You haven’t celebrated Christmas in the Netherlands properly if you haven’t done gourmetten. Gour-what-en? Exactly.
If you’re the foreigner in a relationship and this is your first time visiting your Dutch in-laws, you have a 50/50 chance of walking into a night of gourmetten. Same goes for a wintery dinner party with your Dutch friends.
What is it? How do you prepare for it? What’s the proper gourmet etiquette? Stay calm and read on — it will be fine (and filthy).
What is gourmetten in the Netherlands?
Thou shall take a crapload of weird little meats, tiny pans, a raclette-like device (gourmetschotel) and an enormous variety of side dishes and sauces. Combine it all, and FEAST!
In other words: gourmetten in the Netherlands is a culinary tradition that involves sitting together and cooking your food at the dining table using a special tabletop grill or hotplate. Gezellig!
It’s especially popular around Christmas time, but every ‘special’ night in the months between September and April is a good enough excuse to get the greasy old device out.
Of course, it’s slightly looked down upon by the high-culture culinary crowd (what part of Dutch cuisine isn’t?) — but most regular Dutch folk consider the tradition a fitting way to stuff themselves with huge quantities of wine and meat.
The origins of this totally-not-Calvinistic tradition are unclear. Allegedly, two chefs toured the country in the ’70s in order to promote gourmetten to Dutch housewives. Originally, it was a thing of the Swiss people.
Secretly, the meat industry was behind this tour de carne, and their plan definitely worked. At least when my family does gourmetten, I can safely say that we boost that industry by a few kilos.
What are you eating when you do gourmetting?
The first rule of the Gourmetten Club is never to ask what the hell the meat consists of. Anyway, the main thing you’ll be eating is cheap baguettes and sauces. So who needs to know?
Because it takes a while to heat the device, your mom will continuously warn you about not starting the gourmetten process too soon. So inevitably, you will start to devour all the bread and little pots of sauces on the table first.
Finally, the thing is hot enough, and you’ve buttered your little pan. It’s time to tackle this big boy gourmetschotel that mother bought at the Albert Heijn.
Obviously, all families have their own traditions, but there’s a certain amount of similarity with what’s on the menu.
- Little beef steaks (gone in a blink, the Dutch uncle will poach these right at the start of dinner)
- Little chicken fillets (“CHECK IF IT’S COMPLETELY COOKED THROUGH OR YOU WILL DIE FROM SALMONELLA”)
- Little hamburgers (if your mother-in-law just chops up a big one, then just ditch your partner, you’re better than that)
- Little turkey pieces (might be chicken, best to blacken it)
- Some chopped onions, mushrooms and other veggies (because that makes it… healthy?)
- Little slavinken (minced meat rolls with bacon wrapped around them — how can we say anything bad about that?)
Hosting your own gourmet party and unsure what exactly to get? Worry not, most Dutch supermarkets sell pre-packaged gourmet-meat-assortment-sets that come with all the essentials.
Gourmet etiquette: dos and don’ts of gourmetten in the Netherlands
Now it’s time to let you in on some insider knowledge: how to act during a Dutch gourmetten party. Yup, there are some unspoken rules that you should stick to when the ol’ table grill comes out.
⏰ Timing and turn taking
Gourmetten is a sloppy dining experience that requires some almost-skillful cooperation. Remember, you’re cooking on a tiny grill, around a table that’s equally as tiny, with numerous hungry Duchies.
To ensure a smooth gourmetten session in which nobody is left hungry, make sure you allow everyone to eat (even if it’s hard to take a break).
👯♂️ Maintaining a good social atmosphere
Getting together with the fam? Some old friends you haven’t seen in a while? Things can quickly get out of hand — especially if there’s a bit too much wine involved. 🤪
So, you know the drill: avoid touchy subjects, don’t be too direct, and try not to start a fight with your partner (or their parents).
🧽 Clean up responsibilities
Once you’re done eating, take a moment to breathe. Trust me, you’ll need it.
After that, quickly help your host clear the table and air out the room. Desert here we come!
Why do Dutchies like gourmetten so much?
So why is gourmetten such an essential Dutch tradition? Well, there is meat, sauce, and wine everywhere! What’s not to like? 🍷
Besides gluttony, there’s also the upside of messing around with the little sauces, meats, and pans. This way, you can finally avoid having an actual conversation with your relatives about how “Zwarte Piet is just a tradition“, and people should leave it alone (😖).
Your mother-in-law likes it because she doesn’t have to cook. Dutch people like it because they secretly know there is (at least a little) more to Dutch cuisine than that. So hey! Everybody’s happy, right?
So, what’s the filthy part about gourmetten in the Netherlands?
Haven’t you been reading? There is a lot of food and wine on the table! That means it won’t be long until someone spills some wine or your brother-in-law lets a huge one rip.
And then there’s the smell. The unmistakable smell of a gourmet party is a mix of nostalgia, and a hint of burnt grease and ‘snackbar‘. Do not underestimate it! It will be lingering for days to come, all your clothes will need some serious cleaning, and you better get the good shampoo out to cleanse those locks.
The final verdict? Gourmetten is a great Dutch tradition! It’s a total slam dunk in the gezelligheid and culinary department. So hug those in-laws if they’re into gourmetten!
What do you think of this Dutch culinary classic? Tell us in the comments below! Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2017 and was fully updated in December 2023 for your reading pleasure.