What to eat in the Netherlands
Snacks & candy
- Bitterbal (a round ball of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), served in bars as snacks with drinks and usually arrive in groups of at least five or as part of a bittergarnituur, always with mustard. Be sure to try these, Dutch people love them.
- Bittergarnituur, a plate containing different warm and cold snacks, like blocks of cheese, slices of sausage, bitterballen, perhaps something like chicken nuggets or mini spring rolls, and mustard or chili sauce for dipping. One usually orders a bittergarnituur along with (alcoholic) drinks, from which the name of the dish is derived (translated to English “bitterganituur” would become “Dutch gin garnish”).
- Poffertjes are small slightly risen pancakes with butter and powdered sugar. Eat them in poffertjeshuizen or at a fair.
- Syrup waffle (Stroopwafel). Two thin layers with syrup in between. Available packaged from any supermarket or made fresh on most street markets and specialized stalls.
- Unadorned chocolate bars (Pure chocolade).
- Limburgse vlaai (predominantly in the Southern Netherlands), dozens of kinds of cold sweet pie, usually with a fruit topping.
- Liquorice (drop) is something you love or hate, you can buy all kinds of varieties. You can get it from sweet to extremely salty (double salt) and in a hard or soft bite.
- Tompouce (a mille-feuille or Napolean), sold in most bakeries.
- Nonnenvotten (a Limburgish braided doughnut sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Usually seasonal in the winter).
- Kruidnoten taste like a small cookie and are is originated from the ‘Sinterklaas’ tradition. Available in supermarkets, bakeries and other candy selling stores from September until the fifth of December. Try the other Sinterklaas candy as well, such as Pepernoten or taai-taai.
- Oliebollen are deep fried dough balls, that are sold at bakeries and street stalls in the last weeks of December (because it’s a New Year’s Eve tradition). At most fairs it’s being sold as well throughout the year.
Breakfast or Lunch
A typical Dutch breakfast or lunch is a simple slice of bread or bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese or ham with a glass of milk or a Dutch coffee (dark, high caffeine grounds, traditionally brewed). The following typical Dutch products are often placed on the bread roll:
- Dutch cheese is particularly famous, especially Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer, Maaslander and Maasdam.
- Chocolate spread (like Nutella).
- Dutch peanut butter which is considerably different from e.g. US peanut butter. Dutch peanut butter is also the basis for Dutch Indonesian or ‘Indo’ saté (satay) sauce which also contains lots of Asian herbs and spices.
- Chocolate sprinkles (Hagelslag), sprinkled on top of buttered slices of bread (much like jam). If you want to be adventures: try a slice of bread with Dutch peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles.
- Kroket (a round roll of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried) served in a bread roll (broodje kroket) as lunch; best spiced up with mustard (not mandatory, though).
A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side.
- Raw herring (haring), this is actually cured in salt. It’s available both from ubiquitous herring stands and fancy restaurants, usually served with chopped onion and occasionally even plopped into a bun to make broodje haring. A new herring (Hollandse Nieuwe) is a special treat available around June.
- Mosselpan (mussels), boiled with vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, leek and different spices and herbs) and eaten with cold dip (garlic, cocktail). It’s cooked and served in a big dark pot. Usually only eaten between May and July.
- Pea soup (erwtensoep or snert), made of green peas and smoked sausage. Can be very hearty and a meal itself if there are enough potatoes and other veggies mixed in.
- Kroket (a round roll of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), is the most typical Dutch street snack. You can buy them at any snackbar or frituur and at several places you can buy them from a vending machine built in the wall. Also served with French fries (which you should try with mayonnaise!) on the side as a regular street meal (friet met met een kroket).
- By ordering a Kapsalon you will get a big meal (1800 kcal) containing French fries covered with döner or shawarma meat, grilled with a layer of Gouda cheese until melted and then subsequently covered with a layer of dressed salad greens. The term kapsalon literally means, “Barbershop” in Dutch, alluding to one of the inventors of the dish. This meal is sold in döner restaurants and most of the snackbars.
- Borecole mash pot (boerenkool), mashed potatoes with borecole (kale), often served with a sausage or ‘rookworst’. Most locals only eat this during the winter.
- Asperges Flamandes. White asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, ham, crumbled hard-boiled egg and served with boiled new potatoes. Highly seasonal and usually only eaten between spring and summer.
- Dutch Sauerkraut (zuurkool), mashed potatoes with sauerkraut.
