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Bitterballen, the 'ultimate Dutch mouthful,' available in Guelph

'It’s a thickened stew that ends up getting rolled into a ball, breaded and then deep fried'

An up and coming food truck and business in Guelph wants residents to try bitterballen.

“It’s a thickened stew that ends up getting rolled into a ball, breaded and then deep fried, so we call them ‘crispy balls of deep fried stew,’” said Jason Enders, president of Hart & Ziel, a local company specializing in bitterballen.

"We offer it in our food truck with french fries, for a healthy alternative, we usually do a coleslaw with it as well," he continues. "Mustard is the best condiment to put on top of it, a nice, grainy mustard is optimal."

Despite the name, Enders adds there is nothing bitter about bitterballen.

 “The etymology of the word bitterballen, comes from bitters, which are beers, alcohols, things like genever (a form of gin). Effectively, as people ate at the bar, people drank more,” said Enders, noting Dutch people eat 400 million bitterballens and croquettes a year. 

“It’s the ultimate Dutch snack food, or the ultimate Dutch mouthful as we like to call it.”

Enders opened the business last November. Prior to that, Enders was in sales and customer service, but has hospitality experience from working in Australia and New Zealand. He adds Dutch food isn't well-known in North America, and hopes bitterballens and their unique name will stick. 

“My goal is to bring people together and I feel great food is a way to bring people together to share in that culture," said Enders, whose family on his father's side is Dutch.

"I’ve been making croquettes and bitterballens for over 30 years,” he continues, “It’s more of a holiday treat for our family, it’s something we would all kind of sit around and do together as a family. There’s a lot of labour and time that goes into them.”

In Guelph, Enders notes there are a lot of Dutch immigrants, and second and third-generation Canadians whose families are Dutch. At events, Enders notes some people do recognize bitterballen, as they've had it before.

“They’re very excited, there aren’t very many Dutch flavoured food trucks," Enders said about the recognition. "There’s one in Barrie, there’s one out in B.C., but that’s it.”

The name of the business, Hart & Ziel, means ‘Heart and Soul’ in Dutch. Enders explains his goal with Hart & Ziel is to get into grocery stores. Since April Hart & Ziel has been added to 19 stores and is on track to be in 40 by the end of this summer.

“This is the first of many products we’re planning to launch,” said Enders, who hopes to get into Loblaws. “This is the braised beef bitterballen, from there we will have the roasted chicken and then a vegetarian addition, which is mushroom. The beef is like a beef stew, the chicken is like a chicken pot pie and the mushroom has a umami flavour.”

Enders notes Hart & Ziel bitterballen is also gluten-free. He notes another slight difference between traditional bitterballen and theirs, is their bitterballen can be baked or air fried.

Going gluten-free was an accident, said Enders. One day, he made a batch of gluten-free bitterballens for friends who have celiac disease. 

“In order to make the best product possible, and at the same time, being inclusive, we decided to go in that direction,” said Enders.

Those who are interested in trying bitterballen can check out the Hart & Ziel food truck at Party in the Park in Rockwood on Thursday. For more information on Hart & Ziel, go to