souffle was 'easier than you think'.22
A major change in the way the Dutch prepare their food has taken
place in the length of time they boil their vegetables. Taste has shifted
away from mushy vegetables and in favour of an al dente approach.
Margriet consistently advocated shorter cooking times, but often
indirectly, through implication, rather than by direct reproach: 'We
prepare the old-fashioned winter dishes, but in a modern way.
Cabbage doesn't have to be boiled for hours.'23In this way, Margriet
could advise shortercooking times without offending more traditional
More information can be obtained by comparing various editions
of The Hague Cookbook. The vegetable recipes in The Hague
Cookbook are easy to compare, because the ingredients, and even the
order in which the recipes are presented, hardly change from one
edition to another. Only the boiling times change dramatically. For
purposes of comparison, I have used only those vegetable recipes
where the vegetable is boiled and then finished off with some kind of
sauce. (See Table 2.)
In interpreting this data, it is well to keep in mind that not all this
change is due to changes in taste. Before refrigerationor the transport
of vegetables over long distances became commonplace, many
vegetables were kept in the cellar the whole winter and really did have

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory


Boiling Times for Vegetables (in minutes)
Curly endive
Belgian endive
Red cabbage
Brussels sprouts
Winter carrots
Fresh peas
Young pea pods


+/- 30
+/- 30
+/- 20
+/- 120 +/- 120
+/- 120 +/- 120
+/- 20
+/- 20
+/- 180 +/- 180
+/- 45
+/- 60
+/- 45




+/- 30
+/- 15
+/- 15

+/- 30
+/- 30


to be boiled a long time in order to become tender. Even more

important, there is no agreement as to the correct length of time for
boiling any type of vegetable, even among that group of persons who
could be termed 'good cooks'. Furthermore, it is obvious that few
cooks always go by the book. It is hardly likely that everyone rushed
out to update their edition of The Hague Cookbook each time a new
one was issued.
It is not possible to attribute changes to increased knowledge about
nutrition. It is true that shorter boiling times preserve some vitamins
and that the editors of TheHague Cookbookwere in contact with the
Nutrition Information Office. But if the editors had based their
instructions strictly on the basis of what was known about nutrition,
then the boiling times would have been shorter from the beginning.
The Nutrition Information Office had, since its creation in 1940,
always recommended short boiling times.24
Every edition of The Hague Cookbook has prefaced its chapter on
vegetables with some general remarks. The 1938 edition stated: 'It is
with respect to the preparation of vegetables that contemporary
knowledge of nutrition has had the most impact'.25 It went on to
recommend boiling vegetables for as short a time as possible and also
advocated eating some raw vegetables, in the form of salad, every
day. A similar message can be found in every edition of The Hague
Cookbook down to the present one.
How it could take so long for practice to catch up with theory
remains something of a mystery. A comparison of boiling times in the

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


1943 and 1973 editions of TheJoy of Cooking, a standard, if not the

standard, American cookbook, shows very little change. Boiling
times in the 1943 edition were already quite short.26 It is not
inconceivable that this change in Dutch practice has to do with the
fact that the Dutch can now afford more tender cuts of meat. As meat
no longer requires as much chewing, perhaps people gradually have
felt a need to shift their masticating activities elsewhere.27
Brinkgreveand Korzec conclude that it was between 1966and 1970
that the tempo of change in Margriet's personal advice column was
particularly fast. The same can be said of its culinary advice. But they
also point out that there was a great deal of continuity.28This applies
to the recipes in Margriet and The Hague Cookbook as well. In the
concluding section of this essay, an attempt will be made to account
for both change and continuity.
Eating habits can only change if the new habits fit into the
environment in some way and this is determined by social, political
and economic factors. This section will deal with the extent to which
Chinese-Indonesian and American dishes have become adopted in
the Netherlands since the war.
In the 1930s, a few immigrantsfrom China opened the first Chinese
restaurants in the Netherlands. In the late 1940s and early 1950s there
were three great waves of immigration from Indonesia, which until
1949 was a Dutch colony. Many of the immigrants were ethnic
Chinese and several of them opened restaurants.29Even though these
restaurants often have an ethnic affinity with the mainland Chinese,
their food is quite different. The menus almost always include
Chinese and Indonesian dishes. In fact, Chinese-Indonesian cuisine is
really a separate cuisine in its own right, combining Chinese,
Indonesian and Dutch elements. The signboards outside these
restaurants clearly identify them as 'Chinese-Indonesian'. Everyday
speech, on the other hand, is not so precise. When people talk about a
'Chinese restaurant', they almost invariably mean a Chinese-Indonesian one. Chinese-Indonesian cuisine has become a part of Dutch
cuisine.30Indonesian food proper has remained much less important.
Partly as a result of the post-war immigration from Indonesia and
partly because about 100,000 Dutch soldiers had fought in Indonesia,
a mass market developed for Chinese-Indonesian dishes. Most of the
immigrants settled in the western part of the country, sometimes
frequenting Chinese-Indonesian or Indonesian restaurants, more

