Connect Eight: Challenge of a Dutch Snack Automat
With the ladies of its red-light district and its locally brewed Heineken beers — not to mention its famed “coffeehouses” providing another type of high — Amsterdam has been known by many Americans as a mecca of vices. However, when partaking in so many indulgences, an inevitable case of the munchies usually comes, and fortunately the Dutch share that guilty pleasure. Fast food in the Netherlands is a cuisine all of its own, and I’m not just talking about the herring or the frites with mayonnaise (or ketchup or onions) that are quite popular after a night out on the town. Croquettes, sausages and other fried items have often come to aid of the inebriated, or to anyone who simply craves a quick, greasy, salty treat.
Snackbars are found all around the Netherlands, where items are fried to order after selecting them from a deli-style food display case. More conveniently, Dutch snacks can also be obtained in an Automat, a big vending machine where items are displayed in individual compartments, each one like a locker that can be opened by inserting the proper amount of coins.
“My friends always say they are going to ‘do a diagonal.’ You eat everything [in the Automat] diagonally,” said Lot van Wijngaarden, a Dutch friend of mine. “But it’s just something they say when they’re drunk. No one really does it,” she informed me. “Don’t do it; you’ll get sick.”
And with that said, I was up for the self-imposed challenge when I found myself in front of the shiny Automat at Smullers, in Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, during a busy part of the day. Someone was regularly filling empty compartments behind the Automat with freshly fried food. The Automat there has 9 columns by 8 rows, and it doesn’t take a spreadsheet to realize that one column — the Baconburger on the left — could be skipped when forming my diagonal. And so, like a game of Connect Four, I went from the bottom right corner upward to connect eight Dutch snacks — here they are:
1. Kipstick: “Kip” is Dutch for “chicken,” which literally makes this a chicken stick. However, it’s not like a drumstick with a bone in the middle; inside, this croquette is a puree of chicken blended with spices, which is then breaded and fried. My verdict: three (out of five) stars. There’s something weird about eating a gooey puree of chicken that oozes out like cheese, but the blend of saltiness and spice hits the spot.
2. Satekroket: This too is a compound word, comprising “sate” as in “satay” and “kroket” (how the Dutch spell “croquette”). This is similar to a kipstick, only with a slightly sweet peanut taste to it, which gives dimension to its overall flavor. It is also gooey, but somehow that seems less weird in this case because you can imagine it mostly being peanut sauce. Four stars.
3. Frikandel: This is a deep-fried sausage usually made of chicken and pork with spices, depending on the manufacturer. However, unlike a sausage or hot dog, there’s no casing holding the minced meat together, so you wonder what’s in it to keep its perfect rod shape when it’s put in the fryer. Without a skin, it’s more like a meatball — a meatrod, if you will — and when it’s fried, the outside is dry, slightly crisp and questionable-looking. Biting into it, it feels denser than a hot dog, and fortunately there are enough spices in it to help you ignore that it looks like a wrinkly, dry turd. Mustard helps too. Two stars.
4. Kaassoufflée: This snack’s name may translate to “cheese soufflé,” but it’s more like a cheese HOT POCKET, which is deep-fried. Not only is it cheaper (only 1 euro!), it’s the only vegetarian option in the Automat. The compartment is empty in my diagonal challenge, so I don’t eat one in this setting. No matter; the three previous snacks have already rid me of any hunger for the time being — and I still have more to go.
5. Rundvleeskroket: This one may have a long, intimidating name, but it’s just the Dutch way of saying “beef croquette.” Like the kipstick, it’s a gooey puree of meat that is spiced, breaded and deep-fried. However, this one lacked the saltiness of the other snacks, which is what I crave when I’m in a place like this. The spices are there, but they seem less evident without the salt. Two stars.
6. Kipburger: This is a basic chicken burger containing a ground chicken patty — breaded and fried — inside a bun with shredded lettuce, chopped onions, mayonnaise and ketchup. It reminds me of a McChicken at McDonald’s (which is decent, but nothing to write home about) and it could have been satisfying on its own if I didn’t have four snacks in me already. Two stars.
7. Hamburger: This compartment is empty, but I don’t mind; I’ll have plenty of burgers in my life and I’m actually really full after three croquettes, a sausage and a chicken burger. However, I can judge the Automat’s burgers with the next and final item in the diagonal challenge.
8. Cheeseburger: No Dutch translation needed; you know this one. Unlike the kipburger, this is not reminiscent of an item at McDonald’s, even though it does come with American cheese, a sesame seed bun and a ketchup and mayonnaise blend that is like the Big Mac’s special sauce. The burger patty here is deep-fried like the frikandel, which gives it a weird, dry crust that to me seems less appetizing than a patty that is juicy on the outside. Or perhaps it’s less appetizing because I have no actual appetite for any more food. One star.
Connect Eight Challenge completed (with two compartments being empty)! I didn’t necessarily get sick in the end like my friend had warned, although I’m pretty sure I had enough grease and sodium in my body to be really unhealthy. If you’re ever in the Netherlands looking to do a similar challenge, make sure you have a big appetite — or cross your fingers that at least six of the eight compartments in a diagonal haven’t been restocked yet.
For food for the inebriated closer to home, be sure to vote in Cooking Channel's Best College Eats Champion Match.
Erik Trinidad is a food and travel writer, and author of Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended , based off his popular food humor blog .