The Netherlands may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think gastronomy but this does not mean it has nothing to offer. To find many mouth-watering delights you will need to look beyond the traditional white-cloth establishments and head straight to the street vendors and small homey cafes.
The deal with the meal
The thing is – Dutch food is simple and straightforward – like the farm tables it was originally served at. With lots of vegetables, dairy products, and little meat and fish, it’s carb- and fat-rich and can sustain one through a day of hands-on labor.
The head of cheese
There is no way around it – the Dutch have been making amazing cheeses for several centuries. Edam, Gouda, and Maasdammer may be the first ones that come to mind, but there are at least a dozen more worth trying. One of them is Messenklever (knife sticker). This 19th-century recipe was almost forgotten, but a few small producers managed to bring it back. Initially a flopped version of the Edamer cheese, this mild, creamy, sticky-textured ivory cheese is a real delicacy.
The fishy business
You’ve seen them around – the posters with a Dutch girl holding a fish by its tail – ready to gob it down. If you think these are picturesque exaggerations, try ordering a herring in a small fishing village. The chances are, you’ll get it cleaned, but uncut and with the tail still on. The city stalls will usually cut it for you, then generously sprinkle with fresh minced onion and adorn with a few slices of pickled cucumber. You can also get the fish in a bun, but the mildly salted and fatty haring is just as delicious on its own. It’s available all year round, but summer is marked by the arrival of fresh barrels. The very first one is then festively auctioned off right at the port.
The potato eaters
The Potato Eaters is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most known works. It depicts a grim dinner scene set in a farmer’s house. It paints the harsh reality of peasant life in dusty and earthy colors. Not by chance, the only dish on this family’s table is made of potatoes. Luckily, the 19th-century painting no longer reflects contemporary farmers’ lives. And while the potato is still one of the prominent vegetables used in Dutch cuisine, the dishes made with it are anything but bland.
Stamppot and hutspot are varieties of potato and vegetable mashes. Often served with a beef stew (hachee) or smoked sausage (rookworst). And here is another interesting fact: to make some of the endless varieties of stamppot, the Dutch have been using kale and turnip greens, way before they became trendy superfoods.
The celebration of spring
White asparagus, also called the “white gold of Limburg”, is grown in total darkness. It pecks from under the ground at the first sign of spring and is harvested from February to June, with April and May being the prime months of the season. It is delicious simply boiled and served with ham, boiled egg, and hollandaise sauce.
For the sweet tooth
Stroopwafels may be one of the most exported Dutch treats, but they certainly not the only ones worth mentioning. Apple pie is one of the local specialties not to be missed. A buttery crust filled with big chunks of apple, raisins, it is to be enjoyed with a generous dollop of whipped cream.
Pancakes the Dutch way
The Dutch pancakes come in two sizes – thin, pizza-sized ones with savory or sweet toppings or miniature ones (poffertjes) served with powdered sugar, butter and an optional shot of orange liquor to spice up the treat.
The winter treat
In the winter months, mobile bakeries pop up everywhere serving deep-fried Dutch donuts (oliebollen) and apple beignets (appelflappen). The former are traditionally consumed on New Years’ eve.
Borrel is the Dutch term used to describe an informal gathering with drinks and small bites. Thursdays and Fridays around 4pm, the brown bars fill up with groups of friends and colleagues, the beer taps start murmuring and the deep fryer gets busy. Croquets, bitterballen, frikandelelen, cheese ‘cigars’ and cheese souffles are shared over a glass or two.
To polish it off
With 150 liters of coffee per person per year, the Netherlands is among the countries with the highest coffee consumption in the world. We are really proud that nearly half of it comes from sustainable production. If coffee is how you like to finish your meal, there is a variety of specialty bars and brewers for you to explore.
If you are on the Dutch cuisine tour, head to a jenever tasting room for a unique local digestive. This predecessor of gin is a distilled malt wine made with juniper berry (jeneverbes) and is a perfect way to polish off your meal.
We probably got you really hungry with this post, so eet Smakkelijk (enjoy your meal) and proost (cheers)!