The Dutch have a reputation for eating bland food. I would have to agree to some extent. At the same time, I think this post will prove that there are excellent traditional Dutch foods that are absolute treats you must know about and try!
In this post, we dive into different Dutch foods. Of course, there is raw herring, which you might just be a little hesitant about, but also delicious cookies and other foods you must try. Hopefully, by the end, I have convinced you that Dutch food is something to look out for.
Table of Contents
Is Dutch Food Bland And Simple?
The Dutch generally have a very pragmatic and Calvinistic view towards their main meals. Please don’t overdo it. For most, it just needs to be practical.
If you open a Dutch lunch box, you will likely find two slices of bread with one slice of cheese OR ham in between, maybe some margarine. That’s it. If they splurge, you might find a slice of cucumber or radish on it. I mean, sometimes you need to dress it up. Don’t even think about two slices. That will be a new sandwich. Oh, and there will be an apple too.
Imagine my surprise when I traveled for the first time to the US and ordered a sandwich. It was stacked so high I didn’t know how to eat it without embarrassing myself.
At night traditionally, in most Dutch households, you will find meat, vegetables, and potatoes as the most common dinner. And in wintertime, preferably mashed, and often without salt.
I know how to sell my country, don’t I? Don’t worry. It will get better from here.
What is traditional Dutch Food?
I’m glad you asked! Foods like Stamppot, Pancakes, Snacks, Pastries, and Cookies, but also foods from afar, like Indonesian and Surinam dishes, are now part of Dutch cuisine due to its colonial history and are delicious.
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! (A great restaurant in Amsterdam to try is The Pantry, reservations are essential).
My 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).
The rookworst on top is also pretty good. It’s a smoked sausage with a specific spice mix. It’s in the top 10 missed foods from home for Dutch ex-pats living abroad. HEMA sells hot ones by the half as a snack. It’s worth trying when you pass a HEMA store.
Another traditional Dutch dish is Dutch pancakes. I am a huge fan of Dutch pancakes. The Dutch eat pancakes typically for lunch or early dinner. Very different than other cultures where it’s a breakfast staple (USA) or a snack (France).
Dutch Pancakes are thinner than American Pancakes. They look much more like crepes, as in France, but slightly thicker and more filling. Often, they’re wholewheat. You’ll eat them at a restaurant since it is considered a meal.
There are many different savory and sweet toppings to choose from. But in my humble opinion, you should always eat them with powdered sugar and the thick Dutch pancake syrup called “Stroop.” No matter if your pancake topping is sweet or savory. Some people think that’s just weird, but you’ll see a surprising amount of Dutch people doing this, including me.
The best version of a Dutch pancake (for me) is a traditional two-topping pancake with bacon (spek); do not mistake it for ham. It is the “Spek” you’re looking for. The other topping is cheese.
If I am hungry, I go for one of the restaurant’s specials (they usually have worldly names like The Mexican, Chinese, or American pancake). These pancake becomes more like a burrito and will be a filling meal.
The tiny Dutch pancakes are called “Poffertjes” see photo above. These are considered snacks. And different from pancakes in both texture and taste. So the name Dutch Pancakes Abroad is incorrect.
They’re best plain topped with butter (that will melt), and to make them extra fancy with liquor. Often it goes with the orange-flavored cognac Grand Marnier (not for the kids).
Holland is (of course) famous for its cheese. Gouda, Beemster, from fresh to matured, Dutch cheese is pretty good.
It’s the poster image we all have when we think about Holland, other than tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes.
The Dutch often eat cheese as lunch, as a topping on a sandwich, or just plain cut in cubes as a snack (great with mustard).
But please promise me one thing: don’t get your Dutch Cheese souvenir from a Henri Willig or Cheese & More store. I’m sure they’re lovely people. The issue I have is that they sell their cheeses authentically Dutch, but surprisingly they’re only located in tourist spots, never in a regular town. They sell flavors like coconut cheese, definitely not Dutch.
It’s an insult to the classic Dutch cheeses that are so fantastic in flavor. By the way, want to visit an authentic Dutch cheese shop?
They’re easy to find: an authentic Dutch cheese store will have many signs showing current sales above the counter because the Dutch are savvy. You also find them at the weekly markets. These knowledgeable shop owners will gladly advise you. You’ll find a surprisingly good selection of Dutch cheeses in supermarkets.
