The Dutch have a reputation for eating bland food. We have to agree to some extent. At the same time, we think this post will prove that there are great local things to eat in Amsterdam and the rest of the country, absolute treats you have to know about and try!
In this post we dive into the different Dutch foods and Dutch food culture. Plus some local tips on where to go for truly Dutch gems. For a complete list of 50+ Dutch foods that you just have to try we wrote a separate post. Which you can find by clicking the link.
In general, the Dutch have a very pragmatic and Calvinistic view towards their main meals. Don’t overdo it, and it just needs to be practical. If you open a Dutch lunch box, you most likely will find two slices of bread with one slice of cheese OR ham in between, maybe some margarine. That’s it. And don’t even think about two slices. That will be a new sandwich. Oh, and there will be an apple.
Imagine our shock when we arrived in the US for the first time and ordered a sandwich? There was just so much meat and other stuff like veggies and sauce in between we didn’t know how to eat it!
At night traditionally in most Dutch households, you will find meat, vegetables, and potatoes as the most common dinner. With little spices, and often without salt. We’re very mindful of salt.
Did we almost make you depressed with this information? Don't worry, it'll get better.
Thankfully the food scene has changed considerably in the last decade. Organic, fresh produce, spices, and “farm to table” all became very popular in recent times.
Restaurants became more exotic and daring. Plus, the Dutch opened up to more exotic flavors in their homes. Cooking TV helped tremendously with that.
What is traditional Dutch Food?
We’re glad you asked! Foods like Stamppot, Pancakes, Snacks, Pastries, Cookies, and many more. We'll dive right in:
Dutch Food: Dutch Stamppot
One of the most iconic traditional dutch foods in the wintertime is “Stamppot.” It’s mashed veggies and potatoes, topped with smoked sausage or crispy bacon bits. When done well, the flavor is distinct and fantastic. If you have a chance to try it, you really should!
Our personal favorite is the Endive “Stamppot” version. It’s just so good. The crunch of raw endive, combined with the smooth, creamy mashed potatoes made with whole milk, the tanginess of the vinegar, and then hot bacon bits straight from the pan mixed in (of course with dripping fat included). Yum! Other classic versions are Hutspot (Carrots and Onions), Boerenkool (Kale), and Zuurkool (Sauerkraut).
Dutch Food: Dutch Pancakes
Another traditional Dutch dish is Dutch pancakes. Herman and I are both huge fans of a Dutch pancake. Especially for lunch, or one of the fancy ones for dinner. Nope, we don’t eat them for breakfast here! Dutch Pancakes are thinner than American Pancakes. They look much more like crepes as you see them in France, but slightly thicker and more filling.
There are many different savory and sweet toppings to choose from. You should really always eat them with powdered sugar and syrup, especially the savory ones! Or is that me? (I love that combo, Herman thinks I’m just weird. Really a lot of Dutch people do this, it’s not just me).
The best version of a Dutch pancake - according to me 🙂 - is bacon (spek) and cheese (kaas), (which we bake into the pancake itself). Then I top it off with powdered sugar (poedersuiker) and stroop (a thicker syrup). It’s yummy! Hermans’ favorite usually has something sweet like apple and cinnamon.
Dutch Food: Cheese
Holland is famous for its cheese. It's the poster image we all have in our minds when we think of Holland other than tulips, all around the world. And we do have fine cheeses indeed.
The Dutch eat cheese most often as lunch in a sandwich or in cubes served at a party.
Please promise us one thing: never ever set foot in a Henri Willig or Cheese & More store. The tourist areas in Amsterdam are littered with them. Central station, the Airport, shopping streets and tourist spots like the Zaanse Schans.
You won't find these stores, brands, and flavors in regular towns and villages! Both are concepts purely created for tourists. What bothers us is that they sell it as authentic Dutch cheese, which it is not. We're sure it's made here, that doesn't make it authentic. Dutch people don't eat coconut cheese (which they sell). It's an insult to the delicious original cheeses. Tourists buy them by the dozen. Thinking they're getting a Dutch souvenir 🙁
If you want to buy real, authentic Dutch cheeses, go to a cheese shop (kaaswinkel) in a local suburb shopping center or buy it at a weekly market. Or just at a regular supermarket. Even in a supermarket, the selection is enormous and authentic!
