The best of what to eat in Amsterdam
Dutch food has always been a secret pleasure of mine. Growing up one of my best friends was Dutch and we always managed to try new and exciting dishes at her house. I grew up with a terrible cook (my mother) who even micro-waved the Christmas dinner. From oliebollen to Bami and Nasi my introduction to the world of Dutch food was a revelation in flavour.
Later on but a long time ago my friend and I went to Amsterdam together and we got to experience all the treats her family had been serving for years. We wandered the streets of Amsterdam eating anything and everything we could find. A few of those things stick with me today and I can’t resist a sign for Indonesian foods or a Bitterballen.
Dutch food has never taken the world by storm and traditional Dutch food is pretty mainstream as in meat, potato and veg. Like any other peasant cuisine the staples of Dutch food are based on things likes stews and casseroles. What the Dutch did excel at was finding the spice routes to the Far East.
Everybody studied the Dutch East India Company in history. It traded with India and countries in Indonesia bringing back a world of new spices and herbs to Holland. This was also when the Dutch began their life long love affair with hot pastes like Sambal Olek and Indonesian Rice Tables.
Traditional Dutch Foods to eat in Amsterdam
Haring or ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ (Dutch new herring) is one of the basic foods in the Netherlands, almost everybody eats this as a snack. However, I find personally that it is an acquired taste. The herring is served raw with onions, and pickles. Herring can only be called ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ if the fish is caught between the months of May to July. The preparation is pretty specific and must be done according to Dutch tradition. The herring is cleaned, the head is removed and it is preserved in a special way (with salt).
Probably one of the most famous of Dutch treats. The Stroopwafel is a thin pastry or biscuit that it sliced into two pieces. It is then drizzed with the “stroop” or caramel syrup and sandwiched together. Best eaten warm these days you can find Stroopwafels sold all over Amsterdam they are sometimes dipped in chocolate and then the chocolate edge is coated in marshamallows, salted caramel, chocolate chips or any other dip of your choice.
The most famous place to buy Stroopwafels is in the Albert Cuyp Market – you can’t miss the stall you will see the line up for miles.
Dutch Croquettes or Krokets
This was my Dutch friends favourite snack she dreamed of being in Amsterdam and eating croquettes.
The ‘kroket’ is essentially a deep fried meat roll, covered in breadcrumbs. The original Dutch ‘kroket’ is made from beef or veal, but these days there are many different flavors like chicken satay, shrimps, goulash or even a vegetarian ‘kroket’.
In Amsterdam you can buy krokets anywhere even McDonald’s has a version. The most common place to buy them is from a street vendor or a Febo. A Febo is a walk in snack bar with vending machines there are three locations in Amsterdam where you can find these You can eat a ‘kroket’ as a snack, but most of the time they are served on sliced white bread or hamburger buns with mustard on the side.
Stamppot is very traditional Dutch dish. Similar to Colcannon in Ireland it is mashed potatoes mixed with cooked vegetables. Traditionally Stamppot was made with kale but it can be made with any in season vegetable like carrots, spinach, endive. It is topped with sauerkraut and a traditional ‘rookworst’ sausage. It is available in many Dutch restaurants and there even is a small company in Amsterdam called “Stamppotje”, serving only Stamppot.
We were reliably informed by a local that the best place to eat Stamppot was at Cafe Sonneveld which is in the Jordaan district across from Westerkirk. Oh and they were right it was excellent.
Bitterballen appear to be the most popular snack in Amsterdam and mainly consumed with some of the best beer in the world. It is similar to Krokets but in a tiny meatball shaped size. There are rolled in crunchy breadcrumbs and deep fried. They are immensely tasty when dipped in mustard and I can see the reason the Dutch are addicted to these little tasty morsels.
Who doesn’t like piping hot chips or French fries from hand cut potatoes? Then these steaming hot chips are served in a cone with a vast selection of sauces to choose from. Heavenly Dutch Street Food. The Dutch call them: ‘Friet’, ‘Frites’, ‘Patat’ or ‘Vlaamse frieten’.
These chips are cut quite thick (apparently Belgian style). The most popular sauce is called patatje oorlog or fries at war this is a combination of toppings including mayonnaise, raw onions and a peanut satay sauce. You can get curry sauces, hot sauces with sambal olek and my personal favourite a truffle mayo. That foodie memory of walking the streets of Amsterdam with my frite cone will stay with me forever.
My best friends mum used to make these at special occasions and I always managed to be at their house for those special occasions. Oiliebollen are a sort of deep fried round ball of doughy goodness similar to a donut. These special donuts were traditionally served on New Year’s Eve coated in powdered sugar. My friends mum made two kinds a plan one and one with raisins, sultanas and currants. Licking the powdered sugar off your fingers was such a treat.
