Dutch Quirk #38: Mush all of their dinner food (prakken)

HomeCultureFoodDutch Quirk #38: Mush all of their dinner food (prakken)

We admire the Dutch for a lot of things — efficiency, directness, and innovation. Their cuisine, however, is rarely one of them.

And while eating lunch in the Netherlands might be a culture shock, there’s nothing quite like sitting down for a nice dinner only to discover that everyone around you is furiously mushing their food with a fork.

As you sit there wondering what’s gotten into them, rest assured that what you’re witnessing is merely a quirk that combines quintessential Dutch efficiency and culinary traditions: prakken

What is it?

Prakken is the action of mushing food (usually the trifecta of potatoes, meat, and cooked veggies) with a fork after it’s been served up on your plate. 🍴 It’s a common practice around the Dutch dinner table, especially during the winter months.

But while looking at a plate of brownish mush after a long day isn’t exactly what we’d call a cure for the seasonal depression, the dishes typically associated with prakken are warm, hearty meals — that may just thaw your prejudices towards all the mushing (emphasis on may 😅).

READ MORE | Dinner in the Netherlands: traditions, dishes and restaurants

Mushing dinner foods is such a cultural phenomenon that there even are two words for it: prakken and stampen.

While prakken is something performed at the dinner table, stampen is done in the kitchen. Namely by mushing together various combinations of potato, meat, and vegetables into the wintery stables of stamppot, hutspot, and boerenkool.

Why do they do it?

Is it just a sign of Dutch efficiency taking its seat at the dinner table or are there deeper reasons behind all the mushing?

It turns out that the first stamppot was described in a cookbook around 1880 (and, incidentally, Van Gogh’s work ‘The Potato Eaters’ was painted just five years later) so there is a long history behind hearty winter meals in the Netherlands.

Prakken, however, didn’t become a widespread practice until the 30s when the financial crisis forced hard-pressed Dutchies to eat more potatoes.

Nevertheless, what might’ve started as a way to cut the dinner budget quickly established itself as a tradition. Now, some experts on Dutch cuisine even say that the food tasted better when you mush it all together. 🤷‍♀️

Why is it quirky? 

Most people tend to eat their food as it’s served, using a knife and fork or chopsticks (at any length, two pieces of cutlery), so the somewhat forceful show of mushing things with one fork can come as a bit of a shock to internationals.

However efficient, funny, or culinarily enhancing it stays a quirky practice. 😂

Should you join in? 

All we have to say is don’t kick it till you’ve tried it!

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

Image: pljvv1/Depositphotos

Christine Stein Hededam 🇩🇰
Christine Stein Hededam 🇩🇰
A Dane with a special place in her heart for Minnesota, Christine is now falling in love with everything Dutch. Between finishing her bachelor’s degree, learning Dutch, and doing yoga teacher training, you will find her wandering about the Hague. Always up for visiting new places, she loves to explore the Netherlands with friends and takes pride in scoping out cute cafés (wherein to discuss books, big plans, and food).

2 COMMENTS

  1. I never saw anyone do the “prakken” thing but Stampot? Ja zeker. My favorite thing my Mother made in the USA was “sla met petatten”. In English: lettuce and potatoes. I found many people have it about once a week in Zeeland. The Zeeland version is mashed potatoes with a lot of butter, bits of bacon or ham, all mixed with chopped lettuce and seasoned with salt and vinegar. As an adult I had to experiment before getting it right. It’s simple and hard to mess it up completely, but it is all about proportions and procedures. It’s hard to get it totally wrong though. If it’s “lekker”, you got it right, and just adjust the ingredients to your taste. The best tip I can offer is to get it all mixed except the chopped lettuce and mix that in last so that it is still crisp when it’s served. Eet smakkelijk hoor!

  2. A nice trivia is that you can also use that verb as a noun. You can say “prak” to refer to a plate of dinner food, which could also be pasta or another dish than potatoes altogether.

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