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

often preparing Chinese, Chinese-Indonesian or Indonesian food in

their homes. The discharged soldiers returnedto their homes in every
area of the Netherlands and from them a taste for ChineseIndonesian food spread to those who had no links with Indonesia.
This can be explained in part by nostalgia for the days when the
Netherlands was a great colonial power, but also relevant is the fact
that Chinese-Indonesian restaurants are relatively inexpensive and
serve large portions - an important consideration for a population
that was not then in the habit of eating out nor of spending large
sums of money on food. Finally, one of the main reasons for the
popularity of Chinese-Indonesian food, in a restaurant or in the
home, is that it tastes good and provides a pleasant variation.
As of 1980, some 55 per cent of all Dutch households ate at least
occasionally in a Chinese-Indonesian restaurant, whereas only 21 per
cent ate in other foreign restaurants (see Table 3). As one would
expect, a higher percentage of those in the top income group eat out
than those in the lowest income group: 67 per cent v. 42 per cent for
Chinese-Indonesian restaurants and 28 per cent v. 11 per cent for
other foreign restaurants. The part of the country in which they live
makes very little difference to the frequency with which Dutch
households eat in Chinese-Indonesianrestaurants,but a big difference
to the frequency with which they eat in other foreign restaurants.This
is because Chinese-Indonesian restaurants can be found all over the
country, whereas other foreign restaurants are concentrated in the
large cities in the western part of the country.31
Households Eating in Chinese-Indonesianor other Foreign Restaurants,
by Region of Country, in per cent

Other Foreign


3 Largest Cities
and Their Suburbs



Rest of
West North






The culinary articles and advertisements in Margrietgive an idea of

how Chinese-Indonesian food is served in Dutch homes. In 1950,
Margriet published its first recipes for Chinese-Indonesian dishes:
bami (fried noodles) and loempiah (egg rolls). In 1955, the first
advertisementsbegan to appear for the various spices and condiments

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


needed to prepare Chinese-Indonesian food in the home. Most telling

of all, the convenience food industry started producing ChineseIndonesian dishes. Advertisements for canned nasi (fried rice) and
bami began to appear in 1954. In 1962, housewives could buy frozen
nasi and bami appetizers that could be warmed up in the oven. A
variety of other dishes could be made with the help of packet sauces in
powdered form, which became widely available in the 1960s.
Obviously, the Chinese-Indonesian dishes popular in the Netherlands have been adapted to Dutch taste. For one thing, they are
considerably more mildly seasoned. But more important, European
ingredients are substituted for Asian ones, as is illustrated by
Margriet's recipe for a loempiah. The loempiah also illustrates the
combination of Chinese, Indonesian and Dutch elements in ChineseIndonesian food. The loempiah was a Chinese import to Indonesia.
When it was brought from Indonesia to the Netherlands, it grew to
somewhat enormous dimensions, usually about 20 cms. by 8 cms.
The recipe in Margriet called for sauteed cabbage, leeks, celery, pork
and shrimps (no bean sprouts or other eastern vegetables, or bean
curd), wrapped in a crepe and then deep-fried. The result is a rather
heavy concoction, bearing only a passing resemblance to anything
Chinese, or to anything Indonesian for that matter. By 1967, when
eastern vegetables and spices were more widely available on the
Dutch market, often in special stores, the Chinese-Indonesian recipes
given in Margriet began to resemble 'real' Chinese-Indonesian food
more closely.32
The reception given to American dishes in the Netherlands has
been very different. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was a special
feeling in the Netherlands about anything emanating from the United
States or Canada. American products were assumed to be quality
products and Americans were envied for their prosperity and admired
and loved for the role they had played in liberating the country from
the nazis. All of this was reflected in the attitude towards American
food displayed in the culinary columns of Margriet and in the
advertisements. Margriet devoted far more attention to American
than to Chinese-Indonesian dishes. But unlike Chinese-Indonesian
food, American food has not become part of the Dutch cuisine. There
is no culinary or moral reason why anyone should try to copy
American food, or avoid it for that matter. But in a country where
American clothing, American popular music, American comic strips
and American slang have been widely incorporated into daily life, it is
surprising that there is not more American-style food.

