Want to try Dutch food whilst you’re in Amsterdam but not sure where to start? Well read on – here’s the “What, Where and How” when it comes to Dutch cuisine…
Whilst The Netherlands doesn’t have a food culture quite as famous as that of Spain, Italy or France it would be a mistake to discount Dutch food altogether. With coastal waters teeming with fish; orchards groaning with fruit; dairy cows famous the world over and even a rich multiculural influence – the food in The Netherlands is unique and pretty fabulous.
Here are 31 amazing things to try next time you’re in town.
No list of Dutch food could start without herring. Absolutely central to Dutch culture, herring trucks abound in town and even if you only try one Dutch food in Amsterdam, make certain this is it. Go for a ‘broodtje haring’ (herring on a roll – with pickles and onions) or try it neat, but whatever you do be sure to have one. Herring isn’t served in restaurants, and whilst any herring cart will be a safe bet perhaps the most famous in town is the stand in the Albert Cuyp market. The place where my own lifelong love of the slippery stuff began.
Find out more in our Best Herring in Amsterdam post.
Dutch apple pie is another speciality that has found fame the world over. Every cafe will serve its own special version but there’s one spot in Amsterdam famous for what has become known as the world’s best. Unpretentious and served with a swirl of sweet cream, sit out at one of the cramped outdoor tables or grab a spot inside but whatever you do head to Winkel in the Noordermarkt for the best pie in town. If the queue is stretching out the door and down the street, insiders know that the next best thing is to be found nearby at Cafe Papeneiland.
The Dutch refer to french fries as Valaams Frietes or Flemish (ie: Belgium Fries) so its ironic that locals insist the best in the world aren’t found in Belgium at all but in Amsterdam. Vlemincx is really just a hole in the wall but has built a deserved reputation for serving the most authentic and delicious “patatjes” in town. Try them with one of the dozens of sauces on offer – mayonnaise is the most famous but Marc’s fave is the slightly runnier “frietesaus” or go all out for “oorlog” or war which is mayonaise, saté sauce and onions!
Read more about Vlemincx on our post all about The Best Chips in Amsterdam.
Krokets, croquettes, crokets, call them what you will but these fried cylinders are a total Dutch institution. Bitterballs are round, krokets long but common to both is a piping hot ragout inside (usually veal or prawns) and a crispy breadcrumbed exterior. There are a few places to taste the ultimate Dutch version, so take your pick of the following depending on your mood and budget. The gourmet gang tend to insist that the very best are from a little store called Patisserie Holtkamp. Suppliers to the Dutch Royal Family you will find this brand on sale in many of the more upmarket cafe’s as well as in their very own shop. For a more working class (but no less lauded) kroket, try Eetsalon Van Dobben. Again, whilst these are sold around the city and beyond, the ultimate Dutch experience can be had by sitting on stools in the original Van Dobben ‘caf’ in Amsterdam and ordering one in a soft white roll with mustard from the old-school dinner ladies behind the counter. Want to avoid human contact altogether? Well Amsterdam’s got you covered with the uniquely bizarre FEBO. These outlets contain hot snacks behind glass doored vending machines from ceiling to floor. Pop your euros in the slot, and pop out a kroket to fill the hunger gap.
Ahh, we’ve finally made it to the sweet stuff which Dutchies go crazy for. Caramel waffles have become rather ubiquitous thanks to the Starbucks-effect but until you’ve had a proper Dutch one you won’t know what you’ve been missing. Again, the Albert Cuyp market is the place to grab one right off the waffle iron, or head to the tiny Landskroon cafe who make a very traditional version. Finally for something more Instagram-friendly you could always check out the ever popular Van Wonderen.
Read about all three on our legendary and most visited post – Best Stroopwafels in Amsterdam!