- Hotch-potch (hutspot), mashed potatoes with onions & carrots. Served with slowly cooked meats or sausage.
- Stoofvlees is the slowly cooked meat eaten with hutspot.
- Endive mashed pot (stamppot andijvie), potatoes mashed with endive and bacon.
- Rookworst (literally “smoked sausage”), available to go from HEMA department store outlets, but also widely available in supermarkets. Best served on a bread bun or as a dish with mash pot such as Borecole, Hotch-Potch, Endive or Sauerkraut mash pot.
- Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken), which are either sweet (zoet) or savoury (hartig) in variety of tastes, like apple, syrup, cheese, bacon etc. Eat them in pancake houses (pannenkoekenhuizen)
- Food from former colonies like Indonesia and Suriname. Many traditional dished from these countries have become part of the Dutch kitchen or even staple foods.
As Dutch people usually eat Dutch food at home, most restaurants specialize in something other than local fare. Every medium-sized town has its own Chinese/Indonesian restaurant, often abbreviated as Chin./Ind. restaurant, where you can eat a combination of Chinese and Indonesian dishes. Usually you get a lot of food for a small amount of money. Do not expect authentic Chinese or Indonesian cuisine though, the taste has been adapted for Dutch citizens. These restaurants have been influenced by the Dutch East Indies (currently Indonesia) from when they were a colony of the Netherlands. Typical dishes are fried rice (Indonesian: nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and prawn crackers (kroepoek). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rice table (rijsttafel), which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of them have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices.
Besides Chinese/Indonesian, the bigger cities offer a good choice of restaurants with Middle Eastern cuisine for a bargain price. Popular dishes are shawarma (shoarma), lahmacun (often called Turkish pizza) and falafel. The Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinam and Thai cuisines are also well-represented in the Netherlands.
Modern Dutch restaurants serve good quality food and are relatively expensive compared with surrounding countries. Most of the time, profit is made from the drinks and the desert, so be careful ordering those if you are on a budget. In the Netherlands, going to a restaurant is generally not seen as a quick way to eat food, but as a special night out with friends or family, which can take a couple of hours. Service fees and taxes are included in the menu prices. Tipping is not mandatory and seen as a sign of appreciation, not as means to make up a tiny salary. In case you do want to tip as a rule of thumb rounding up to the next Euro is normal or 10 percent.
Since 1 July 2008, smoking has been banned in all restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is allowed only in separate, enclosed, designated smoking areas in which employees are not allowed to serve. Staff may enter such smoking rooms only in emergency situations.
In restaurants the portions of food are not big, because usually people eat 3 dishes (starter, main, dessert). Drinks are served in small glasses and there are no free refills.
In town centres, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar, sometimes known as frituur or cafeteria. These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch expats miss them the most when going abroad. The popular Febo chain’s outlets are basically giant vending machines, just slot in a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice.
The most popular snack is French fries, known as patat in most of the country and as friet in the Southern Netherlands. The “standard” way is to order them with mayonnaise (patat met), although the local mayo is not the same as you’d get in France or most of the rest of the world: it is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy. Other sauces are tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, tastes more like ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), cut raw onions (uitjes), special (speciaal, a combination of mayonnaise, curry ketchup and optionally cut raw onions) and war (oorlog, a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and optionally with cut raw onions).
The following fried snacks are considered typical for the country as well:
- Croquette (‘kroket’), a crispy roll filled with ragout. Can be ordered on bread as well.
- Frikandel, a long, skinless and dark-coloured sausage, kind of like a minced-meat hot dog. Can be ordered on bread, or as speciaal (with mayonnaise, curry ketchup and cut raw onions).
- Kaassoufflé, cheese snack popular with vegetarians, can also be served on bread.
- Bear’s claw (berenklauw), often called bear’s snack (berenhap) or bear’s dick (berenlul), is a sliced meatball with fried onion rings on a wooden skewer, often served with peanut sauce (pindasaus).
Vegetarians should not have any major trouble. 4.5 percent of the Dutch population is vegetarian and most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option on their menus or can make you one if you ask for it. Most supermarkets sell vegetarian products or even have a part of their supermarket dedicated to vegetarian products. It is advisable to specifically mention what you do and do not eat (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) as not everyone has the same definition of vegetarianism. Finding a vegetarian option in a fast food restaurant might provide more of a challenge. Chip shops that sell veggie burgers are the exception rather than the rule; chips and kaassoufflés are often the only options.