Surinam and Indonesian Food are Dutch food as well
Surinam and Indonesian food definitely deserve a prominent spot in this article about Dutch food. Surinam and Indonesian Food is a genuine part of Dutch culture. There is nothing bland about either of them. We highly recommend you to make it a priority during your visit to try these cuisines.
Try Surinam Roti or Pom. For Indonesian food, it's hard to make a single recommendation. It's all just so good. The great thing about Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam and the rest of the country is that they serve something called a “Rijsttafel.” You’ll get small portions of everything. It’s a feast!
Its snacks and Dutch fried food though where we shine
You might think Europeans are a healthy eating bunch. Well, I’m sorry, they're not. Most Dutch people will be the first to say the American diet is very unhealthy. But we tend to forget that our food isn’t exactly healthy either, especially on the go.
Once you’ve left the big city, the only fast food options available to you are bakeries and “snackbars,” at the latter, everything is fried, literally.
Traditional Dutch cuisine might not be the healthiest, but:
We’re a positive blog, so hopefully, the next three facts will make you feel just a bit better once you indulge in one of our yummy snacks:
Dutch fried food
They’ll fry cheese to meat and everything in between. It’s pretty darn good, don’t get us wrong. But if you’re looking for healthy snacking, you’re out of luck if you’re not at a supermarket or at a larger railway station.
PS one tip on fries in Amsterdam. The Dutch love fries. We're quite keen on Flemish fries (Vlaamse friet). They're just that delicious.
Now there is this fries shop on the Damrak > Manneke Pis, just opposite Central Station. With incredible long lines. Usually, a long line means good "I need to get in it too," right? This one absolutely not. It's not bad, but absolutely not worth a minute of your time waiting. There are a million alternatives just as good without that line. There are no locals in line either. Just tourists. That should ring an alarm.
If you actually want the best fries in the city that locals wait in line for. Then head over to “Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx” (Voetboogstraat 33). They win prices. The real (Dutch or Belgium) mayos are perfect with these crispy triple baked fries. But they have a ton of different sauces. We both often go for the green pepper sauce. It’s surprisingly good.
PS why the long lines at Manneke Pis? They're mentioned by a lot of travel bloggers who only visited the city briefly and don't really know it. One blogger saw the tip from the other, and suddenly Manneke Pis was on every travel blog. And the line you see now is the result of that.
The lesson to be learned? A long line is usually a good sign IF the line is composed mainly of locals. If it's only tourists in line then more often than not it's good marketing, not good food. And when taking advice from a blog, check if they're an expert on the topic (like do they have ties to the area, visit the place a lot, or show you they've done their independent research).
We (Dutch) eat a lot of cookies. A lot! Stroopwafels are famous around the world (you have to get a fresh one, still warm, when you’re here). And we love our Speculaas as well (it’s crispy, sweet, and full of beautiful spices, kind of like pumpkin spice). Plus, so many distinct other cookies like Jodekoeken, Spritsen, Krakelingen, Bastogne cookies, we can go on and on.
Our cookie addiction is such that the cookie section in the supermarket is as large as the soda sections in the UK, the US, and Canada!
But no matter what, you know it’s fine to indulge once in a while. You’re on vacation!
PS one cookie tip: Go to Van Stapele in Amsterdam if you have the chance. It's an old fashioned bakery with stunning decor. They sell one thing, and one thing only: A chocolate cookie with a half-melted white chocolate chunk in the middle. It's always busy here, meaning your cookie will be still warm, just out of the oven (Heisteeg 4).
How to navigate Dutch food culture
-First, some of the “Food Rules” here in this country that might surprise you:
The Dutch eat their fries with mayo. Yup. Not with ketchup. We call it: “Patat met.” It was our biggest surprise when we visited the USA for the first time, well that you guys (and pretty much anywhere else in the world) did not serve fries with mayo. Total shock).
"We remember it vividly. It was at McDonald’s in Burbank, CA, 20 years ago. When mayo did not come automatically with our fries, we were first highly surprised, then we asked for it. They gave us ketchup instead, like, huh? So we said no, we want mayonnaise. They gave us a peculiar look, like do these guys have it together?
Later we understood. Mayo is like “butter” in the US, not a dipping sauce. Who knew."
Our tip: when you’re here, try swapping ketchup for mayo with your next fries too, it’s delicious. And you might start to request it yourself once you’re back home.
