Quintessential Dutch Food
My Grandmother on my mom's side was 100% Dutch, so I've always had an affinity for the Netherlands and Dutch culture in general. I mean what's not to like about windmills, fields of brightly colored tulips, and those adorable wooden clogs?
When I found out I'd be going to Amsterdam for another work trip, I decided I needed to research what types of food the Dutch are known for. This was an interesting one for me because most people can rattle off their top five favorite dishes from different countries, but when it comes to Dutch food, is it as familiar?
While doing my research, I definitely knew the Dutch were famous for their windmills and milkmaids, which meant lots of traditional Dutch Gouda, but what else was there to explore and taste? While I was there, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the delicious Dutch food I got to try. Here's a lit of some of the most popular food from the Netherlands and some that I loved discovering when I was there last summer. Enjoy!
Stroopwafels: Let's start out sweet shall we? When doing my research on the most popular Dutch foods to try, stroopwafels definitely came up over and over again. A stroopwafel is a very thin type of cookie (think of a waffle cone for an ice cream, but flattened out into cookie form), held together by a thin caramel sauce. They're usually made fresh right in front of you so the smell is amazing! Stroopwafels are all over the place in Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general, but my absolute favorite (and one of the most popular spots to try them) is Van Stapele Koekmakerij. This place is located right in downtown Amsterdam in a tiny shop full of the most delicious smelling sweets. Another terrific place is van Wonderen Stroopwafel, where you can get a classic stroopwafel or customize it, dipped in chocolate, nuts and all sorts of other goodies. Get one and savor the caramel that drips out of this thing after every bite!
Frites: First sweet, now savory. I have to say I'm not a huge french fry person because they're usually never crispy enough for me (I like them so well done they're almost a crispy chip), but when you get them fresh fried with all sorts of unique toppings, I'm in! Frites are the Dutch version of the french fry, which doesn't need much explanation, but in the Netherlands you'll find that they're similar to Belgian Frites, served in a paper cone, plain or with a variety of toppings. When I was there, I found a bench and went all in with a cone of my very own frites served with the famous satay peanut curry sauce and chopped onions-- definitely not my usual taste, but when in Amsterdam!
Poffertjes (little pancakes): Back to sweet! Poffertjes are probably one of the most famous of all the Dutch dishes. They're basically little pancakes that are cooked in a very unique iron skillet. You can also find these all over the Netherlands, but I liked getting them at the various outdoor markets where they're made fresh, right in front of you. In most places you can get all sorts of toppings like fruit and chocolate, but the classic way is to top these little poffertjes with lots of butter and powdered sugar, serve them on a paper plate, and devor with a little spork. Delicious!
Pannenkoeken: Speaking of pancakes, we have to mention the famous Dutch pancakes called pannenkoeken. These are different from poffertjes because they're usually much larger and thinner (sort of like a crepe) and are topped with all sorts of things that can make them savory or sweet. There are plenty of pancake houses all over the Netherlands, but if you're in Amsterdam you have to try the 'Upstairs Pancake House'. Take note, this place is TINY with only a few tables and is usually packed so plan accordingly for a wait. Also, prepare for a VERY steep climb up to the second story of the pancake house...
Drop (or black licorice): If you like salty and sweet, then you might like the Dutch version of licorice. The type of licorice I'm used to in the States is the red Twizzler kind, which isn't actually licorice. In the Netherlands, they go crazy for what they call 'Drop' or black licorice. Here, people consume more black licorice per person than any other country in the world. Drop comes in a lot of different shapes, sizes, and combinations but the most popular is salty or sweet licorice.
Bitterballen: This one was a first for me... Bitterballen is an appetizer-like food you can get at a bar while having a drink. I liken them to fried balls of sausage gravy because they're sort of like a scotch egg. You finely chop veal or beef, season with spices, dip in gravy, bread, and then deep fry. They're very tasty dipped in mustard and enjoyed with a pint or two of beer!
Jenever: Speaking of drinks, let's talk about one of the national drinks of the Netherlands, Jenever. Jenever is known as Dutch gin, which is a traditional juniper flavored liquor also found in Belgium and certain areas in France and Germany. Enjoy a glass in a classic 'brown bar' so called because of the old fashioned nature of these pubs with dark lighting, wood and smoke-stained wall ambiance.
Traditional Dutch Gouda or Kaas (Cheese): On to the cheese! I can't talk about quintessential Dutch food without spending some time on the Gouda. Pronounced 'howda' in the Netherlands, traditional Dutch gouda is a sweet, creamy, yellow cow's milk cheese and is one of the most popular cheeses worldwide. You can find gouda all throughout the Netherlands, with lots of cheese making classes and family farms that give tours of their small, handmade batches.
One of my favorite places to get Dutch gouda is Henri Willig. They have stores all over Amsterdam (even in the central train station) and specialize in so many different types and unique flavors of gouda like asparagus, fenugreek, red chili pepper, truffle, honey and thyme to name a few!