Poffertjes are a little pancake, almost. They are puffier and fluffier and sit in a pile coated with powdered sugar. They are a yeast based type of pancake but made with buckwheat. They are usually served with butter and powdered sugar but you can add strawberries and whipped cream or syrup if you like. A decadent treat to be nibbled on when walking through one of the markets in Amsterdam.
At my Dutch friends house when I was a kid they had chocolate on toast for breakfast, can you imagine it? This was unheard of in Canada but oh what a treat. Hagelslag is basically chocolate sprinkles on hot toast or in a sandwich. What a treat chocolate for breakfast its enough to make you run to Amsterdam or at least a Dutch store near you. Apparently hagelslag also comes in an anise flavour or fruit flavoured – personally I feel you need to stick with the familiar chocolate.
Erwtensoep or Snert
This is a deeply satisfying bowl of split pea soup that you can turn your spoon upside down and the soup hangs on. Made with split peas, celery, carrots, pork, leeks and occasionally potatoes are added. In the winter months slices of smoked sausage are added and the soup is served with a rye bread and Dutch bacon. A truly warming hearty Dutch favourite.
Not my favourite but all my Dutch Canadian friends considered Drop a true treat. This is a really strong licorice which comes salty or sweet. It is incredibly strong and most of the Dutch friends I know eat the salty version.
What is Rijsttafel?
A Rijsttafel is an Indonesian rice table which basically means a dozen or more small dishes of different Indonesian foods. Traditionally served with a basmati rice you help yourself to any the dishes you fancy and dig in. It consists of rice with many small dishes of spiced vegetables and meats.
Essentially, rijsttafel allows you to sample regional dishes from Indonesia brought home to the Netherlands from Indonesia. The main basis is the rice and then you get a selection of small appetizer sized dishes which include seafood, beef, satays, vegetables and so much more. It is an absolute burst of flavours. From lemon grass to hot peppers and peanuts your rijstaffel is not cheap but it is immensely flavourful.
My favourite rijsttafel dishes
Bami are thin egg noodles that are stir fried with with garlic, onion, meats (my Dutch friends always used good ham), vegetables, egg and chili. In Canada my friends served it with a fried egg on top.
This is basically a fried rice dish with a totally different flavour to a Chinese stir fried rice. It includes a caramelized sweet soy sauce called Ketjap Manis which adds a very distinctive flavour. It also includes powdered shrimp pastem meat (usually chicken or pork) the flavour is quite distinctive and it is much stronger in taste than a bland fried rice.
Ekkerbekje / Kibbeling
Sort of a Dutch fish and chips without the chips. Lekkerbekje and Kibbeling are battered and deep fried white fish usually cod or whiting. Kibbeling is cut into chunks and lekkerbekje isn’t. They are served with mayonnaise based sauces kind of like tartar sauce or garlic sauce. This is sold in any of the street markets in Amsterdam.
Dutch pancakes or Pannenkoeken are sold everywhere. They are larger and thinner than North American pancakes but not quite as thin as a crepe. In Amsterdam they are commonly eaten for dinner and are more akin to an American style pizza with savoury toppings instead of sweet ones.
For a sweeter touch Dutch pancakes are often eaten with a sugar syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar. A brilliant way to try out the Dutch Pannenkoeken is on the Pannenkoeken boat cruise. All the pancakes you can eat and a tour of the canals in Amsterdam who could refuse?
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Netherlands without trying some cheese or visiting any of the dozens of cheese museums dotted around the city. The Dutch have been making cheese for over 1600 years and after all that time they have become pretty good at it. You can get your fill of cheese in a day by simply walking into any cheese shop (trust me there are lots of them) and tasting your way through samples of some of the best Edams and Goudas you have ever had.
Cheese-making in the Netherlands is a high art and deeply embedded in the culture of the Dutch. There are cheese markets all over the Netherlands and traditional cheese markets are held regularly in Alkmaar, Gouda, Edam and Woerden.
It also wouldn’t be a complete guide to food in Amsterdam unless I mentioned the beer. Dutch beer is excellent and there is a huge variety of beers locally brewed to choose from
We went to a local brewery rightly famous for their brews and the brewey itself is located right next to the only windmill that remains in Amsterdam. Brouwerijhetij has been brewing its artisanal beers in Amsterdam since 1985. They have a fantastic range of beers from ones regularly on the menu to those specialty beers created for events and happening throughout the Netherlands.
For those folks who are vegetarian or vegan Amsterdam there are some great options but have a read of Soumya’s piece on her blog about looking for vegetarian food in Amsterdam
There you have it 15 of my top Dutch food favourites and of course some great locally brewed beer.
What’s your favourite Dutch food?
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