The thing that shocks me most about Dutch people’s peculiar eating habits is Hagelslag. I giggled to myself when seeing a room of adult Dutch business men sipping their milk cartons, I was amazed at the pride Dutch people exhibited while sucking on drop, and I marveled at the nation’s copious dairy consumption — but hagelslag stopped me dead in my tracks: did I just see that correctly?!? Are grown-ups really eating chocolate sprinkles on their toast at lunch?!
For those of you who have yet to spend more that a few days in the lowlands, I will explain: hagelslag is Dutch people’s answer to sprinkles. But don’t be fooled — these are a different kind of sprinkle then you are used to. In North America sprinkles are primarily reserved for ice-cream and cakes and normally for the likes of children, but here in the Netherlands, it is apparently perfectly normal behaviour for an adult to merrily sprinkle some fruit or chocolate flavoured sprinkles on their bread at mealtime.
Now, hagelslag comes in many varieties; you can have chocolate hagelslag, fruit flavoured hagelslag or most perplexing of all – anise seed (licorice seed) hagelslag. The latter is reserved for celebrating the birth of a baby and is fondly referred to as Muisjes (yep, “mice”, don’t get it). Take a Dutch beschuit (a twice baked piece of round toast), slap on some butter and adorn with either pink (for a girl) or blue (for a boy) anise hagelslag and serve to guests visiting the new babe –an important, if not odd, Dutch birthing tradition.
My former Dutch boss once tried, mumbling and steeped in male-embarrassment, to explain how the tradition came about as anise seed can shrink a woman’s womb. I didn’t dare ask why feed it to the guests then… According to our good friend Mr. Wikipedia, “the anise in the muisjes is thought to be good for stimulating lactation and was purported to scare away evil spirits.” It’s good to hear the tradition is rooted in some sort of logic…and my boss was on the right “women stuff” track
To put all this sprinkle-eating madness into perspective, I will share with you a little-known fact: Dutch people are said to consume over 14 million kilos of hagelslag each year. Yes — 14 million kilos — do you know what that means? That’s roughly the combined weight of 1,000 adult elephants! (Aren’t facts are always funner when measured by elephants??)
Personally, I can do without these colourful sprinkle-ly meals, but if these sugar-filled morning treats bring a smile to a Dutch person’s face, then I’m all for it. Heck, what else is going to make you smile on a rainy Dutch winter day?!