I also LOVED going to another store called Kaasland right in Amsterdam's city center. It's a small cheese shop that offers lots of traditional cheese but some really interesting flavors as well. The great thing about these shops is the sampling and also the fact that they will vacuum seal any cheese you buy so you can take it on a plane with you and bring home to enjoy later.
Surinamese Roti and Satay Sauce: We all know the history behind Dutch sailors and their exploration to places all over the world. One of the most explored, and frankly speaking, colonized places the Dutch were famous for is Indonesia. Indonesia has a long standing history with the Netherlands and so of course that's reflected in popular food we now see in there. One of the most famous types of fusion the Dutch brought back from Indonesia is the satay sauce. The satay sauce is another thing entirely, almost like a peanut sauce which the Dutch enjoy on everything you can imagine, but is particularly delicious on a hot pile of frites or with chicken or beef over rice. Think of replacing your typical ketchup or mayo with some satay sauce while in the Netherlands.
Food Walls at FEBO: This one is a truly unique treasure I found while I was in Amsterdam. FEBO is a chain, it's not fancy at all but it's so very different from any other type of food stand or restaurant you'll ever find. It's basically fast food burgers, chicken sandwiches and all sorts of little fried foods called 'kroket'. A kroket is basically a meat roll (although vegetarian krokets are also available), which is breaded, and then deep fried, sort of like a croquette.
What makes FEBO special is the fact that, yes you can order at the counter, by why do that when you can do self service by choosing your food from a wall! Yes, that's right, FEBO specializes in fast food that you choose by inserting coins into the wall, which then lets you open the food door, so you can grab and go. You'll find lots of burgers, sandwiches and other fried treats, so nothing special, but it's about the convenience and uniqueness of the experience that you don't usually see elsewhere. This is definitely an on the go food you get while walking around or after a night of drinking, but it's unique and fun to experience.
Herring: I'm a seafood lover through and through, it's probably one of my favorite types of food, so when I found out how popular herring was in the Netherlands I knew I had to try it. The only thing is that the herring is usually pickled or smoked, with raw versions I wasn't sure I'd necessarily like...I think pickled fish is usually somewhat controversial in that most people aren't huge fans, but in Northern Europe it's a favorite, where the raw herring is prepared in a preserving liquid of vinegar and spices, usually served alone or with chopped raw onions and pickles. They're usually eaten as a snack or on bread for something a bit hardier. And don't forget to eat them like a local, with toothpicks or held up by the tail, while you tilt your head back and throw it down the hatch! I loved going to Stubbe's Haring right in the city center on the water. There's basically a food stall where you can get your herring and eat standing up.
Appeltart: Back to the sweets! After you've had your fill of stroopwafels and pancakes of all sorts, you've got to have a slice of appeltart. The appeltart has been a part of Dutch culture since the middle ages. I don't think this needs much explanation right? Lots of apples covered in pastry and spices, served with a nice dollop of whipped cream, simple but perfect. You can find these tarts all over the city, and outdoor farmer's markets like I did OR you can go to Cafe Winkel, one of the most famous places for a slice of appeltart, but be prepared for a wait during peak hours.
Rijsttafel: Ok, I saved one of the best for last, the amazing Indonesian Rijsttafel, which literally translates to "rice table". A Rijsttafel is a terrific way to celebrate and get a group together for a delicious meal. It usually includes lots of small dishes that each person selects from. Each rijsttafel is different and varies according to the restaurant and chef, but most include up to 25 little dishes which always include rice, noodles and things like cooked vegetables with peanut sauce, banana fritters, marinated hard boiled eggs in sauce and other mixed vegetables in coconut milk to name a few. There's also usually some atjar tjampoer (Indonesian pickles to cool down), grated cocounut, and other sauces and condiments to overwhelm the senses! This is such a party of flavors and dishes that vary but are oh so tasty and such a fun way to share a meal with a group of friends.
There are some terrific places all over the Netherlands to try these quintessential Dutch foods, but I always love a food hall or outdoor farmer's market to really sample as much as I can. Here are a few places that I loved trying within Amsterdam that are a great way to try as many of these Dutch foods as possible.
1) Albert Cuypmarkt: The Albert Cuypmarkt is just east of museum square, so it's a good place to go if you want to have a museum day and visit the Rijksmueum before or afterward. It's open most days (except Sunday) and is one of the most popular venues with almost 300 stalls that sell everything from cheese, produce, herring, poffertjes and stroopwafels to name a few.
2) Foodhallen: This is a hip space with lots of different food stalls that offer not only traditional Dutch food, but also international cuisine like dumplings and tacos and standards like burgers and hot dogs.
3) Noordemarkt: The Noordermarkt is in the Jordaan area, which is a super trendy neighborhood in the heart of Amsterdam. You definitely should plan some time to walk around this neighborhood and find the different farmer's market's on Saturdays. The Heineken brewery is also pretty close to this area if you're so inclined!
4) Nieuwmarkt: And finally the Nieuwmarkt is another great place for farmer's markets that offer terrific, unusual cheeses, and other baked goods.
As always, I hope this post got you inspired to explore places outside your comfort zone and give you a taste of some of the typical foods you'll find in the Netherlands.
Enjoy and Bon Appetit!