The most important tip I can give you on Netherlands local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Netherlands, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Netherlands
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but hearty Dutch fare can be quite good if done well. Some of these “typically Dutch” foodstuffs taste significantly different from, but do not necessarily improve upon, specialties from other countries. For example, while Dutch coffee and chocolate can instill feelings of homesickness in expats and might be seen as “soul food”, fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies. The Dutch, however, are known for their specialties and delicious treats: Snacks & candy Bitterbal (a round ball of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), served in bars as snacks with drinks and usually arrive in groups of at least five or as part of a bittergarnituur, always with mustard.
Be sure to try these, Dutch people love them. Bittergarnituur, a plate containing different warm and cold snacks, like blocks of cheese, slices of sausage, bitterballen, perhaps something like chicken nuggets or mini spring rolls, and mustard or chili sauce for dipping. One usually orders a bittergarnituur along with (alcoholic) drinks, from which the name of the dish is derived (translated to English “bitterganituur” would become “Dutch gin garnish”). Poffertjes are small slightly risen pancakes with butter and powdered sugar. Eat them in poffertjeshuizen or at a fair. Syrup waffle (Stroopwafel). Two thin layers with syrup in between. Available packaged from any supermarket or made fresh on most street markets and specialized stalls.
Unadorned chocolate bars (Pure chocolade). Limburgse vlaai (predominantly in the Southern Netherlands), dozens of kinds of cold sweet pie, usually with a fruit topping. Liquorice (drop) is something you love or hate, you can buy all kinds of varieties. You can get it from sweet to extremely salty (double salt) and in a hard or soft bite. Tompouce (a mille-feuille or Napolean), sold in most bakeries. Nonnenvotten (a Limburgish braided doughnut sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Usually seasonal in the winter).
Kruidnoten taste like a small cookie and are is originated from the ‘Sinterklaas’ tradition. Available in supermarkets, bakeries and other candy sellling stores from September until the fifth of December. Try the other Sinterklaas candy as well, such as Pepernoten or taai-taai.
Oliebollen are deep fried dough balls, that are sold at bakeries and street stalls in the last weeks of december (because its a new years eve tradition). At most fairs it’s being sold as well throughout the year. Breakfast or Lunch A typical Dutch breakfast or lunch is a simple slice of bread or bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese or ham with a glass of milk or a Dutch coffee (dark, high caffeine grounds, traditionally brewed). The following typical dutch products are often placed on the bread roll: Dutch cheese is particularly famous, especially Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer, Maaslander and Maasdam. Chocolate spread (like Nutella). Dutch peanut butter which is considerably different from e.g. US peanut butter.
Dutch peanut butter is also the basis for Dutch Indonesian or ‘Indo’ saté (satay) sauce which also contains lots of Asian herbs and spices. Chocolate sprinkles (Hagelslag), sprinkled on top of buttered slices of bread (much like jam). If you want to be adventures: try a slice of bread with Dutch peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. Kroket (a round roll of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried) served in a bread roll (broodje kroket) as lunch; best spiced up with mustard (not mandatory, though). Meals A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side. Raw herring (haring), which is actually cured in salt. It’s available both from ubiquitous herring stands and fancy restaurants, usually served with chopped onion and occasionally even plopped into a bun to make broodje haring. New herrings (Hollandse Nieuwe) is a special treat available around June.
Mosselpan (mussels), boiled with vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, leek and different spices and herbs) and eaten with cold dip (garlic, cocktail). It’s cooked and served in a big dark pot. Usually only eaten between July and May. Pea soup (erwtensoep or snert), made of green peas and smoked sausage. Can be very hearty and a meal itself if there are enough potatoes and other veggies mixed in. Kroket (a round roll of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), is the most typical Dutch street snack. You can buy them at any snackbar or frituur and at several places you can buy them from a vending machine built in the wall. Also served with french fries (which you should try with mayonnaise!) on the side as a regular street meal (friet met met een kroket). By ordering a Kapsalon you will get a big meal (1800 kcal) containing French fries covered with döner or shawarma meat, grilled with a layer of Gouda cheese until melted and then subsequently covered with a layer of dressed salad greens.
