Typical Dutch Food and Drink
The Netherlands doesn’t tend to feature in the culinary lexicon of most food-lovers.
There is some truth in the fact that the Dutch are less preoccupied with the delights of cooking than their Mediterranean cousins, and this has unfortunately contributed to the disappointing quality of restaurants that are on offer in the country.
Many traditional Dutch dishes tend to be fairly heavy — good for stocking up on energy in anticipation of the winter months.
The colonial history of the country has had a strong influence on the country’s cuisine. Most significantly, Indonesia and Suriname have leant a lively blend of dishes to the Dutch kitchen.
There is a wealth of Surinamese and Indonesian restaurants throughout the country. Very often these styles of cooking are confused with one another. This is understandable, since, despite being on opposite ends of the world, the two countries share similar influences. At the same time, though, there are many distinctions to be made.
Suriname is a small country on the east coast of Latin America. Despite its location, the biggest influences on its food have come from West Africa and India. This is because of the cheap labourers that the Dutch brought over to the country when they began to colonise it. As a result, you will find Suriname cooking a tasty blend of spices and herbs, which might put some in mind of Indian curries.
Indonesian cuisine also has some influence from India, though with strong Asian overtones. The style of cooking is similar to that found in places like China and Cambodia, which are nearby. The staple of Indonesian cooking is rice.
As an aside, you will notice that many Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands label themselves as ‘Chinese and Indonesian’. This is to broaden their appeal, and an indication that the two types of cooking share much in common.
A particular favourite of Indonesian cuisine is the rijsttafel (rice table). This is a tray of many different dishes, accompanied by rice, and is a great way of exploring the wonderful tastes that the country has to offer.
The Dutch are big drinkers of beer. If you go in to a bar and ask for a beer (een biertje), you will almost certainly be served a lager (pils) of some description.
Without a doubt, the country’s most successful export beer is Heineken. But there are other popular beers, too, such as Amstel, Grolsch and Hertog Jan. Jupiler, a Belgian beer, is also widely available.
Although the vast majority of beers consumed in the country are produced by only a few breweries — Heineken and Grolsch being the largest — some independent breweries offer beers with a more distinctive taste.
For something a bit stronger, you could try a Trappist beer, brewed by monks. There is only one Trappist brewery in the Netherlands, located not far from Tilburg in the south. Six other Trappist breweries exist across the border in Belgium.
Other popular alcoholic beverages in the Netherlands include advocaat and jenever.
Advocaat is made from eggs, sugar and brandy. It is often eaten as a desert, sometimes as a substitute for custard. It goes well with ice-cream or Dutch pastries. Alcoholic content is usually around 15%.
Jenever is a much stronger alcoholic drink, with alcohol content of around between 35 and 40%. Distilled from grain and flavoured with juniper berries, it is thought to be where gin comes from. The rather charming legend to the drink is that it was originally intended as a medicine, but proved to be so vile — distillation having not evolved to the standard of today — that it had to be flavoured with herbs in order to mask the flavour. Jenever is often served ice-cold from the refrigerator, but can equally be enjoyed at room temperature.
In terms of non-alcoholic drinks, the Dutch are great tea-lovers, but don’t usually add milk (as the English do).
Interestingly, though, the Dutch do consume a lot of milk outside of their tea. This is often their drink of choice for accompanying lunch or dinner and it is quite normal to order it in a café or eatery, when it will almost always be fresh (rather than long-life).
Rooibos tea, a herbal drink, is especially popular, particularly in winter. Fresh mint tea (often with honey) is also widely drunk and available in cafés.
The Dutch version of caffè latte is koffie verkeerd, which literally means ‘wrong coffee’, since it is served with more milk than coffee.
Typical Dutch food
- Bitterballen — fried balls of meat and flour, usually served with mustard. Great as a bar snack with beer.
- Kroketten — like bitterballen, they are also made with a meat ragout and fried. The difference is that they are of an oblong shape (rather than round) and have a variety of different fillings, such as saté or goulash.
- Patat / friet — Dutch chips, universally popular and often eaten with mayonnaise. In fact, if you ask for patat met (literally ‘chips with’) it will be assumed that you want them with mayonnaise. Patatje oorlog (‘war chips’) are chips smothered in a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup and raw onions.
- Other fried food — the Dutch are big lovers of fried food, widely available at stations and in snack bars. Popular options include frikandel (a kind of fried hotdog), bereklauw (a fried meatball on a skewer), and kaassoufle (a fried cheese parcel).
- Stamppot — mashed potato mixed with a seasonal vegetable such as kale, and usually served with a rookworst (sausage). A little like the British bubble-and-squeak.
- Haring — a herring fish, usually eaten raw with onions. The best time for enjoying herring is at the end of spring and the beginning of summer.
- Pannenkoeken — Dutch pancakes, more like French crêpes than the English variety. Served with a variety of savoury and sweet fillings. Even when eating a savoury pannenkoek, you are likely to be offered sweet syrup to accompany it.
- Poffertjes — mini-pancakes, slightly spongy in texture. Often eaten with a coating of sugar or syrup.
- Oliebollen — deep-fried dumplings, usually served with a coating of sugar. A popular traditional dish for New Year’s Eve.
- Stroopwafel — two wafer-like biscuits with a layer of treacle or syrup in the middle. Popular with tea. If you leave the stroopwafel on top of your cup of tea for a few minutes, the syrup will melt.
- Dropje — Dutch liquorice, available in both sweet and salty form.
- Uitsmijter — the Dutch fried egg and ham, sometimes served with cheese.
- Erwtensoep — pea soup, popular in the winter.
- Rookworst — Dutch smoked sausage.
- Kibbeling — deep-fried pieces of cod, eaten as a snack.
- Frikandel — a deep-fried sausage.