One of the best parts of every vacation is eating a few of the local specialties. On a recent trip to Aruba, it was like vacationing in two places, because in addition to all the fresh seafood and tropical fruits that tourists expect in the Caribbean, culinary reminders of Aruba’s long history as a Dutch colony were everywhere.
Huge wheels of Edam and Gouda cheese are stacked up at all the grocery stores, and Dutch chocolates are everywhere. The most surprising vestige of the Dutch influence is the popularity of Dutch pancake houses.
Unlike the pancake houses and waffles houses in the United States, which usually have long menus of every breakfast item imaginable, the Dutch pancake houses across the island focus almost entirely on one thing; pancakes, and specifically, the large, thin disks that are a platform for both sweet or savory breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
In Aruba, and in the Netherlands, Dutch pancakes are popular not just in the morning but all day, with people of all ages stopping in for a quick bite. A ham and cheese pancake is as prevalent as a similar sandwich, and a fruit-laced pancake topped with a scoop of ice cream is a popular snack or shared dessert.
Dutch pancakes are big enough to fill the entire plate, often with a little more draped over the edge. They’re much thinner and less fluffy than American pancakes, with a higher egg-to-flour ratio. They’re not inherently sweet, making them a neutral base for everything from peaches to pepperoni.
Like their American counterparts, the Dutch pancakes can get a boost of sweetness from syrup. The difference, though, is that the syrup, or “schenkstroop,” is made entirely from sugar beets. The syrup is thick and sweet, with a mineral note like a mild molasses. Sugar beets are a cold-weather crop, so all the syrup are imported from the Netherlands.
Foregoing the syrup, most pancake fans opt for a topping that turns the pancake into anything from an ice cream sundae to a pizza. Italian concoctions with sausage, cheese and thin-sliced vegetables are like flexible pizzas, and the pancakes are even available in pizza-like combinations such as the “Hawaiian” version with ham and pineapple.
Although most of the Dutch pancake houses proudly display their pancake skillets, it doesn’t require special equipment to make them. Any large skillet will work, or even a small one, with the modification of using less batter. A thin layer of plain batter is poured into the pan, then the desired toppings are spread on top of it. A few minutes later, the pancake is flipped to quickly brown the other side. Plain pancakes are often served rolled, but the ones with extra ingredients stay flat, sliding onto the plate to be admired and eaten.
Dutch is still one of the official languages spoken in Aruba, and visitors from the Netherlands still outnumber American tourists, so it’s likely that the pancakes will continue to be one of the charms of an Aruban vacation. Fortunately, they’re also one of the easiest of the trip’s memories to recreate at home.