The term kapsalon literally means, “barbershop” in Dutch, alluding to one of the inventors of the dish. This meal is sold in döner restaurants and most of the snackbars. Borecole mash pot (boerenkool), mashed potatoes with borecole (kale), often served with a sausage or ‘rookworst’. Most locals only eat this during the winter. Asperges Flamandes. White asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, ham, crumbled hard-boiled egg and served with boiled new potatoes. Highly seasonal and usually only eaten between spring and summer.
Dutch Sauerkraut (zuurkool), mashed potatoes with sauerkraut. Hotch-potch (hutspot), mashed potatoes with onions & carrots. Served with slowly cooked meats or sausage. Stoofvlees is the slowly cooked meat eaten with hutspot. Endive mashed pot (stamppot andijvie), potatoes mashed with endive and bacon. Rookworst (literally “smoked sausage”), available to go from HEMA department store outlets, but also widely available in supermarkets. Best served on a bread bun or as a dish with mash pot such as Borecole, Hotch-Potch, Endive or Sauerkraut mash pot.
Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken), which are either sweet (zoet) or savoury (hartig) in variety of tastes, like apple, syrup, cheese, bacon etc. Eat them in pancake houses (pannenkoekenhuizen) Food from former colonies like Indonesia and Suriname. Many traditional dished from these countries have become part of the Dutch kitchen or even staple foods. Restaurants As Dutch people usually eat Dutch food at home, most restaurants specialize in something other than local fare.
Every medium-sized town has its own Chinese/Indonesian restaurant, often abbreviated as Chin./Ind. restaurant, where you can eat a combination of Chinese and Indonesian dishes. Usually you get a lot of food for a small amount of money. Do not expect authentic Chinese or Indonesian cuisine though, the taste has been adapted for Dutch citizens.
These restaurants have been influenced by the Dutch East Indies (currently Indonesia) from when they were a colony of the Netherlands. Typical dishes are fried rice (Indonesian: nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and prawn crackers (kroepoek). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rice table (rijsttafel), which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of them have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices. Besides Chinese/Indonesian, the bigger cities offer a good choice of restaurants with Middle Eastern cuisine for a bargain price. Popular dishes are shawarma (shoarma), lahmacun (often called Turkish pizza) and falafel. The Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinam and Thai cuisines are also well-represented in the Netherlands. Modern Dutch restaurants serve good quality food and are relatively expensive compared with surrounding countries. Most of the time, profit is made from the drinks and the desert, so be careful ordering those if you are on a budget.
In the Netherlands, going to a restaurant is generally not seen as a quick way to eat food, but as a special night out with friends or family, which can take a couple of hours. Service fees and taxes are included in the menu prices. Tipping is not mandatory and seen as a sign of appreciation, not as means to make up a tiny salary. In case you do want to tip as a rule of thumb rounding up to the next Euro is normal or 10 percent. Since 1 July 2008, smoking has been banned in all restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is allowed only in separate, enclosed, designated smoking areas in which employees are not allowed to serve. Staff may enter such smoking rooms only in emergency situations. In restaurants the portions of food are not big, because usually people eat 3 dishes (starter, main, dessert). Drinks are served in small glasses and there are no free refills.
