When you’re travelling to foreign countries, part of the experience is of course eating local food. So what are typically Dutch meals and ingredients? Where can you best eat them? In this blog I will delve into Dutch food classics and help you on your way in your quest for Dutch food.
Let me begin by saying that Dutch meals are not what you call fine cuisine. This video, made by someone who teaches Dutch to foreigners, says it all. Yes, sorry guys, but you don’t come to Holland for the native cuisine.
ON THE MENU:
A classic Dutch meal | Stamppot and hutspot | Erwtensoep
Raw herring | Mussels | Kibbeling and other fried fish
Pancakes | Poffertjes
Stroopwafels | Drop
Bitterballen | Fries with mayonaise
Is there anything else on the menu? (spoiler: yes, there is!)
A classic Dutch meal
Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s Dutch people generally ate a simple dinner which consisted of 4 elements: boiled potatoes, boiled veggies, meat and gravy. From the 1970’s onward, meals gradually became a bit more adventurous. We have immigrants to thank for that. And later on: cooking shows on the TV.
Having said that, the holy trinity of potatoes, veggies and meat is still going strong, especially with older people and in more traditional families. Mind, this is the kind of food that Dutch people eat at home, not what they expect to eat in a restaurant.
Stamppot & hutspot
A variety of the classic trinity of Dutch cuisine is a dish called stamppot. Stamppot is a classic Dutch dish. In this dish the 3 ingredients of your typical Dutch meal are mashed together. Mashed potatoes mixed with mashed vegetables, combined with a (smoked) sausage or meat. Oh, don’t forget the gravy!
To specify what kind of stamppot you’re having just add the name of the vegetable. For example ‘stamppot andijvie’ is mashed potatoes with endive and ‘stamppot zuurkool‘ is mashed potatoes with sauerkraut. Hutspot is the name for a stamppot of potato, carrot and onion.
Erwtensoep is another classic Dutch meal. This pea soup reminds one a bit of a stamppot in the sense that in this soup a lot of ingredients are mashed together as well. Erwtensoep is eaten as a meal, not as a starter. It’s an extremely filling soup. It should be so thick that if you put a spoon in it, it will keep standing.
Erwtensoep is the kind of meal that Dutch people would typically eat on a cold winters’ day. Usually it contains celeriac, leeks, onion, potato and parsley next to of course peas. Erwtensoep often contains meat as well: beef or pork chops, bacon and a smoky sausage. There are vegetarian takes on the dish, be sure to ask when you order erwtensoep in a restaurant.
Where to eat stamppot, hutspot or erwtensoep?
Dutch people wouldn’t normally expect to eat stamppot or erwtensoep in a restaurant, unless it’s a very special and modern take on the dish. However, tourist restaurants often serve it especially for tourists as an example of Dutch food. Examples of these restaurants:
If you’re staying in an apartment, you could buy a readymade stamppot in a supermarket and heat it up in the microwave or oven. It’s a quick and filling kind of meal for a cold day.
Dutch fish dishes
As a coastal nation, you might expect the Dutch to eat a lot of seafood and fish. Strangely though, consumption of meat is a lot higher, about 6 times as high as the consumption of fish. Still, the following dishes are considered classical Dutch food:
The most famous of the Dutch fish dishes, especially among foreign visitors, is raw herring. It’s more of a snack really. The head, bones, intestines and skin of the herring are removed before you eat it. You’re supposed to eat raw herring by holding the fish by the tail, above your head and take bites of it working your way upward. Raw herring is typically served with chunks of raw onion.
Raw herring is the kind of dish you either love or hate, and let me tell you this: many Dutch people don’t like it at all. Recent research showed that herring is not at all popular among young Dutch people specifically.
Where to eat herring in Holland?
If you’d like to eat a raw herring, remember: it’s raw, so go as close to the source as possible. For example to the harbor of Scheveningen. They even have a yearly herring party there when the new fishing season starts. Another good place to try herring is at the fish stall of any local market.
Though Belgium is more famous for its mussels, many Dutch people consider them a delicacy as well. Usually they’re cooked or steamed, sometimes fried. The mussel season starts in July and ends in April.
Where to eat mussels in Holland?
The province of Zeeland is the place to be for mussels, as they are cultivated there. A lesser known area of mussel cultivation is the Waddenzee, the sea north of the Dutch mainland and south of the Wadden islands. As Holland is a small country and transport is quick, you can safely eat mussels at any location in the Netherlands. Do pay attention to broken and closed shells. With this kind of food never eat it when you’re in doubt about the quality. Bad mussels can waste your holidays!
Kibbeling and other battered & fried fish
Kibbeling in its original form is battered and fried cod. It’s served with a sauce. Some fish shops use cheaper fish. The Dutch don’t consider kibbeling a full meal, rather a snack or a lunch. It’s quite greasy and certainly not the kind of food Dutch people eat on a daily basis. It’s a bit of a treat really. The same goes for other battered fish such as lekkerbek (fried hake filet), scholfilet (fried plaice filet) or gebakken mosselen (fried mussels).
Where to eat kibbeling or fried fish in Holland?