It won’t be coconut or green pepper. But an actual Dutch cheese like “Oud” (matured) cheese, a classic “Belegen”, or if it’s something you like, a good Cumin cheese (my favorite).
Indonesian And Surinam Food
Even though it was a dark time when the Dutch colonized different countries, it was also an era that brought new cultures, flavors, and foods. Especially Indonesian food became so popular here that Nasi Goreng feels just as much Dutch as foreign.
Visit a Dutch supermarket, and you’ll be surprised at the enormous selection of Indonesian ingredients you can purchase. It’s just as common for mom to make Bami Goreng as a meatball with cooked potatoes and some veggies.
Surinam food is also well available in Holland. Try Surinam Roti or Pom. Often available from delivery restaurants (try Thuisbezorgd.nl) and have it delivered to your room.
For Indonesian food, I would recommend going to a proper restaurant. The best can be found in the city of The Hague. But Amsterdam is a good second. The great thing about Indonesian restaurants is that they serve a “Rijsttafel.” Which is a feast for the eye. You get small portions of everything. No FOMO for you.
Fried Food Is Typically Dutch
You might think Europeans are a healthy eating bunch. Well, I’m sorry, we’re not. Most Dutch people will happily point out that the American diet is unhealthy. But we tend to forget that our food isn’t healthy either, especially on the go.
Once you’ve left the big city, the only fast food options available are bakeries and “Snackbars,” at the latter, everything is fried, literally everything.
The silver lining is that bad food here is still not as bad as elsewhere. Here are a few food facts:
- Fries at McDonald’s contain five ingredients in Holland. In the USA, the same fries contain 19 ingredients 🤯.
- Cereals contain, on average, 30% less sugar and salt in Europe, which is why often Dutch food is perceived as bland.
- Portions are smaller, which equals fewer calories. Same with drinks. A large Coke here is a small Coke in the US.
Snackbars will fry potatoes, cheese, meat, and everything in between. It’s pretty darn good, don’t get me wrong. But if you’re looking for healthy foods, you’re out of luck. Snackbars are omnipresent in this country.
A note on fries in Amsterdam: there is a Snackbar on Damrak called Manneke Pis, with incredibly long lines. Unfortunately, this is one of the rare occasions a long line is not a good sign. This place has been mentioned too often on blogs that are not local with questionable expertise. And then the “advice” got copied too many times.
The actual place (and once a Dutch secret) worth getting in line for is the “Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx.” They win prices. Get real (Dutch, more creamy) or (Belgium, more sour) mayo as your perfect topping. Want to be more exotic? The green pepper sauce is delicious and my favorite sauce.
Other Dutch fried snacks worth trying in order of popularity:
- Nasischijf (even here Indonesian food infiltrated 🙂 )
There are many more, but these are the classics. A great place to get them is at a Snackbar with an “Automatiek,” a large glass wall with tiny boxes. You put money in (or nowadays swipe a card), open a window, and there is your snack.
Bitterballen, The King Of Fried Snacks
If I may, I would say you must try an order of Bitterballen when you’re at a Dutch cafe. The Bitterbal is a snack at every Dutch party and most cafes. It’s perfect as an in-between afternoon snack with a beer or glass of wine. Dip these yummy balls in mustard and enjoy.
One important warning: these cute little balls are served hot. Real hot! Watch Dutch people and how they do it before you make your first attempt. Bitterbal 101: you wait, then blow at them, then take a tiny bite to test, then eat.
We (Dutch) eat a lot of cookies. A lot! Stroopwafels are famous worldwide (for the best ones, you need to get a fresh one, still warm at an outdoor market.) The other secret is that it has to be made with real butter – check the ingredients for “Roomboter.”
We also love our Speculaas (crispy, sweet cookies full of beautiful spices, like pumpkin spice). Plus, so many distinct other cookies like:
- Gevulde koeken
- Spakenburgs hart
- Bastogne cookies
- And 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, or the US!
Another area we’re big on. Candy. There are lots of typical Dutch candies you can’t get elsewhere. The most infamous is the double-salted licorice called salmiak. It’s entertainment for us Dutch to serve them to unexpecting tourists. But most of us honestly believe they’re good. I love them. However, I haven’t met a foreigner yet, who agrees.