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

It is difficult to define American food. There are certain dishes that

are characteristically American: hamburgers, chocolate cake, and
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are good examples. More than
that, American food is characterized by not being bound by any
particular rules. Whereas the Dutch always eat two bread meals and
one hot meal each day and stop for coffee or tea in the middle of the
morning, afternoon and evening, Americans eat and drink pretty
much whatever they wish whenever it is convenient.
There are some American dishes that the Dutch find repugnant.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one. This particular
combination of sweet and salty tastes seems strange to the Dutch
palate. Dutch people who have tried American cakes when visiting
the United States usually say they dislike them, claiming that they are
too heavy. It is difficult to believe that this is the real reason, since
nothing could be heavier that the popular Dutch boterkoek (a sort of
shortbread) or olie-bollen (beignets with currants).
It is necessary to draw two distinctions: between American food
and food made possible by a high degree of prosperity, like large
servings of meat; and between American food and food made
possible by modern technology, like fast food. The most popular fast
food in the Netherlands is a serving of what Americans call 'French
fries' and the English call 'chips', usually topped off with an unAmerican squirt of mayonnaise. This is an import neither from
France nor from the United States, but from Belgium.
It would take up too much space to describe all of the dishes
identified as American in the culinary columns of Margriet. A few
characteristic examples will have to suffice. In September 1951,
Margrietpublished an article entitled 'Tested According to American
Standards', reporting the results of a baking contest held in the
Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, complete with four of the
winning recipes. The recipes given were, in order, 'Orange Kiss-Me
Cake' (flavoured with orange peel and raisins and with a glazed
topping), 'Half-Time Spoon Rolls' (made with yeast), 'Tea-Time in
Paris Cake' (with egg whites folded into the batter and no icing) and
'Old Virginia Cobbler' (made with apples). In December of the same
year, there was a recipe for 'American Ground Beef Cookies', little
discs of fried ground beef with cooked prunes on top, served hot as
appetizers. In March 1956,Margrietdescribedas 'typically American'
an hors d'oeuvre tray with cocktail sausages, prunes, stuffed olives,
radishes, onions and assorted types of fish. Most telling of all, in 1963
Margriet gave a recipe for an 'American hamburger': before being

