Food in Netherlands
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, because it is simple and uncomplicated. A classic Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and a separate vegetable. The country’s food culture is rather rustic. The country’s high-carbohydrate, high-fat food culture reflects the dietary needs of agricultural workers, but as society has evolved towards the service sector, the food culture has remained largely unchanged. The Dutch national dish is stamppot, mashed potatoes with one or more vegetables. The version with endive and bacon is considered the most traditional. Hutspot is a variety based on carrots and onions.
Dutch cuisine varies greatly from region to region. The western cuisine is known for its many dairy products, including famous cheeses such as Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer and Beemster. Being a coastal region, the seafood culture is mainly represented by raw herring (haring), usually served with chopped onions and sometimes pressed into a bun (broodje haring). The cuisine of the north-east is meat-oriented, as there is relatively little agriculture in this region. Metworst, a dry sausage, is particularly appreciated for its strong flavour, and Gelderse rookworst, a traditional smoked sausage, has become a national institution and is often served with stamppot.
The cuisine of the south is historically influenced by the Dukes of Burgundy, who ruled over the Netherlands in the Middle Ages and were known for their splendour and great feasts. It is therefore famous for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes. It is the only Dutch region to have developed haute cuisine, which forms the basis of most traditional Dutch restaurants. Typical main dishes are biefstuk, varkenshaas and ossenhaas, prime cuts of pork or beef.
The Dutch are generally not proud of their cuisine, but praise their specialities and delicacies. Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken), which are either sweet (zoet) or savoury (hartig), come in a variety of flavours such as apple, syrup, cheese, bacon, etc. Poffertjes are small pancakes lightly leavened with butter and icing sugar. Both are served in specially designated restaurants. Syrup wafers (stroopwafels), two thin layers with syrup in between, are made fresh at most street markets and specialised stalls.
Sandwiches are eaten for breakfast and lunch. Chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) on buttered slices of bread are a popular start to the day in the Netherlands. Although eating habits are changing, a simple buttered roll with a slice of cheese or ham is still the daily breakfast for the majority of Dutch people. Dutch peanut butter is very different from the American variety. As it is less common to eat hot dishes at lunchtime, many restaurants offer a limited lunch menu. In small towns outside the main tourist areas, you may even find restaurants that are closed at lunchtime.
Some food traditions are seasonal. Pea soup (erwtensoep) is a winter dish consisting of green peas and a smoked sausage. It is very hearty and is often eaten after skating. Oliebollen are traditional Dutch dumplings eaten on New Year’s Eve. Flemish asparagus is white asparagus with a hollandaise sauce, ham, crumbled hard-boiled eggs and served with boiled new potatoes. They are very seasonal and are usually only eaten between spring and summer.
Restaurants in the Netherlands serve good food and are relatively expensive compared to neighbouring countries. Drinks and desserts are often lucrative, so be sure to order them if you have a limited budget. Service charges and taxes are included in menu prices. Tipping is not obligatory and is considered a sign of appreciation, not compensation for a measly salary. If you wish to tip, it is already acceptable to round up to the nearest euro for small amounts, and a tip of 5-10% is customary for large amounts. A 10% tip is generally considered generous, especially for a restaurant bill. A visit to a restaurant is usually considered a special evening out with friends or family, not a quick way to eat. A dinner with Dutch people, for example, can last a few hours.
Smoking is prohibited in all restaurants, cafés, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is only permitted outdoors or in segregated, enclosed, designated smoking areas where staff are not permitted to serve. Staff may only enter these smoking areas in emergencies.
Dutch food is not very popular, so most restaurants specialise in foreign cuisines, and the big cities offer a wide choice. Middle Eastern cuisine is easily accessible even in small towns and is often offered at a good price. The most popular dishes are shawarma (shoarma), lahmacun (often called “Turkish pizza”) and falafel. Due to the colonial ties of the Netherlands with Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies), most small and medium-sized towns also have a Chinese-Indian restaurant serving Chinese and Indonesian dishes. There is usually a lot of food for little money. However, don’t expect authentic Chinese or Indonesian cuisine, because the food has been adapted to the taste of the Dutch. Typical dishes are fried rice (nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and crab crackers (kroepoek). One suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rijsttafel, which is a combination of several small East Indian dishes, similar to the Indonesian nasi padang. Most of these restaurants have a lounge area and a separate counter for discounted takeaway food.
Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinamese and Thai cuisine is also well represented throughout the country. Most restaurants have at least one vegetarian dish on the menu or can prepare one for you if you wish.
