One of the best ways to get to know a country is through its food. You learn about the history, culture, and preferences of a people based on the things they eat every day. And if you’re lucky, the process tends to be pretty delicious. I had no idea what to expect of the cuisine when I arrived in Amsterdam. All I knew of Dutch food was cheese and beer, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of the treats available in the Netherlands.
Here’s a look at ten food experiences (and one drink!) worth having on a visit to Amsterdam.
Stroopwafels are fun to eat and to say (thanks to Wikipedia, you can hear the pronunciation here). The snacks are made from two thin layers of baked dough—like very skinny waffles—stuck together with caramel syrup. Originally made in Gouda 200 years ago, stroopwafels are available fresh at bakeries and food trucks across the Netherlands, as well as sold packaged in grocery stores. They come in mini sizes or versions the size of your face, like the one I tried.
Also originally related to the city of Gouda is…well, Gouda. This yellow cheese is made from cow’s milk and can be aged anywhere from about 4 weeks to over a year. The younger versions tend to be very mild, and older versions may take on sweet, nutty flavors. Smoked Gouda is also very popular. Interestingly, Gouda cheese got its name not because it is produced in the city, but because it has historically been traded there. Visitors can still see the weekly cheese market in Gouda during the spring and summer.
In the Netherlands, people have eaten raw herring for hundreds of years. This fatty fish is lightly brined and salted and then served with chopped onions and pickles. I was not itching to try it (at all) and almost certainly wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been included on the food tour I took with Eating Amsterdam. And you know what? I’m glad I did. I was shocked at its light, fresh taste when I had been expecting strong and super fishy. A pleasant surprise.
One of the best Dutch foods actually isn’t Dutch at all—it’s Indonesian. The food of the former Dutch colony is tremendously popular in Amsterdam, and for good reason. There are so many flavors, textures, and different, delicious combinations to try.
A common way to try a lot of Indonesian foods is the rijsttafel, a Dutch word that literally means “rice table.” This elaborate meal consists of 15+ side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice. Typical options for the dishes include egg rolls, sambals, satay, and vegetables. I was lucky to get a spot at the bar of the renowned and super popular Sama Sebo, where I tried the modified rijsttafel for one. I’m pretty sure it was just as fabulous as trying the whole spread, and I didn’t have to be rolled home.
Dutch apple pie
Apple pie is the quintessential Dutch dessert. It’s been part of the menu in the Netherlands for 500 years, making it one of the oldest Dutch foods. Dutch apple pies are similar to American apple pies, but they’re not as sweet, and the apples are densely stacked. I didn’t miss the extra sugar at all, and the cinnamon, raisins, and fresh whipped cream pushed it over the edge to make it one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Trying Dutch apple pie is an absolute must on any trip to Amsterdam.
High Wine is not a specific food, but it is certainly an awesome Dutch food experience. Every day at 4:30pm, The Dylan Hotel in Amsterdam hosts this refined four-course pairing. The expertly-crafted bites (each course is appetizer-size) are paired with four complementing wines from around the world. The result is astounding. From pheasant paired with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to chocolate goodness alongside an Austrian Spatlese dessert wine, everything strikes the perfect note.
Poffertjes (puffy pancakes)
Puffy pancakes (known as poffertjes in the Netherlands) are one of my favorite Dutch food discoveries. These simple, fluffy treats are made with yeast and buckwheat flour and then topped with the perfect combination of butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup. Apparently, they’re a child’s snack during most of the year, except for the Christmas holidays when adults join in. I don’t know why the tradition varies based on the time of year, but if I lived in the Netherlands (and didn’t have to worry about the size of my pants), I would eat them as often as possible.
Pannekoeken (large pancakes)
You might gather that the Dutch love their pancakes. And I’m with them on that! Unlike the small poffertjes, pannekoeken are dinner-plate-sized specialties. Traditionally, they are eaten with a type of syrup called treacle, but you can find them served with any number of things at any time of the day. The gem in the photo above is from dinner at Amsterdam’s The Pancake Bakery—a delicious option made with bacon, cheese, and mushrooms.
Bitterballen are a traditional beer snack in Amsterdam. The breaded balls filled with gravy are fried to a perfect golden brown and are available at pretty much any pub you come across. Bite-sized and served with mustard, bitterballen are great on their own or with one of the great craft beers from the Netherlands.
They’re French fries. But perfectly fried and coated in one of the dozen or so sauce choices, they can be a little bit of heaven. Mayonnaise is the Dutch condiment of choice, but I’m partial to curry sauce myself.
The last Dutch food to try in Amsterdam is, well, a drink. Genever is the traditional spirit of the Netherlands. This clear liquor is made from distilled malt wine that is flavored with juniper and spices. The result is similar to gin but smoother with a malty flavor and a hint of sweetness. There are three traditional kinds of genevers—oude (old), jonge (young), and superior—plus a huge variety of liqueurs. The liqueurs can get a little crazy, ranging from normal flavors like blackberry to those with names like Hansel in the Cellar and My Aunt’s Perfume. These 400-year-old products are still available in tasting rooms throughout the city that date back centuries. Visiting one is an experience not to be missed.
We were the guests of Eating Amsterdam and The Dylan. All opinions of the sweet and savory are our own.
Do you have a favorite Dutch food or one you can’t wait to try?