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


fried the ground beef was to be mixed with tomato paste, chopped
onion, salt and pepper. 'You serve this meal - in the American way
- with everything on the plates.' On top of each hamburger were to
be pieces of leek, a handful of stuffed olives and some slices of
tomato. No mention was made of a bun.33
Anyone familiar with American food will agree that, while these
dishes could be served in America, there is not much about them that
is really American. In fact, in the article on the baking contest, what is
missing are such typically American foods as chocolate cake, or any
cake with a thick icing. Any type of biscuit would have been far more
characteristically American than yeast rolls. Although cobbler is an
American dish, when made with apples it tastes much the same as
Dutch apple pie. If the cobbler had been made with cherries, on the
other hand, it would not have had a Dutch counterpart.
These recipes were in fact, chosen and even re-written for the
Dutch housewife. In the introduction to the article on the baking
contest, Margriet's culinary writer stated that she had avoided those
winning recipes that did not 'really fit in with our Dutch taste'.34
There would have been no point in giving a recipe for brownies, for
example, because readers would never have tried it. It would have
been far too out of the ordinary. The recipe for hamburgers was
obviously re-written. Needless to say, Americans do not usually
garnish their hamburgers with olives nor do they mix ground beef
with tomato paste. This last was surely a substitute for catsup which a
typical Dutch family would not have in the refrigerator. Catsup was
not advertised in Margrietuntil 1972. Leeks are, of course, practically
unknown in America. Furthermore, a real American hamburger is
always served on a bun. To do this, however, would be to break one of
the key rules in Dutch cuisine, to keep the distinction between the hot
meal with potatoes and the cold meal with bread. In short, the strange
way American food was presented in Margriet was not accidental.
Margriet's aim in giving American recipes was not to tell readers
how to prepare their food as Americans did. What Margriet was
doing was to use the special allure associated with America and the
American way of life to push ideas it favoured in general, including,
above all, the idea of trying something new and different. The
'ground beef cookie', the hors d'oeuvre tray and the 'American
hamburger' were not really American but were something different
that the Dutch housewife could prepare for a festive occasion. Along
the same lines, in May 1955,Margrieturged readers'to learn from our
American sisters' and serve a variety of vegetables at every meal. In

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

September 1956, Margriet used a story about an American couple

living in the Netherlands to push the idea of serving more dishes with
melted cheese worked into them.35
By the early 1970s, America had lost much of its special attraction
in the eyes of Europeans in general. Because of this and the postindustrial variety of products now available, it became possible to
present American dishes that were more characteristicallyAmerican.
A good example was a recipe for an 'American salad with nuts',
which was essentially a Waldorf salad. A new recipe for a hamburger
did include a bun, although if you wanted a cheeseburgeryou had to
mix grated cheese with the ground beef instead of putting a slice on
top, evidently a solution to the problem of getting the cheese to melt.
The article also suggested that you could season your hamburgerwith
fresh chopped parsley, chives or paprika, pressed garlic, lemon juice
or ginger.36All of these suggestions make it clear that the essential
purpose remained not to tell readers how to make American-style
food, but how to make something new and different that could be
served on a special occasion.
It seems clear that for social and political reasons both ChineseIndonesian and American dishes had a certain appeal for the Dutch.
In all likelihood, the reasons why the Chinese-Indonesian dishes were
adopted and the American ones were not have to do with production
and marketing. Immigrants from Indonesia were interested in
establishing Chinese-Indonesian restaurants. Owners and their
employees, who were often relatives, were willing to work long hours
for relatively low pay or profits.37Furthermore,people who had lived
or fought in Indonesia formed a basic market for Chinese-Indonesian
food, from which it could spread to the rest of the population. In the
post-war period, North America was not a continent from which
many people were emigrating. There was, therefore, no pool of
immigrants from America to establish American restaurants or to
work in them, or to serve as an initial clientele.
The social and cultural scene in the twentieth century has undergone
rapid change. Since 1945, change has been the normal state of affairs.
An explanation needs to be sought, therefore, for continuity rather
than change.
While considering continuity and change in eating habits, a
distinction should be made between changes in the specific ingredients
that make up a dish, changes in dishes that make up a meal and