Now we’re speaking about fries. Real Dutch fast food is found at a “Snackbar.” Want to show your local knowledge? Then ask for a “Patatje Oorlog.” Which means “War fries.” Yes, that’s what it means. These are fries with mayo and satay sauce (warm peanut sauce) combined. It’s delicious.
- The Dutch do not eat their pancakes in the morning. Instead, they eat it for lunch or dinner. Did you know pancake restaurants don’t even open for breakfast?
If you’re going to eat pancakes for dinner, you’ll love that most pancake restaurants also offer “themed” pancakes, like the Asian pancake, the Mexican pancake, the Norwegian et cetera. If you order one of these, the pancake is used more like a burrito. It comes with a lot of veggies and meats or fish as a filling. It’s a complete meal. It’s unique and tasty!
- We eat herring raw and by the hand. Yucks. We know, but it's actually really tasty and a true Dutch tradition. If you can get yourself to try it, it's for sure an authentic experience.
Dutch breakfast food:
The Dutch love a sweet breakfast. If you are used to a hearty hot breakfast, you might need to self cater. Or find an international hotel and eat at their buffet. Typical Dutch breakfast foods include things like “Hagelslag.” These chocolate sprinkles make it acceptable in Dutch society to start the day with chocolate without guilt. Or “Beschuit,” which is sweetened crispbread. I love “Beschuit,” but don’t judge me, I choose the whole grain option ;-).
Another Dutch thing is “Ontbijtkoek.” Which means: “Breakfast cookie.” Yes, we know. It’s not a cookie, however. It’s spiced sweet bread — loads of sugar. But the Dutch like to tell themselves this is the more healthy option because it contains a lot of fiber. … Right... And to make it even better, we preferably eat it with a thick layer of real full cream butter on top, save the margarine for lunch 😉
Watch an entertaining video from an Englishman trying Dutch food:
Seasonal Food in the Netherlands:
We love seasonal foods in this country, especially for Sinterklaas in December. It’s the best time to visit a Dutch supermarket for sure. With so many Dutch Sinterklaas foods available (from October - December 5th). Curious what they are? You'll find in our list with 50+ Dutch foods to try.
For Easter, we have the tradition of chocolate eggs (bite-sized) in every flavor you can possibly imagine. Supermarkets in March are overflowing with them. Just for all the cool wrappers, it’s a fun experience to mix and match! You can do this at Albert Heijn supermarkets, Hema stores, and Jamin candy stores.
And we can't leave the Oliebol out as one of the most beloved traditional Dutch New Year’s snacks. Oliebollen are sold in wintertime and best eaten warm. With lots of powdered sugar. If your coat is not dusted in white sugar when you finished your Oliebol, something went wrong. It has to be messy. Officially "Oliebollen" are dough balls without raisins. And with raisins, they're called "Krentebollen." But the name Oliebollen if often used for both. The salesperson will just ask with or without raisins. Don't fret on getting the name right.
On New Year's Eve, we love a big pile of them on the table, and refill the ones eaten with new warm ones. Together with apple beignets and apple turnovers. That is a traditional Dutch New Year's Eve.
Will I be ok as a vegan or vegetarian in the Netherlands?
Keep in mind that if you want to try the Dutch classics that they rarely will be vegan. Most of the Dutch classics contain milk, eggs, or other animal derivatives. If you are a vegetarian or flexitarian, you’ll be able to sample most of the dishes since meat in most of them is optional or in low quantity.
If you are vegan, you won’t go hungry, however. Especially recently, many vegan restaurants popped up. The supermarkets now cater to the vegan consumer, as well. It’s a movement growing here too, especially with younger people. You’ll be fine.
Did you know the Dutch like to keep their meat consumption low anyway? They are very aware of how animals are treated and about environmental concerns. Portions are usually much smaller than in the US or Canada, for example.
Curious about 50+ Dutch foods that we believe you must try?
Then we've got you covered. We have written a complete list of 50+ Dutch foods that you just have to try in our humble opinion. Check it out by clicking the link.
Want to learn more about Dutch culture?
Did this post help you learn more about Dutch cuisine, and it’s traditional Dutch foods?
We hope so. Let us know what foods you tried! Or which you’re looking forward to tasting. We’d love to hear that.