The best place to eat this kind of food is at the fish stand of a local market. Order your fish and eat it standing, with the locals. The best kibbeling that I ever had was the kibbeling of Haringkraam Buitenhof in The Hague. They’re an independent fish stall and they’re open every day. Don’t miss it if you’re in The Hague!
Cheese is an important export product for the Netherlands. It has become a bit of a symbol for Holland, internationally. Contrary to some of the other products on this page, cheese is popular among most Dutch people. They will usually eat it sliced, on a sandwich. A broodje kaas (cheese sandwich) is a common breakfast or lunch for the Dutch. Other ways to eat it would be:
- on a toasted sandwich (as a tosti)
- on a pancake
- as a fondue (“kaasfondue“; often Swiss and French cheeses are used for the fondue as well)
- cubes of cheese with mustard are a traditional snack to go with beer or wine
When you buy cheese you may notice that there are many brands. Most taste more or less similar. The main difference between the cheeses is in maturation. Jonge kaas (young cheese) has matured for about 4 weeks and has a much softer taste than belegen kaas or oude kaas. The more mature the cheese, the saltier, harder and more expensive it gets.
Where to buy cheese in Holland?
As Dutch people eat so much cheese, you can buy it almost anywhere, in any supermarket, cheese shop or at any market. Be aware of cheese shops that cater especially to tourists. You’ll probably end up paying much more in these places.
Dutch sweets and children’s food
It’s the favorite food of many Dutch children: pancakes. Preferably with some sugar or sweet syrup. Their parents may enjoy the savory version more: pancakes with cheese or bacon for example. This is of course not a healthy meal, rather a treat. In pancake restaurants they may serve pancakes with all kind of different toppings, both sweet and savory. Sometimes they look almost like pizzas!
Also a treat, and a dish that you need a special pan for: poffertjes, puffy miniature pancakes. Traditionally a plate of poffertjes is served with icing sugar and butter. Poffertjes is the kind of Dutch food that you will find at a fair. It’s popular with children. Adults may eat them too for melancholic reasons.
Where to eat Dutch pancakes and poffertjes?
For pancakes, search for a pancake restaurant near where you’re staying. Most Dutch towns have at least one pancake restaurant. They cater mostly for children and their families, and for tourists. This is not at all what Dutch people would eat if they go out for a romantic dinner!
Looking for poffertjes? You may find them on the menu in pancake restaurants, or at fairs. I know there are some restaurants specialized in poffertjes. Be aware that contrary to pancakes, poffertjes are not a full meal. You could consider having them for lunch. It’s food that makes you happy when you eat it, and that you’ll regret later… It’s not a healthy choice!
Stroopwafels are thin crispy waffles filled with a thick syrup in between. The smell of a fresh stroopwafel is irresistible to many Dutch people, that’s why you’ll often find stroopwafel stalls on markets. It’s a cookie, that is best eaten accompanied by a cup of coffee or tea. You can buy stroopwafels in any supermarket.
Licorice, you either hate it or love it. Many Dutch people love it. I guess you have to grow up with it to appreciate it. There are many different kinds of licorice (in Dutch: drop). The main difference is between sweet and salty licorice. If you really want to go for it buy both. Look for zoete drop (sweet) and zoute drop (salty) in any Dutch supermarket.
Snackbars are among the most popular Dutch restaurants. There are thousands of them all across the country. Most Dutch people just order their fried food there and then eat it at home. Think of French fries and fried meat. This kind of place is popular among those who’ve been out drinking (too much) alcohol as well. It’s just filling of the stomach, but a couple of dishes stand out:
Bitterballen are small ball-shaped croquettes, filled with a meat ragout. They are often served in bars, to accompany drinks. Beer and bitterballen are a famous combination, and most pubs will serve them. Be careful when you eat them: the inside is much hotter than the outside! The standard bitterbal contains meat. Some bars may serve vegetarian bitterballen, but those are not so common.
Fries with mayonaise
OK, there is not much particularly Dutch about fries. I mention fries here anyway because Dutch people eat their fries with mayonaise, and this seems to be a weird thing to foreigners. Except for Belgians by the way. To Dutch people, having fries with ketchup is equally weird. So if you want ketchup to go with your fries, ask for it. In areas with a lot of tourists staff of restaurants will be used to silly foreigners who want to have ketchup with their fries. Outside of the tourist zones restaurant staff may think you are crazy, but they will give you the ketchup anyway, if that’s what you want.
When you order fries in a snackbar you’ll generally have more options. Apart from mayonaise, you can choose saté sauce (Indonesian peanut sauce) or a patatje oorlog (literally: war fries) that will come with a combination of saté sauce, mayonaise and raw onions. I know. It’s weird.This will taste so much better after a couple of beers…
Can I eat other food than Dutch food in restaurants?
Yes! It’s good to know that most restaurants in Holland won’t serve you typically Dutch food. Dutch people don’t go out for dinner that often. If they do, they prefer food that they wouldn’t prepare at home.
Fancy restaurants usually serve French style food. Next to that, there are a lot of restaurants serving foreign food. There are many migrant communities in Holland that all brought their own cuisine with them. The most notable examples are Indonesian and Surinamese restaurants. Modern Dutch chefs are into fusion, mixing Asian and European styles of cooking. A recent trend is the use of locally produced ingredients