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands


changes in types of meals that make up a meal system. A meal system

is slow to change. The only significant change in the Dutch meal
system since the war has been the change in the time of day at which
the hot meal is served. As one might expect, there has been a greater
change in the dishes that make up a meal, such as the limited
introduction of Chinese-Indonesian dishes. On the other hand, there
has been a great deal of change in the ingredients.
Before discussing the factors that have influenced changes in eating
habits since the war, let us consider two factors which might have
been thought important but in fact were not: the second world war
and the entry of women into the labour market.
Dutch historians have written at length on the impact of the war
and German occupation on Dutch society. In the immediate postwar period, there was a tendency to assume that this impact had been
very great. More recently, however, historians have come to see the
war less as a turning-point than as an event which speeded up the
movement of Dutch society in the direction in which it had already
been moving.38This certainly was the case with respect to cooking.
For the most part, as shortages gradually ended, people breathed a
sigh of relief and went back to preparingfood the way they had before
the war. It took the generation born after 1945 voluntarily to adopt
some of the things their parents had used only reluctantly during the
war, such as herb teas, potatoes in their jackets, raw vegetables and
less meat. In England, the situation was the same.39During the war,
boiling times for such vegetables as red cabbage, sauerkrautand beets
recommended in The Hague Cookbook were reduced significantly,
but as we have seen, this was a part of a trend that began before the
war and continued after it.
It is easy to make the assumption that women's liberation must
have an important impact on eating habits, but the evidence there is
gives only very limited support to this hypothesis. The NIAM data
divides its 1,600 households into those where the housewife does not
work outside the home (81 per cent), those where the housewife
works less than twenty hours a week outside the home (13 per cent)
and those where the housewife works more than twenty hours a week
outside the home (6 per cent). Let us call these groups A (nonworking), B (working up to twenty hours a week) and C (working
more than twenty hours). In group A, only 68 per cent always have
their hot meal in the evening. In groups B and C, the figure is 84 per
cent. Whether or not the housewife works outside the home also has
some influence on how often the household eats at a Chinese-

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory


Indonesian restaurant. Of the households in groups A and B, only

eight per cent do so at least once a month, whereas in group C the
proportion rises to twenty per cent. But this difference is also a
reflection of the difference in disposable income, which is bound to be
higher in group C. With regard to the use of so-called convenience
foods (in this case frozen dinners), there is no difference between the
three groups.
Some other differences come to light when one looks at the factors
women keep in mind when shopping. It is possible to conclude from
the figures given in Table 4 that women who work full-time can afford
to pay less attention to prices than other women. They have less time
to devote to putting fresh products on the table. But they do not show
a tendency to restrict their purchases to goods that are easy to
prepare. Even more interesting, it appears that women who work
full-time actually pay more attention to the likes and dislikes of the
members of their family than those who work part-time or not at all.40
(See Table 4.)
Points Kept in Mind when Shopping, in per cent

If product is fresh:
pays close attention
pays no attention
If husband and children like it:
pays close attention
pays no attention
If it is easy to prepare:
pays close attention
pays no attention
pays close attention
pays no attention


Group B

Group C


















Most of the changes in eating habits that became institutionalized

in the Netherlands between 1945 and 1975 are related to the increase
in prosperity experienced during this time. This is a confirmation of
Engel's Law. In 1857, the German statistician, Ernst Engel, observed
that the higher a household's income the smaller the proportion of it
spent on food. In 1950, the average Dutch employee spent 39 per cent
of his income on food. In 1974, this was only 20 per cent. Engel's Law

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Salzman: CulinaryHistory of the Netherlands

fits the English case as well, but it does not appear to apply in
There is a great difference between income and taste, but the
NIAM data indicates that tastes do differ from one social class to
another. The 1,600 housewives of the NIAM survey were asked
whether they agreed with the statement: 'The kind of food I like best
is just regular Dutch food' (Geef mij maar een doodgewonehollandse
pot). The most significant factor in their differing responses was
social class.42(See Table 5.)
Answerto the Question: Do you Agree with the Statement 'The Kindof Food I Like the
Best is just Regular Dutch Food?', in per cent, by Social Class

Agree completely
Disagree completely

Highest 42%

Middle 45%

Lowest 13%




One can conclude from Table 5 that people who have the opportunity
to try new, non-traditional foods will tend to develop a taste for them.
One can probably say that as income goes up, people become more
cosmopolitan, more eclectic in their tastes.
But it would be wrong to exaggerate the impact of income on eating
habits. In fact, one of the characteristic features of eating habits in
industrialized countries is the limited difference between what is
eaten by high-income and low-income groups. The basic Dutch
pattern of one hot meal and two bread meals a day is the same in all
economic groups. The higher-income groups can afford better cuts of
meat. They have developed a taste for more fresh fruit and vegetables.
They tend to prefer a slice of meat or cheese on their bread ratherthan
jam or some other sweet spread. They make more use of macrobiotic
and health foods. But all of these are marginal differences. In a
society in which there is no real poverty, there is no basic difference
between classes regarding eating habits.
Increasing urbanization has been the most important factor
influencing the change in the time of day at which the hot meal is
consumed. Longer distances between home and work and between
home and school are also significant. This point is illustrated in the
NIAM study. At the beginning of this article, we noted that in 1980,
an average of 71 per cent of all Dutch households always took their

