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Grandma’s Surinamese cooking classes

Written by Dafne

These are my dear parents, Eric and Alies. They were both born in the Netherlands, but my mother is Dutch and my father has Surinamese roots. Both are fantastic cooks. Because of this mix I grew up in two (food) cultures and we were served dishes from all kinds of different foreign cuisines, but also Dutch cuisine. We were curious how they experienced it themselves to become part of a family with a different food culture and how they learned to cook so well.

Mom, what was it like coming into a Surinamese family as a Dutch person?

Alies: “The Dutch family in which I grew up with my three sisters was already quite international 36 years ago: a father who traveled a lot for his work, a mother who had lived in Genève, our family who lived in America for two years. My parents were very hospitable and we regularly had people from abroad over. This also had an impact on the dishes we ate. In addition to traditional Dutch meals such as stew, AVG or sprouts, my mother also cooked Indian or French oriented dishes (artichokes), for example and she loved to try new recipes. We only didn't know Surinamese cuisine yet. When we came into contact with Eric's Surinamese family through the church, it was certainly an enrichment. We were introduced to new flavors. My father and grandma (Eric’s mother) in particular had a great connection with each other. I myself quickly felt at home with the family with two tough sons and a younger brother and sister. I didn't experience the real culture until I really came into the family.”

Dad, what was the first thing you noticed about eating habits when you first came into Mom's family?

Eric: “What was very striking was the way of cooking. One of my favorite dishes from grandma (Alies' mother) was the fried chicken in the pan that was made on Saturday, simmered overnight and served on Sunday. Perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor without too much fuss with herbs. We don't know that in Surinamese cuisine."

Mom, how did you experience the Surinamese food culture at Dad's family?

Alies: “Eating is the social activity in Suriname: plenty and tasty! The cuisine is very varied due to all the populations represented in the country. Here I also learned to eat with my hands; this is how you eat Roti at its best! What I still have to get used to is when grandma (Eric's mother), as soon as we wake up asks: “What are we eating today?” While I haven't thought about that or want to think about that at all in the morning. At her home you wake up to the smell of fried chicken or sambal. That doesn't happen at our house. In addition, the amount of food is typical of the Surinamese food culture. The quantities in which I cook have also changed because of this; rather too many dishes on the table than too few! You can always freeze rice or meat. But what I love about my own mother’s habits is that we don't eat from the pan, but always serve everything in serving bowls; I think the dishes look the tastiest in this way! And every August I eat my mothers artichokes with the one and only irresistible sauce!”

Those are indeed delicious! And mom, how did you learn to make dishes from the Surinamese kitchen?

Alies: “ When it became clear that Eric and I wanted to continue together, grandma thought it was important that her son’s wife cooked well for her son. Every time I visited, I had to join her in the kitchen for cooking lessons. The timing wasn't always perfect, but when I look back I'm glad I was able to master many of the secrets from this delicious cuisine. Such as Pom, Roti, Pastei, Sopropo and of course Saoto, 'salt soup'. I still have the notebook in which I wrote down all the recipes and it is used frequently. Pom and Saoto's recipes as I learned from grandma are the best; nowhere have I tasted better, not even in Suriname.”

Dad, did you get these cooking skills from grandma too?

Eric: “Grandma was quite directive when it came to cooking. ‘Come in the kitchen I have something to teach you’ was the command that started your lessons. Just copy the art and follow all the directions, that's how it worked. What I found most instructive is how she was able to estimate exactly what quantities of ingredients were needed by eye; the kitchen scales or measuring cups were hardly used!”

And how did you feel about mom taking cooking lessons from grandma?

Eric: “Grandma was merciless in the discipline of her cooking class. I thought it was very brave how Alies went through all this with a smile. Over time my mother even accepted that she adapted some recipes to her own taste (Roti for example). She received many sincere compliments. You can't do better in Suriname!”

Nice mom! Are there also certain Surinamese or Dutch eating traditions or eating habits that you have adopted in our own family?

Both: “We have learned to cook across borders from our families. That can be Surinamese, Dutch, but traditional Italian food or Indian food are also regularly on the menu. In the meantime we have also traveled a lot and eaten ‘across the border'; we always like to try the dishes at home. The nice thing about the Netherlands is that you are always able to buy the special foreign ingredients in the shops; be it Greek, Lebanese or Indian. We often miss that abroad. In the Netherlands we are very spoiled for that!”

And are there any differences?

Both: “Our own family culture does differ from the Surinamese food culture. In Suriname you eat with a fork and spoon and scoop it out of the pan (so it stays warm!). While we eat with a fork, knife and spoon in our own family culture, at a cozy table with wine and a candle. You serve the food on serving dishes and ‘natafelen’ (lingering at the dinner table after the meal is finished) is an important part of it. The biggest difference with both our families is that Eric also loves to cook, unlike both of our fathers! Nevertheless, Alies is often the one who prepares the Surinamese dishes.”

How have you tried to pass on the mix of cultures to us (the children)?

Both: “The great thing about our mixed background is that - in our view - you can integrate the best of both cultures into your own life. Looking and eating beyond your own national borders is important. You can be surprised and enriched by it! We also wanted to pass this on to you in our travels to other continents. And that seems to have worked out nicely; you are also interested in other cultures and food with taste 'across the border'.”


Have you become curious about the recipes that Alies learned to cook during the Surinamese cooking classes? Click on the photo for the delicious saoto soup.


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