These are candies we can all agree to be good:
- Hopjes (coffee-flavored hard candy)
- Spekjes (soft sugared marshmallows, but very different in flavor)
- Drop (get the salted version, Salmiak is the most extreme, so get that one last)
- Koetjes repen (“chocolate”)
- Tony Chocolonely chocolate bars
- Boterbabbelaars (butter candy)
- Zuurstokken (sour hard candy, pole)
- Kaneelstokjes (cinnamon)
I know not much healthy food has been mentioned so far, right?
But I can’t help that the Dutch also shine at their pastries. There are quite a few unique ones that you can not find abroad.
I don’t want to do you a disservice by not mentioning them. The best places to find these pastries are at a bakery. Those will be much better than from the Supermarket.
- Tompouce: it needs to be fresh—puff pastry, custard cream, and/or whipped cream topped with a sweet glaze
- Slagroom taart: a slice of light, airy whipped cream with layers of cake is just heaven on earth
- Mokka Taart: if you like coffee, you’ll most likely appreciate a slice of classic Dutch Mokka Pie
- Dutch Apple Pie: the real one. Layers of apples marinated in sugar and cinnamon, almost paste, and a crusty dough
- Bossche Bollen: semi-dark chocolate with whipped cream. Divine! The good one, the original, is sold by only one bakery
- Limburgse Vlaai: the most iconic pie from below the rivers (the south), available in many different flavors
Tips On Where To Buy Them
Tompoucen and the pies can be found at many bakeries. HEMA stores are known for its tompouce—a cheaper version but addictively yummy, loved by many Dutch, and a true icon.
A true Bossche Bol can only be bought in one place, one hour from Amsterdam, at Bakery Jan de Groot in Den Bosch. Read our post with things to do in Den Bosch to learn more.
Limburgse Vlaai has to be eaten in Limburg. Traveling south to Maastricht and enjoying the original pies is not precisely punishment. This is where you can find the best Vlaai in Maastricht.
Savory Snacks In The Netherlands
Before you start wondering, is there nothing savory you guys are known for other than mashed veggies, smoked sausages, and fried snacks? Here is a list of savory Dutch snacks for you to try. Healthy? Still, not so much.
- Of course, Bitterballlen can’t be left out.
- Vlammetjes (another snack available at cafes.)
- Bal Gehakt: minced meat, crispy bread, and spices, but nobody can make it like grandma.
- Saucijzenbroodje: puff pastry with minced meat.
- Erwtensoep: a thick yummy pea soup often served in winter (try HEMA, I know, but true.)
- Poffertjes: often called Dutch Pancakes, which they’re not, but I get why. Amazing with butter.
- Raw Herring: if you dare, creamy, delicious. It is served with raw onions and sweet pickles on request.
- Kibbeling: a crowd pleaser at the fish stand, fried fish like fish and chips but with different spices (PS don’t listen to foreigners blogging that you need to add salt and pepper and lemon, like gross, add the recommended sauce only.)
- Uitsmijter: a typical Dutch lunch with eggs (sunny side up, then topped with ham and cheese), delicious and filling.
- Borrelnootjes: these are peanut snacks wrapped in fried dough with different spices, seen at every Dutch birthday party, and they’re pretty addictive. Readily available in the snacks section at the supermarket.
- Dutch pancakes should make the list. How can they not? With all these savory toppings to choose from.
Still, some room left? The Dutch are not big on desserts other than the regular ones served worldwide. But one food stands out, and it’s called “Vla.” It’s a dairy product but thinner than pudding. It’s close to custard, but not exactly.
At Dutch supermarkets, the choice of “Vla” is overwhelming. Classics are Vanilla or Chocolate. But you can also get “Dubbelvla”, which you might already have guessed, is two flavors mixed together. The classics are vanilla/strawberry and vanilla/chocolate.
But then there is “Airy Vla,” with airy bubbles. Or Coffee flavored vla, a bitter cookies vla, vla with candy drops, and I can go on and on. Get some at a local supermarket and tell me what you think, but eat it chilled.
Advocaat is a thick kind of eggnog with alcohol. What’s not to like about that, right?
One of the best Advocaat is called Tokkelroom (expensive). You can get it in upmarket supermarkets near the wine section. It’s lighter in color than the cheaper Advocaat, which is bright yellow. All supermarkets have cheaper stuff, but not always the Tokkelroom.