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Journal of ContemporaryHistory

hot meal in the evening on weekdays and that on Saturdays and

Sundays this proportion was 38 per cent and 47 per cent respectively..
But of households living in the three largest cities or their suburbs,
where the distances between home, work and school were greater, 89
per cent of households always had their hot meal in the evening on
weekdays. In small towns and rural areas, this was only 61 per cent.
Another important factor was whether or not there were children
living at home and how old they were. Only 66 per cent of households
with no children always had their hot meal in the evening. Of
households with children up to six years old, this was 75 per cent,
while for those with children between six and twelve, it was 79 per
cent and for those with children between thirteen and seventeen it was
86 per cent.43The more older children there are in a family, the more
likely it is that one or more of them will be unable to come home for a
hot meal at midday. The fact that the percentage of households
having their hot meal in the evening at the weekend is much smaller is
a further indication that the distance between home, place of work
and school is of importance.
In the history of a single family, there are decisive moments when
important, even if temporary, changes take place in the dishes served
and their ingredients. For example, when children become old
enough to start making demands, the person responsible for the
cooking will tend to listen.44It is probable, however, that when the
children leave home, the parents will go back to a more traditional
Dutch cuisine has undoubtedly been influenced by the influx, since
the 1960s, of'guest workers' from Mediterraneanand North African
countries. These people have started up Italian, Yugoslav and
Turkish restaurants, although on a modest scale compared to
immigrants in England.45More important, they and their families
have stimulated demand for such vegetables as aubergines and
peppers, thereby contributing to their availability. The influence of
guest workers is basically confined to the large cities in the western
part of the country where the vast majority of them live. In this sense
it is a regional influence.
To a large extent, the twentieth century has seen the disappearance
of regional cuisines. Regional differences were based at least in part
on the varying technological levels of homes in different areas.46
These differences have tended to disappear. The role of regional
cuisine in the Netherlands today is basically confined to the
sentimental appreciation of 'old-fashioned' cooking. This interest in

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'old-fashioned' food has been prevalent in the Netherlands for so

long that it is impossible to describe it as a fad. One can surmise that
its source lies not just in a reaction to some of the regimented aspects
of a post-industrial society, but also in a search for confirmation of
identity. Appreciation of 'old-fashioned' cooking is not an example
of continuity. It is a new, long-term development.
The explanation for the vast amount of real continuity in Dutch
culinary history, even in the post-war period, must be sought partly in
minimal nutritional needs, partly in the basic continuity of the
economic system and partly also in the way a meal is defined. As
Mary Douglas has pointed out, if 'dinner' is defined as consisting of
meat, potatoes and vegetables, with an option of soup and dessert,
one cannot simply skip the meat and potatoes. Even if the necessary
nutritional elements are transferredto the soup and dessert, those at
the table will feel that something is missing.47
From the middle of the 1970s, the uninterrupted increase in
prosperity that had begun in 1945 came to an end. It is perhaps too
early to attempt to delineate changes in eating habits in the
Netherlands in the last ten years,48but it does seem clear that as
incomes fall, people do not revert to eating the way they did before
incomes rose, mainly because it is impossible to reverse the technological development that has taken place. Technology has given birth
both to labour-saving innovations and to a certain antipathy to these
innovations.49Culinary historians and anthropologists should follow
this development with interest.

1. An excellent example of the use of statistical material for the second half of the
eighteenth century is C. Vanderbroeke, Agricultureet Alimentation (Gent 1975). An
important work making use of budgetary data is H.J. Teutenberg and Gunter
Wiegelmann, Der WandelderNahrungsgewohnheitenunterdemEinflussder Industrialisierung (Gottingen 1972).
2. In Robert Forster and Orest Ranum (eds.), trans. Elborg Forster and Patricia
M. Ranum, Food and Drink in History (Baltimore 1979), consisting of articles that
originally appeared in the journal Annales, Economies, Societes, Civilisation, several
authors make inspiring use of literarysources. See, for example, Jean Laclant on coffee
in seventeenth-century Paris and Guy Thuillier on water supply in Nievre in the
nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. A fine example of the use of
artistic material is the catalogue Brood (Rotterdam 1983), an account of the history of
the production and consumption of bread in the Netherlands from the sixteenth to the
twentieth century.