The local website Iens[] is used by a lot of locals to judge (almost all) restaurants in the Netherlands. There isn’t an English version of the website, but you can let the grades (1 is worst, 10 is best) speak for themselves. Snackbars Fast food vending machines at Febo A mashed potato and mushroom kroket In town centers, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar, sometimes known as frituur or cafeteria. These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch expats miss them the most when going abroad. The popular Febo  chain’s outlets are basically giant vending machines, just slot in a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice. The most popular snack is French fries, known as patat in most of the country and as friet in the Southern Netherlands. The “standard” way is to order them with mayonnaise (patat met), although the local mayo is not the same as you’d get in France or most of the rest of the world: it is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy
. Other sauces are tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, tastes more like ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), cut raw onions (uitjes), special (speciaal, a combination of mayonnaise, curry ketchup and optionally cut raw onions) and war (oorlog, a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and optionally with cut raw onions). The following fried snacks are considered typical for the country as well: Croquette (‘kroket’), a crispy roll filled with ragout. Can be ordered on bread as well. Frikandel, a long, skinless and dark-colored sausage, kind of like a minced-meat hot dog. Can be ordered on bread, or as speciaal (with mayonnaise, curry ketchup and cut raw onions). Kaassoufflé, cheese snack popular with vegetarians, can also be served on bread. Bear’s claw (berenklauw), often called bear’s snack (berenhap) or bear’s dick (berenlul), is a sliced meatball with fried onion rings on a wooden skewer, often served with peanut sauce (pindasaus).
Vegetarianism Vegetarians should not have any major trouble. 4.5 percent of the Dutch population is vegetarian and most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option on their menus or can make you one if you ask for it. Most supermarkets sell vegetarian products or even have a part of their supermarket dedicated to vegetarian products. It is advisable to specifically mention what you do and do not eat (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) as not everyone has the same definition of vegetarianism. Finding a vegetarian option in a fast food restaurant might provide more of a challenge. Chip shops that sell veggie burgers are the exception rather than the rule; chips and kaassoufflés are often the only options.
What to Drink in Netherlands
As of January 1st 2014, the legal drinking age is raised to 18, and anyone caught drinking underage will be fined 130,- Bar’s and Cafe’s receive a tenfold fine, so expect severe ID checks. Beverages with an alcohol content lower than 0.5% aren’t counted, anybody can buy then, and they may be called “alcohol free” or in the case of beer “malt bier”. It’s illegal for youth under 18 to buy alcohol and in liquor-shops or supermarkets they can ask for an ID before buying. Usually if you are below 20 you are required to show an ID. For most festivals people between 18 and 20 need to get an wristband before buying alcoholic drinks. Beer Wieckse Witte, a popular white beer (witbier) Although the Dutch beer “Heineken” is one of the world’s most famous beers, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands, and many Dutchmen consider it to be only a second-rate pilsener. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer.
Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc. There’s a certain regional variety in the beers you’ll find; whereas, in the Western Netherlands, many pubs serve Heineken or Amstel, pubs in Brabant will generally serve Bavaria or Dommelsch, in Limburg Brand and in Gelderland Grolsch.
In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch white beers (witbier), which are flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavored varieties (such as Kriek) are also available. Traditional beers come from monasteries in the Southern Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance Berkel-Enschot (just east of Tilburg) at the ‘Trappistenklooster’.
It needs to be said that the brewery is now owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it’s not so traditional any more. There are also a lot of excellent small and micro breweries (Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Brouwerij de Molen, Brouwerij de Prael etc.), if you’re a beer lover in Amsterdam consider visiting the beer shop “De Bierkoning” near “De Dam” (central square of Amsterdam), it has over a thousand beers, about half of it is Dutch and “Brouwerij ‘t IJ”. Most breweries nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers, like Bavaria Malt or Amstel Malt. Which consist sometimes 0% or less than 0,5 alcohol and is very suitable for people who would like to drive and don’t drink (or sometimes called “de Bob” as promoted in its campaign) or pregnant women. Bitters and gin Also popular in winter are alcoholic bitters.