Dutch pancakes…. not as fat as their American cousins nor as thin as French relatives the crepe, Dutch pancakes are chewy, large and quite frankly amazing. Rather like herring its hard to find a bad pancake in Amsterdam and you can do a lot worse than stopping off at The Pancake Bakery, Pancakes Amsterdam or The Happy Pig Pancake Shop however for us nothing whatsoever beats the Pannenkoeken Huis Meerzicht deep in the Amsterdam Bos (Forest). This Hansel and Gretl house with its little farm outside serves killer pancakes to those very much in the know. Savoury or sweet, stroop (syrup) or spek these towers of floury perfection just keep calling us back.
For more information about the pancake farm in the woods, read our post all about Boerderij Meerzicht.
The Dutch love their pancakes so much they have even created miniature versions known as poffertjes. Whilst also available in many of the pancake restaurants, these are the perfect size to enjoy from a food truck at the market. Usually served in a steaming mound with a buttery melt slipping down the side and a snowfall of icing sugar on top, you can watch them being freshly made in the Albert Cuyp market or at other food markets across town.
There’s more about poffertjes on our Best stroopwafels and poffertjes in Amsterdam post.
Let me get this out the way right now. I can’t stand drop. But then I’m in the minority both within my family and the wider Dutch community because liquorice is a near obsession for them all. Salty, sweet, round; shaped like cats, moons, coins and fish, there are hundreds of varieties of sweet, sour and salty ‘black magic’ from which to choose. The best place to start is sweetshop favourite Jamin although supermarkets like Albert Heijn and beloved store HEMA also offer numerous versions. Trust me, for some reason it doesn’t get more Dutch than this!
For everything you want to know about Jamin, read our post about Amsterdam’s Best Sweet Shop.
Many visitors to Amsterdam come expecting to eat and enjoy masses and masses of cheese. However, whilst you’ll find dozens of types of Gouda in the supermarket ranging from young to “very old” it isn’t something that features on many restaurant menus (unless you grab a tosti for lunch!). That said, if you head out for drinks and ‘borrel’ (basically bar snacks) in the evening you should find cubes of cheese on the menu or pick up kaas vlinders (literally cheese butterflies but essentially cheese palmiers) from the supermarket or bakeries like Patisserie Holtkamp. Keen to take some some real cheese home? There are lots of horribly touristy, cheesy shops in town but for something a little more authentic try buying from one of the city’s many markets where you can taste before you commit and you can be sure you’ll come away with a cheese that’s left the farm a lot more recently than the ones in the Albert Heijn supermarket.
Indonesian favourites – Saté and Rijstafel
As mentioned previously The Netherlands has some fantastic ethnic food due to a rich multicultural heritage. The two dominant cuisines that are “authentically” Dutch are Surinamese and Indonesian. For fabulous Indonesian saté, markets are usually the best place and none better than Charley’s Satébar food truck. Or why not go for a full Indonesian Rijstafel. With dozens of plates of food ranging from mild to spicy this is one of our favourite evenings out. Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown is THE place to head right now or travel just outside the city to the stunning riverside branch in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Blauw is another reliable recommendation in town for a high quality modern take on the Indo theme and tends to be better than the slightly run down trad places dotted around town.
Read up on our blog for details of the Best Indonesian and Surinamese food in Amsterdam with lots of background and info on where to find Charley’s Satébar. Or start here if you want to read about the Ron Blauw phenomenon – there’s Blauw and Ron Gastrobar Indonesia or best of all the brand new and extraordinary Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown.
Breakfast – Hagelslag, Pinderkaas and Ontbijtkoek
Ok, you’re missing the sweet stuff already so let’s get back to The Netherlands’ most famous and ridiculous breakfast – Hagelslag. Basically chocolate sprinkles served on white bread with butter, this is something kids (and often their accompanying adults) just can’t get enough of. Found on the breakfast table in most hotels, don’t let your youngsters leave the country without having tried it. Next up on the breakfast table is Pinderkaas (literally peanut cheese but actually peanut butter!) make sure you try the Calvé brand if you’re a fan. If, however, you really want to avoid chocolate and spreads first thing in the morning why not give “ontbijtkoek” a go. Literally ‘breakfast cake’ this dense ginger treat (ok, slathered in butter!) will set you up for a day in the saddle.