In city centres, near public transport stops or even in quieter areas, you will find a snack bar, sometimes called a cafeteria. These takeaways are almost the opposite of haute cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical of the country and they are the ones Dutch expats miss the most when they go abroad. Popular chain shops have huge vending machines attached to their shops (automatiek). All you have to do is deposit a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice.
The most popular snack is the French fries, known as patat in most of the country and friet in the south. They are usually ordered with mayonnaise (patat met), although the local mayonnaise is not the same as that in France or the rest of the world. It is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, but is just as unhealthy. Other options are tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, it tastes more like tomato ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), raw chopped onions (uitjes), speciaal (mayonnaise, curry ketchup and raw chopped onions) and oorlog (‘war’, a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and raw chopped onions).
Other fried snacks are also considered typical of the country. A croquette (kroket) is a crispy roll filled with stew. It is served with mustard and can also be ordered on bread. Famous are the Amsterdam croquettes from Van Dobben and Kwekkeboom. Both companies have their own cafeteria near Rembrandtplein. A frikandel is a long, dark, skinless sausage, similar to a hot dog with minced meat. It can be ordered on bread, or retail (with mayonnaise, curry ketchup and chopped raw onions). A berenklauw (“bear claw”) or berenhap (“bear snack”) is a sliced meatball with fried onions on a wooden skewer, often served with a peanut sauce. Finally, kaassoufflé is a cheese snack popular with vegetarians that can also be served on bread.
Drinks in Netherlands
Coffee and tea
The Dutch are among the biggest coffee drinkers in the world, and it’s almost obligatory to have a cup when you come to visit. One of the first questions people ask when they walk through the door is often “Koffie? “. Traditionally, the drink is served in small cups (half a cup) with a single biscuit. But some guests are also treated to one of the country’s typical pastries, such as a tompouce, a Limburgse vlaai or a piece of Dutch-style apple pie.
Dutch coffee is usually quite strong and weighs down the stomach. If you come from the United States or Canada, you can order a cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order koffie verkeerd (which means “bad coffee”), you will get a cup that is more or less half milk and half coffee, like the French “café au lait” or the Italian “caffe latte”.
The Dutch drink black tea and there are many varieties, from traditional to fruit tea, etc. Fortunately, if you are British, the tea bag is served with a cup of hot (but never boiling) water, so you can make your own version. Tea with milk is almost unheard of and is only given to children.
Hot chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in the Netherlands. It really fills you up after a cold walk. In summer you can also find it in all the good bars, but sometimes it’s made from powder, as opposed to regular chocolate (normal chocolate that’s melted and mixed with hot milk), and it doesn’t taste as good.
The legal drinking age in the Netherlands is 18 for all alcoholic beverages. There used to be a distinction between light and strong alcoholic drinks, with people aged 16 allowed to drink light alcoholic drinks (up to 15% alcohol by volume), but no more.
The Dutch have a strong beer culture. Heineken is one of the most famous beers in the world, but it is only one of the many brands that exist in the Netherlands. You can get all kinds of beers, from white beer to dark beer. The most famous brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel, etc. There is some regional variety in the beers you will find. Heineken or Amstel is served in the western provinces, Bavaria or Dommelsch in Brabant, Brand in Limburg, and Grolsch in Gelderland and Overijssel. Nowadays, most breweries also produce a non-alcoholic version of their beers.
Besides the usual Pils, try the Dutch wheat beer (Witbier), which is flavoured with a spice mixture called gruit and therefore tastes different from the better-known Pilsen varieties. There are also fruit-flavoured wheat beers. Brown beers are brewed in the monasteries in the south of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg). These traditional breweries are excellent beer tourist attractions, as are the microbreweries and beer shops in Amsterdam.
Bitters are very popular in winter. Dutch gin (juniper or jenever) is the predecessor of English gin. There are two types of gin, oude (old) and jonge (young), which have nothing to do with ageing, but only with the method of distillation. The “old” oude, which is more traditional, is softer and has a yellowish colour, while the jonge is lighter, drier and closer to English gin.
Beerenburg is made by adding herbs to juniper. Its alcohol content is about 30%. It was made at the end of the 19th century with a secret mixture of spices by the Amsterdam spice merchant Hendrik Beerenburg, to whom it also owes its name. Although it was “invented” in Amsterdam, it is considered typically Frisian. Most other regions also produce their lesser-known local variants of a bitter. The orange bitter (Oranjebitter) is only drunk on King’s Day (Koningsdag).