Originally from the province of Friesland the bitter called Beerenburg is served in the entire country. Most other regions also produce their local, less famous variants of a bitter. Orange bitter (Oranjebitter), this bitter liquor is drunk only on King’s Day (Koningsdag) Dutch gin (jenever or genever), the predecessor of English gin. It’s available in two types, called oude (old) and jonge (young), which have nothing to do with aging, just the distillation style. The more traditional “old-fashioned” oude is sweeter and yellowish in color, while jonge is clearer, drier and more akin to English gin. Beerenburg (Beerenburg), is an alcoholic drink, made by adding herbs to jenever. It has an alcohol percentage of around 30%. The original Beerenburg was made halfway through the 19th century with a secret mixture of spices of the Amsterdam spice merchant Hendrik Beerenburg, to whom it owes its name. Despite it being “invented” in Amsterdam, it is considered typically Frysian. Tea and coffee Dutch drink black tea, and it comes in many different tastes, from traditional to fruit infusions etc.
Luckily, if you’re British, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot (but never boiling) water, so you can make your own version. Milk in your tea is almost unheard of and given only to children. Coffee is almost compulsory when you are going to visit people. One of the first questions when coming through the door is often “Koffie?” and it is served in small cups (a half mug) with cookies. If you’re from the States or Canada, you can drink one cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order ‘koffie verkeerd’ (which means “coffee the wrong way ’round”) you get a cup of more or less half milk and half coffee, more like the French ‘café au lait’ or the Italian ‘caffe latte’. Hot chocolate Hot chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in the Netherlands. It really fills you after a cold walk.
In the summer you can also get it in every decent bar, however sometimes it’s made from powder as opposed to the traditional kind (regular chocolate melted and mixed with hot milk), and tastes like the best drink you’ve ever had. Drugs Gapers (Black Moors Head) Gaper form Van der Pigge shop in Haarlem These are an ancient symbol of pharmacy in the Netherlands. They look like people yawning (gapers means yawners in Dutch), but really they have their mouths open to take medicine. Sometimes a pill can be seen on their tongue. These symbols were once common in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam. Today they are very rare on buildings. Usually the head is of a black or Moor man. This is because in the 15-17th centuries, pharmacists would travel through the country with an assistant trying to sell their medicines. Before an audience the pharmacist would give a pill to his assistant. These were often Moors. The assistant would act better. So pharmacies became known by the assistant’s head. Today some bars and restaurants are named after Gapers.
There is also a large collections of them in the Netherlands Drugstore Museum in Maarssen. The Netherlands is renowned for its liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution. Note that this does not mean the Dutch are all permanently high. In fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. Much of the clientèle of the coffeeshops (see below) is in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff.
However: it is custom to smoke only inside coffee shops or in private places; using drugs in public streets and being excessively high is considered unpolite, so, try to mantain a certain discipline. You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (5 g or less) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are abundant in most larger towns.
Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors (those under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view. In the border provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland it is now only possible to buy cannabis products in a coffeeshop if you’ve got a wietpas (“weed pass”) from may 2012.
Only residents of the Netherlands can get a pass! This measure will be introduced in an effort to combat drug related crime and nuisance. Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is often stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff. Be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries (“space cakes”) as it’s easy to eat too much by accident although there are also unscrupulous shops that sell space cakes with no weed at all. Wait at least one hour after eating! Hallucinogenic (“magic”) mushrooms, once legal, are banned as of December 1st, 2008. However, “magic truffles”, which contain the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms are still technically legal and are sold in some Amsterdam head shops.
It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive. Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.
The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possession is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific (illegal) drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.
At some parties, a “drug testing desk” is offered, where you can have your (synthetic) drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of “ecstasy” (MDMA) will also contain speed (amphetamines). Some pills don’t even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or ‘gedoogd’ since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won’t return the drugs tested. Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use, even in the Dutch liberal climate while marijuana bought at coffeeshops is unlikely to be hazardous, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs like ecstasy are still illegal and unregulated. These hard drugs are likely to be in some way contaminated, especially when bought from street dealers. some countries have legislation in place that make it illegal to plan a trip for the purpose of commiting illegal acts in another jurisdiction, so you might be apprehended in your home country after having legally smoked pot in the Netherlands.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.