Sausage – Ossenworst, Filet Americain, Tartare and Rookworst
The Dutch do love their sausage and there are a multitude of ways to enjoy it. Let’s start with my personal favourite Ossenworst – a kind of raw beef sausage, lightly spiced and served alongside other borrelhapjes. Or how about filet americain and tartare – beef-based spreads and toppings, served on rolls. For something smooth and paté-like, filet americain is the one to order, if you prefer a rougher steak tartare, ask for tartare on your roll which often comes topped with with sliced hard boiled egg. And whilst we’re on the sausage theme, how about rookworst, a kind of smoked sausage traditionally served with stampot (a kind of mashed potato with greens). Beloved store HEMA which sells millions of them every year has even adopted rookworst as a kind of icon, selling sausage shaped pool floats in Summer!
Click here to read more about HEMA, or find out more about Eetsalon Van Dobben, the most authentic Amsterdam working men’s cafe serving tartare and filet americain. For details of borrelhapjes and where to try them have a read of our post all about Dutch snacks Borrel.
Marc’s very favourite Dutch flavour is probably speculaas. These biscuits flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and cardamom are usually crunchy, caramelised and slightly browned. Often served with tea and coffee there are lots of other ways to enjoy the flavour. The spice mix is a key ingredient in the very best apple pies. In Winter the arrival of Sinterklaas sees tiny versions known as pepernoten and kruidnoten thrown into crowds of children awaiting the arrival of Sint. Or in Summer look for speculaas ice cream, spreads or even desserts. Whatever you do, be sure to try to enjoy this very Dutch flavour one way or another – you’ll be hard pushed to miss it.
Cakes and desserts – Tompouce, Boterkoek, Spekoek and Vla
If you’re heading out for afternoon tea in Amsterdam, be sure you have a typically Dutch dessert on your plate. Favourites include tompouce, a cream-filled mille-feuille topped with a ridiculously bubblegum-pink icing. Or how about boterkoek – butter cake made almost entirely of butter, sugar and flour lightly flavoured with lemon zest and vanilla. Or try something a little more exotic and sample spekkoek – an Indonesian layer cake again richly spiced and generally found on the dessert menu in Indonsian restaurants. Finally a dessert you are (thankfully) unlikely to see in restaurants but a staple of home cooking is Vla – a type of achingly sweet flavoured custard with the consistency of yoghurt which is a total Dutch favourite.
Patisserie Holtkamp do a pretty legendary Tompouce as well as lots of other patisseries – you can find out about them here.
Seasonal food specialities – Chocolate letters, Pepernoten, Cruidnoten, Olliebollen, Applebeignets, Banketstaaf and Gevulde Speculaas
In Winter around Christmastime (actually for the Dutch the season of Sinterklaas) there are lots of seasonal food specialities that appear in markets, shops and on family tables. Look out for amazing chocolate letters for kids as well as bags of tiny speculaas cookies called pepernoten and cruidnoten. Olliebollen a kind of heavy spiced doughnut is sold piping hot from the dozens of pop up olliebollen trucks that appear across the city which also serve apple fritters or Appelbeignets. Perhaps most traditional of all is Banketstaaf, a kind of almond filled butter pastry often again shaped into letters or gevulde speculaas – this time a cake with speculaas spice that has a centre of sweet almond paste and is sold in small slices or squares.
Wow, what a list. You could spend a week eating your way around the city and struggle to fit all these in, let alone all the other International food favourites on offer.
If you’re looking for restaurants that serve typical Dutch cuisine, try Floreyn which serves high end Dutch food and is incredibly highly regarded. For Dutch snacks “borrel” pull up a chair in any brown cafe or one of the city’s larger grand cafe’s such as De Ysbreeker or Wilschut or hang out at the bar of our beloved Loetje and order a seclection.
For a list of all our favourite places to eat in Amsterdam have a read of this post which is packed with 50 must-visit Amsterdam restaurants and cafe’s.
But whatever you do, try to enjoy authentic Dutch food. Give sushi a miss for once (see here for alternatives to touristy haunts) and enjoy what this land rich in dairy, meat and vegetables has to offer. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!