It’s official … Pieter and I are moving in to our new place on Saturday! Things are sure to be hectic this weekend, so I thought I’d get a head start this year and write about Leidens Ontzet, or the liberation of Leiden – simply referred to as 3 Oktober by those in the know.
The holiday marks the anniversary of the liberation of Leiden from the Spanish back in 1574 (if Wikipedia serves me correctly) after a two-year siege. It’s a cause for huge celebration in the city, with offices and schools closed and a tremendous influx of visitors from neighbouring cities and towns. In fact, it’s such a big deal that the festivities start a day early on 2 October. Today I’m bringing you my insider (but-not-really-at-all) suggestions for making the most out of Drie Oktober!
(Photo credit to my lovely Katerz!)
First things first, I have to address the hutspot – the quintessential, practically iconic meal reserved for Leidens Ontzet. Legend has it that, newly liberated from the clutches of the Spanish, the Dutch had to make do with the scraps of food their captors had left behind. From humble potatoes, onions and carrots, the hutspot was born … Boiled and mashed potatoes, onions and carrots.
I know. It doesn't seem particularly festive. These days people eat it with meat (preferably sausage) and gravy but if, like me, you don't eat such things, hutspot hardly feels like a celebratory meal. Nevertheless, if you truly want to celebrate the holiday in Dutch fashion, hutspot has to be on the menu.
From a purely practical point of view, it will form a warm ball in your belly, ideal in the chilly fall air and guaranteed to keep you going throughout the night's festivities. Restaurants and stands throughout the city will be plating it up and there's definitely an element of hilarity and delight in standing in a silent huddle of friends on the street, intently devouring mashed potatoes from plastic plates with flimsy forks. The calm before the storm, if you will.
However if, like me, you're more of the live-to-eat variety, I recommend making your own. My official Dutchman taught me the key to making fantastic mashed anything …
Add cubes of cheese to it. (This is why we work so well together.) It may not be traditional but biting into pockets of semi-molten cheese is clearly rewarding on a whole other level.
If you're a vegetarian, this is also a great opportunity to make your own gravy (super easy – I'll include a 'recipe' below) and try out fake sausages. Do I know how to have a wild time or what?!
Now that that's out of the way …
The festivities officially begin at 16.14 with an opening act. This year they're taking place on the Stadshuisplein and, if the pictures from the Leiden website are any indication, it’s bound to be a good one! The next morning, you can join the Dutch at 7.00 in the morning for the reveille at the Stadshuisplein. (I have never done this myself but it would appear to entail a lot of brass instruments.) Then, between 7.30 and 9.30 at De Waag, you can also go extremely Dutch and take part in the symbolic handing out of herring and white bread. I won’t say anymore on that subject …
Just like on Queen’s Day, there will be a kermis (travelling fair) in town for two days of celebration. (Beware: they set up right on the Stationsweg so getting to and from your train/bus becomes a bit of a challenge.) While the rides may not appeal to the more ‘mature’ among us, there are always plenty of games and hilarious prizes to be won – not to mention ALL of the best food choices: oliebollen (deep fried dough balls covered in powdered sugar), cotton candy, sugar sticks, fries …
According to the municipality’s website, there will also be a historical kermis set up on the Pieterskerkplein. (It will be taking place on both 2 and 3 October in the afternoon.)
Once you’re reasonably stuffed, it’s time to wander off to watch the performances taking place across the city. Last year we sort of just stumbled upon good ones, but this year I’ve discovered that, in fact, you can get a schedule here.
Don’t miss the fireworks show! It’ll be taking place at 23.30 on the Zijlsingel.
One final word of wisdom: Do not try to look good. Just do not. It’ll be crowded and dark and people will be armed with mashed potatoes and beer. Wear layers – ugly ones – and, of course, sensible shoes. There will be music playing in all sorts of places, including cute little cobblestone alleys. Unless you’re Dutch and have that ‘I can do everything in stilettos and do it more gracefully than you’ gene, dancing on cobblestone is a lot more enjoyable with comfortable footwear.
(If you do go out next week to celebrate the liberation, let me know what you get up to!)
All you need to do is add about 1-2 tbsp of dissolved corn starch per 250 ml of vegetable stock. Everything else is optional, but you can’t go wrong with a few sautéed onions, some cayenne pepper, and a splash of soya sauce!