You come across them everywhere: Dutch entrepreneurs abroad. Why did they ever leave with the northern sun and is the grass really that much greener across the street? This week: Ronald Pronk, who serves the Argentines bitterballen, croquettes and poffertjes in Buenos Aires.
Ronald Pronk just rolled the perfect frikandel in Buenos Aires. The recipe in a nutshell: meat that has stuck in the rib machine, water, spices, some quality meat, grind everything as fine as possible, pre-cook and then fry. A very dirty job, says Pronk, the meat is just like latex and it sticks everywhere.
The frikandel will soon be on the map of Lekker Smokehouse in Argentina, of which Pronk is the owner. "I have been here for fifteen years. My wife is Argentinian, but bringing her to the Netherlands was too complicated. So I moved. I am a technical draftsman and thought: I will find a job like this, and then I will fly to the Netherlands every year to see my friends and eat a plate of my mother's tomato soup. But that turned out differently. How do you make it up: a Drent from Gieten who is baking croquettes in a Texan restaurant in Buenos Aires. "
Fifteen years ago Pronk started a webshop in poffertjes, croquettes and other Dutch delicacies, but there are not that many Dutch people in Argentina and it doesn't go very well. One day, when he bakes poffertjes at a market, Pronk meets a Texan who wants to buy his bitterballen for his Texan smokehouse.
"When I came here, those cows were frolicking over the pampa and you only needed a little salt." Ronald Pronk
"After a while I started working for him. We served classic Texan meat dishes and I make Dutch food: really good fries, hussar salad, croquettes, bitterballen. Also a little self-interest of course, because I love it too. Argentinians go wild from bitterballen. "
And since a few years they are more open to the rest of the world, he says. "At first you only saw steak, burgers, pizza and pasta. Now, for example, I sell empanadas with pulled pork and saté sauce. People come back especially for it! Such a dough jacket makes everything tasty, of course."
Ronald Pronk bakes poffertjes on King's Day. (Photo: Private collection)
Argentine economy not too good
The Argentinian steak is no longer what it used to be, says Pronk. "That was a unique product. When I came here, fifteen years ago, those cows were frolicking over the pampa and you only needed a little salt. A steak was also extremely cheap. Now those cows are in their own manure, and on you meat you must first sprinkle a lot of herbs.
The Texan left for Texas, and Pronk has been running the business alone since then. It is going - proportionally - well, he says, because the Argentinian economy is not doing well. "You notice that people go out less often. It is normal for Argentinians to eat out at least twice a week, and that is now only once a month. They sometimes order one sandwich here to share and together a bottle of water "
"It is normal for Argentinians to go out for dinner twice a week, which is now once a month." Ronald Pronk
Argentina owes foreign creditors, including the International Monetary Fund, more than 100 billion dollars (more than 90 million euros). About 35 percent of the population lives in poverty and 3.5 million Argentines are homeless. Last year, current President Mauricio Macri had to request another $ 57 billion in emergency aid from the International Monetary Fund.
The country chose a new course last month by not re-electing incumbent President Macri. The new president, Alberto Fernández, who will be appointed on December 10, must now help the economy to recover. Pronk is concerned about Chilean conditions, and hopes that the promise of the new government will be honored: the Fernández government will make it easier for small businesses.
"The huge group of people who have to make ends meet with money from the state has enough reason to take to the streets again. The flame can hit the pan any moment."
Accept Argentine mentality, otherwise you will go crazy
Back to the Netherlands not to experience the 'Chilean states' in the country: Pronk has thought about it. "But my wife does not have a European passport and we do not like the entire circus with integration."
His children do not speak Dutch, says Pronk, because he is not at home much. "I make days of fourteen hours - for example, I am now waiting for the meat supplier. He should have been there a long time. It is the mentality here, and I have to let go of the frustration about it. Otherwise you will be crazy. The Netherlands is just crazy "The end of the world, and I can't go back just like that. The air fares have risen enormously. But in December I will go to the Dutch embassy. Poffertjes baking."