Kitchens serve hot-pot treat

THE traditional Dutch kitchen has a wide variety of seasonal products and prepares mainly family-style food served in large quantities.

The Dutch like to mix things. Stews are tremendously popular, preferably with lots of gravy. Curly kale, sausage stew, mashed potatoes and meatball casserole are favourite winter dishes.

''Pea soup with chopped smoked sausage (rookworst) is a typical winter meal, as is hotpot with beef flank and a heavy mixture of carrots, onions and mashed potatoes seasoned with butter, salt and pepper,'' said Fred Jonkheer, executive chef of the Regal It is accompanied by Pumpernickel (a dark bread) and thinly sliced boiled bacon.

According to Rene Van Schie, a fellow Dutchman working at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the average family eats three square meals a day, starting with sandwiches, biscuits, porridge, boiled eggs, Dutch spice cake and a glass of milk for breakfast.

''Lunch will consist of more sandwiches, savouries and a glass of buttermilk and, for dinner, there is meat, vegetables, potatoes, dessert and coffee,'' he said.

''We don't like to make a hassle out of cooking, just a filling meal that is enough for a long evening working in the flower beds.'' The asparagus season falls at the end of April and is a good time for white asparagus from Brabrant and Limburg in the south of Holland.

It is often boiled and eaten with ham, potatoes and melted butter.

''Asparagus only enjoys a short season of about one and a half months, but it is worth waiting for. The taste is out of this world,'' said Mr Jonkheer.

May is a good time for Dutch herring, known as nieuwe haring. Fresh from the North Sea, the fish is cleaned, salted and eaten raw.

''Traditionally, it should be eaten as soon as it is brought ashore. Choose your fish from a trolley, rather like one of Hong Kong's dai pai dongs and dip it in onion flakes.

''Then pick it up by the tail, drop it into your mouth and take a big bite. It's delicious and a lot of fun.'' Dutch shrimps are another important seafood. The tiny dark pink shrimps are an expensive treat.

''I have not seen shrimps such as these anywhere else in the world. They take a lot of work to clean, but their flavour is unique,'' said Mr Jonkheer.

Smoked eel provides a popular year-round appetiser and is steamed or pan-fried as a main course.

Croquettes (kroketten ) and bitterballs (bitterballen ) are ''holy snacks'', according to Mr Van Schie.

''Naturally they are served with a generous glass of ice-cold gin (jenever ),'' he said.

From Limburg comes traditional fruit tart, Vruchtenvlaai, made of sugared bread dough filled with stewed fruit and covered with lattice with a glaze finish.

And nothing beats delicious Dutch doughnuts (oliebollen ), which are a traditional treat on New Year's Eve.

''In honour of her birthday, I would serve the Queen Mother herring salad as an appetiser and white asparagus with hollandaise sauce as a main course, followed by chilled semolina pudding with fresh red currant sauce, Griesmeel pudding met rode bessensau Special requests from hotel guests include traditional Dutch cream cakes made of sponge and fruit, covered with sweetened cream.

''An ideal birthday cake for the Queen Mother.'' However, tastes and attitudes are changing along with foreign influences.

''Chinese, Indonesian, Turkish, Italian, Greek, Thai and French cuisine are all common in Holland. The modern family likes to take time over the preparation of food and enjoys varied cuisine,'' said Mr Van Schie.