The Expat Foodie: Oil Balls and Other New Year’s Delights

by Miss Footloose

As many of my readers around the world probably know, I grew up in the Netherlands. Happy as I was there, I had a travel bug and luckily ended up hitched to a globetrotting American who took me to exotic places. However, my emotional roots are stuck in Dutch soil and I look back with longing at some of our traditions.


As a little Dutch girl, pigtails and all, I loved Oudejaarsavond, which means literally old year’s evening, and is, of course, New Year’s Eve in proper English. In the Netherlands Oudejaarsavond is celebrated with the setting off of masses of fireworks after the consumption of copious amounts of oliebollen. Oliebollen means oil balls. I know what you are thinking: Yuk! But trust me, they are scrumptious. Just look at this photo. And yes, I made these, if not this year. My kids grew up having them at New Year’s Eve.

Oliebollen are related to the old-fashioned American doughnut. Although many Dutch people these days buy them commercially for the occasion, every person worth his or her salt in the Netherlands knows how to make them: You mix up a simple batter with bits of apple or raisins, drop spoonfuls into a pan full of hot oil and bingo: oil balls. Then you douse them in powdered sugar and stuff yourself.

You spend New Year’s Eve with friends, neighbors and family, little kids and all. You eat said oil balls, raise a glass or two, and at midnight you go out into the street and set off your fireworks to celebrate the birth of a new year. Sometimes neighborhoods get together and make a big show of it.

Oudejaarsavond vuurwerkPhoto by Andy Wolf /

So here a photo of neighborhood fireworks in Holland in a town I lived in for some time. I now live in France, and will miss my oliebollen this year. Next year I’m hoping to whip up a big batch for family in the USA. And with this I wish all of you and yours


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What are your New Year’s Eve traditions? Do you have special experiences or memories?

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from sunny Cairo!

My traditions are much the same as yours, although I do not light any fireworks. Happy 2010 to you as well.

They look delicious! We don’t light fireworks, but we do always drink champagne.

That seems to be a wonderful tradition. Thanks for sharing!

Ooh, they look good! I left the Netherlands just before New Years, which I see was a shame.

My father’s grandmother was Dutch, descended from one of those old New York families. But her tradition of baking lived on in our family; I’m pretty sure I could make oliebollen. They have cinnamon in them, right? Please tell me they do!

In our family, on New Year’s Eve we got out pots and pans and beat on them with sticks, just as the new year came in. It was great fun, but I’m not sure where that tradition came from.

Aledys Ver

Well, I’m on the other side of the expat lane :o)Non-Dutch, spending New Year the Dutch way!
I’ve spent Oudjaarsavond just the way you described it! Add to the scrumptious Dutch oliebollen, 12 delicious grapes at the strike of midnight (Spanish and Argentinean tradition) and you have my New Year’s Eve!
Have a wonderful 2010!

Isn’t it wonderful how every country seems to have its New Year’s tradition, although I’m still not sure what that is in the U.S., except so many I meet pride themselves in telling me that they don’t stay up for New Year’s and prefer to go to sleep at 10 p.m. I don’t think I’ve ever come across another country that doesn’t celebrate New Year like crazy. I grew up in Paris, and my Dad, 84, still celebrates NY till 2-3 a.m.

Oil balls, doughnuts, malasadas, doughboys, beignets….every cultures has them. Terrible for you but oh so tasty. Happy New Year!

Thanks for all the good wishes, and I enjoyed hearing from you! @ Mary Witzl, cinnamon is fine in oliebollen! Also grated lemon rind. I loved your tradition of going outside and beating pots and pans with sticks! That must be especially fun for kids! @ Aledys Ver, 12 grapes at the strike of midnight. Very cool! Must have something to do with the wish for a good grape harvest and lots of good wine for the new year? @ GutsyWriter, my experience is that in the US people celebrate New Year’s by giving or going to a party, or… Read more »

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