The best of the best is when you can find a Dutch family or a farmer’s shop in the countryside who knows how to make it themselves. That is another level of Advocaat and out of this world! You must add whipped cream, or it’s not traditional. Thankfully ready-to-eat sweetened whipped cream is available from the chilled dairy section in the supermarket.
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. But also, with Easter, we have a unique classic.
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 array of colorful wrappers, it’s worth it. You can often mix and match!
As I mentioned above, the Sinterklaas season is like hitting the jackpot during the autumn season. These are popular:
- Marsepein: almonds and sugar made into different fun shapes
- Pepernoten: medium ginger spiced cookies
- Kruidnoten: often called pepernoten, but they’re different. These are crispy and yummy.
- Chocolate letters: chocolate letters in different flavors, great for personalized gifts
- Borstplaat: so much sugar your teeth fall out, and butter, but oh so good
- Amandelstaaf: buttery puff pastry with (A LOT of) almond paste inside. Heat in the oven before eating.
- Strooigoed: a mix of candies used at the celebration evening to throw in the house. The kids love it.
These special Dutch Sinterklaas foods are available from late September till early December.
I 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.
Something goes wrong if your coat is not dusted in white sugar after you finish your Oliebol. It has to be messy. Officially “Oliebollen” are dough balls without raisins. And with raisins, they’re called “Krentebollen.” But the name Oliebollen is often used for both. The salesperson will ask with or without raisins. Don’t fret about 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 hot ones, served with apple beignets and turnovers. That is a traditional Dutch New Year’s Eve. (But secretly, we start eating them much earlier).
To finish up, there are some food rules you need to know before filling yourself with these worthwhile calories because I was just as surprised to see ketchup served with fries abroad for the first time as you will most likely be when you see a large dot of mayonnaise on top of your fries instead.
- So, Dutch is mayo instead of ketchup (or peanut sauce, or both, also super yummy)
- Pancakes are eaten in the afternoon, not for breakfast
- You eat a classic Dutch herring by lifting it whole by the tail and lowering it in your mouth. I didn’t make it up.
- The Dutch are not big on breakfast outdoors. You will be limited to tourist restaurants or hotels.
- We eat chocolate for breakfast – we call these chocolate sprinkles: Hagelslag. We butter a slice of bread with thick butter and add loads of chocolate. After which we call it a meal, without any embarrassment of what we just did.
- We call other breakfast foods (Beschuit) and (Ontbijtkoek) healthy. It’s wholewheat, so that explains it, right? We conveniently forget it’s about 1/3 sugar as well (tasty, though.)
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I be ok as a vegan in the Netherlands?
If you want to try the Dutch classics, they rarely will be vegan. Most Dutch classics contain milk, eggs, or other animal derivatives. But you won’t go hungry if you are vegan.
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.
Plenty of options will be available for you, whatever your food preference is—just a bit less of the classics.
What are your top 3 Dutch food picks to try?
Oh, that’s simple. 1. Bitterballen, nothing beats a break with bitterballen served with mustard (make sure to wait until they’re cooled down enough). 2. A real Stroopwafel, once freshly prepared, that is still hot. Nothing beats the yummy smells and the warm syrup inside. 3. A Halve Rookworst from HEMA (served hot), the best-smoked sausage I know. I won’t go with herring or Salmiak drop. I’m nice.
How to eat fries the Dutch way?
The Dutch love to eat their fries with mayonnaise or peanut sauce (satay sauce). If you ask for a “Patatje Oorlog,” which means war fries, you get mayo, peanut sauce, and onions. Another frequent request is “Patatje Speciaal.” The next question from the server is, then, Ketchup or Curry? Most Dutch choose Curry. You then get mayo, a spicy curry sauce, and fresh onions on top of your fries.
Let Me Assist You In Getting The Perfect (Food) Itinerary
Have you seen my 1-1 Video Calls and Private tour options already? I will gladly create a curated private food itinerary tailored to your taste. I know the best places to savor the foods mentioned above.
During a 1-1 Video Call, for example, I can give the addresses for the best spots for trying to above-mentioned foods and even some unmentioned (but delicious) options. I can also help you with transportation questions in the same call.
Or you can hire me as your private tour guide, and you don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take you around Amsterdam and tell you stories, all while we savor these goodies together. All you need to do is to show up, and I’ll take you to the best spots.
For more information, check out my services here.
Which Traditional Dutch Food Excites 🌟 You The Most?
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