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3. Much of this research has been inspired by Gunter Wiegelmann's Alltags- und
Festspeisen. Wandel und Gegenwartige Stellung (Marburg 1967), based on material
collected between 1910 and 1939. Reasoning by analogy, Wiegelmann attempts to
extrapolate back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
4. Mary Douglas 'Food as a System of Communication' in The Active Voice
(London 1982), 83.
5. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Nutrition Information Office
(Voorlichtingsbureauvoor de Voeding) for allowing me to quote from this study.
6. Christien Brinkgreve and Michel Korzec, 'Margriet WeetRaad'. Gevoel,gedrag
en moraal in Nederland, 1938-1978 (Utrecht 1978), 19.
7. Wina Born, Margriet's best-known culinary editor, is an important writer of
cookery books in her own right. But the central editorial staff does not give her a free
hand in determining the content of her columns. Ms. Born told me in a telephone
conversation in November 1982that she used not to be allowed to put recipes with wine
in her columns, but that she could put in as many with whipping cream as she wanted.
Nowadays, she said, it is the other way around.
8. I would like to thank Margriet's publishers, De Geillustreerde Pers BV, for
allowing me to consult back issues in their archives. In researchingthis article, I read all
the culinary articles published in Margriet in 1951, 1955, 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971 and
1975 as well as those in March and September of every other year. I also noted all the
advertisements relating to food products in March and September of every year.
9. In this article I have made use of F.M. Stoll and W.H. de Groot, Het haagse
kookboek (The Hague 1936, 1938, 1942, 1947, 1952, 1957, 1961, 1966, and 1971) and
F.M. Stoll, W.H. de Groot and J.C. Heidenreich, Het nieuwe haagse kookboek (The
Hague 1982). All the authors are former teachers at the domestic science school. Ms.
Heidenreich emphasized to me that she had been opposed to the change in name. I
would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Heidenreich, other (former) teachers
and the domestic science school's librarian for helping me to consult old editions.
10. NIAM tables A.20.H, B.20.H and C.20.H. Social class was determined by a
range of factors including income, education and age. Some 42 per cent of the
households surveyed fell into the highest class. Some 13 per cent were included in the
11. There is one significant exception to this pattern: farmers, market-gardeners
and their employees, because of the heavy labour they do, often have an additional
meal each day. This can be a hot meal or a bread meal. See B. Woonink, J.P. Burema
and Th.F.S.M. van Schaik, 'Een enquete naar de avondmaaltijd ten plattelande',
Voeding, 12 (1951), 367-79.
12. NIAM tables A.12 and B.12.
13. A.P. den Hartog, Voedingals maatschappelijkverschijnsel(Utrecht 1982), 121.
14. Renee Kistemaker and Carry van Lakerveld (eds.), Brood, aardappelsenpatat.
Eeuwen eten in Amsterdam(Amsterdam 1983), 53-54.
15. This is certainly a cause for concern, even though it would be unwise to
underestimate the extent of adulteration of food in the nineteenth century. On this see
John Burnett, Plenty and Want. A social history of diet in Englandfrom 1815 to the
present day (London rev. ed. 1979).
16. Anneke van Otterloo, 'De herleving van de beweging voor natuurlijken gezond
voedsel', Sociologisch Tijdschrift(December 1983), 516. This article does not neglect to
point out that the natural foods movement started around the turn of the century.
17. G.J.P.M. de Bekker, De betekenis van brood in de voeding en defactoren die op

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hetbroodverbrikvan invloed zijn (Dissertation: Landbouw Hogeschool Wageningen

18. Margriet, 25 May 1975, 68.
19. Margriet, 18 July 1959,44; 14 May 1959,69; 3 June 1967,104; and 10 June 1967,
20. Margriet, 10 February 1951, 51; 2 October 1971, 156; 23 March 1946, 8; 23-29
September 1972, 128-30.
21. Margriet, 16 March 1963, 84; Brinkgreve and Korzec, op.cit., 93-94.
22. Margriet, 24 March 1956, 46; 23-29 October 1971, 102.
23. Margriet, 9 September 1967, 63.
24. See Catherine Salzman, 'Food in the Netherlands during World War II', Petits
Propos Culinaires, 12 (1982), 14-18.
25. F.M. Stoll and W.H. de Groot, Het haagse kookboek (The Hague 1938), 178.
For table see note 9.
26. Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Joy of Cooking
(Indianapolis 1943 and 1972). The Joy of Cooking is another example of a successful
cookbook that has been continuously revised.
27. This possibility was suggested to me by the analysis of internal factors in
culinary change in Jozien Jobse-van Putten 'Veranderingen in de huishoudelijke
vleesconservering in de afgelopen eeuw', VolkskundigBulletin, 10, 1 (May 1984), 1-49.
28. Brinkgreve and Korzec, op. cit., 127.
29. This development has never been fully studied and this article does not pretend
to fill the gap. Some aspects of it are covered in Rudie Kagie, 'Eten bij de Chinees', Vrij
Nederland (10 September 1983), supplement. Kagie fails, however, to distinguish
clearly between Chinese and Chinese-Indonesian food. Some information on the early
period can be found in F. van Heek, 'Chineesche immigranten in Nederland' in F.
Bovenkerk and L. Brunt (eds.), De rafelrand van Amsterdam; Jordaners, pindaChinezen,ateliermeisjes en venters in de jaren dertig (Amsterdam 1977), 84-116. Van
Heek's study was originally published in 1936 and therefore does not cover post-war
30. Professor B.H. Slicher van Bath told me that at an ethnic fair he visited in
Chicago in the 1960s, where each immigrant group had a stand with the national
cuisine of their country of origin, Dutch cuisine was represented by the loempiah.
31. NIAM tables A.20.A and B.20.B.
32. Margriet, 22 March 1958, 57; 18 November 1967, 120.
33. Margriet, 29 September 1951, 32-33; 1 December 1951,41; 24 March 1956, 48;
17 August 1963, 51.
34. Margriet, 29 September 1951, 32-33.
35. Margriet, 21 May 1955, 44; 29 September 1956, 93.
36. Margriet, 6-12 November 1971, 168.
37. See Kagie, op. cit. The same phenomenon explains the growth of Italian,
Yugoslav and Turkish restaurants in the 1960s and 1970s.
38. See H.W. von der Dunk, 'Het Fascisme - een tussenbalans', Internationale
Spectator (January 1975), 32-50.
39. See Christopher Driver, The British at Table (London 1983), especially 16-57.
This is a stimulating study which suggests many points of comparison with the Dutch
40. NIAM tables B.12 and C.20.A; 'Menucensus 1980: Buitenshuis, werkende
vrouw neemt aparte plaats in', VoedingsInformatie, 8-9, 3 (1980), 27-28.

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41. den Hartog, op.cit., 61; Driver, op.cit., 66; Theodore Zeldin, France, 1848-1945
(London 1977), vol. I, 753.
42. NIAM table A.25.C. See also note 10.
43. NIAM tables A.12 and B.12.
44. NIAM table A. 17.
45. This is surely due to the fact that the fiction has been maintained that these
'guest workers' are staying only temporarily.
46. See Jobse-van Putten, op. cit. Important determinants of regional differences in
the Netherlands included whether the cooking in a given region was done on an open
range or on a stove and the form of the chimney. This implies that many regional
differences were very short-lived.
47. Mary Douglas, 'Deciphering a Meal' in Implicit Meanings (London 1975),
48. The Foundation for Scientific Research of Consumer Issues (Stichting
WetenschappelijkOnderzoekKonsumentenAangelegenhedenor SWOKA) is carrying
out research on this subject.
49. See Driver, op. cit., x: 'The food history of our own time presents the middle
class rediscovering, and the working class escaping the mingled pleasure and
enslavement of the physical world'.

Catherine Salzman
is an MBA student at the
Rotterdam School of Management
and is the author of several articles.

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