Italian food is simple and familiar. Greek food sometimes asks us to venture beyond comfort, but we can handle its bold cheeses and oily pastries. Gözleme? Easy and delicious.
Ever had asperge? Ever lowered pickled raw herring into your mouth like a Roman emperor with a clutch of grapes? Know what snert is? Then you’re missing the weird and wonderful world of Dutch cuisine!
Geeft niet, mijn vrienden! In honour of Koningsdag (King’s Day, April 27), we’re shining a light on Amsterdam’s quirky food scene. Keep this list in mind next time you wander through De Pijp or sit down at a terras for an exploratory meal.
For breakfast, or ontbijt
One: Market-fresh cheese on untoasted bread with plenty of boter (butter)
Breakfast is a serious, unskippable thing in the Netherlands, a time when families gather to enjoy a spread of seeded bread, hard cheese, and sweet delights like hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) and Chocomel (the iconic chocolate milk). You can organise a traditional ontbijt with a trip to one of Amsterdam’s many supermarkts, like Albert Heijn, Aldi, or Dirk, and this shopping list in hand:
- A loaf of fresh, seeded brood (bread), or a
- Sleeve of Beschuit, which are something between a biscotti, rice cake and an English muffin
- At least two cheeses – maasdam, a peppery komijnekaas, or a wedge of edam (if you don’t have a cheese slicer or dependable knife, consider buying the pre-sliced packages; though not the freshest way of doing Dutch cheese, the flavour’s still there)
- Ham off the bone, freshly sliced
- One to-go pack of De Ruijter-brand hagelslag (there are heaps of flavours)
- Butter, which you should spread liberally on your toast
It’s important to note that the Dutch do not typically toast their bread unless it’s on the stale side.
Two: Ontbijtkoek met koffie (spicy breakfast cake with coffee)
Ontbijtkoek is an on-the-go breakfast or mid-morning snack best served with butter or cream cheese and strong, black coffee. This cake is rye-based, and like many Dutch foods, is commonly spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and/or ginger. Most cafes have their own homemade kind, but if you don’t have the spare three hours needed for an al fresco Dutch breakfast, you can nab a loaf from Albert Heijn for about three euros.
For morning tea
It’s silently understood among Dutch people that everyone’s Oma (grandmother) has a pack of Speculaas biscuits in her purse at all times. Or, if not that, your moeder (mum) will always have them stocked in the pantry. My mum does.
They’re odd ginger-spiced biscuits which commonly bear images, stenciled into the dough, of windmills or clogs. Freshly-made Speculaas are hard to come by in Amsterdam outside of the Christmas season but they’re a supermarkt staple and make a great companion for koffie of thee (coffee or tea).
Dutchfolk recoil when they hear these gooey caramel wafers misnamed ‘coffee toppers’, but sadly, that’s how stroopwafels are known to most of the world1. A stroopwafel is a waffled biscuit about the size of tea saucer filled with a special kind of viscous golden caramel. A perennial tourist favourite, stroopwafels can be easily found at major city markten (markets), where they’re made fresh in a stroopwafel press and placed, still warm, in your eager handen.
For lunch, or noenmaal (noon meal)
Five: Broodje kroket (sandwich croquette)
Take a log of crumbed pureed meat, usually beef; deep fry it; then place it in a soft white bun like you would a sausage. Simple, quick, and heel lekker (very tasty). If you encounter a FEBO2, which is a massive walk-in vending machine store containing fried goods, it’ll cost you a tiny two euros to try their take on the extremely unhealthy streetfood mainstay.
For dinner, or diner
Six: Stampot met zuurkool
Stampot is a hearty carb-rich meal made up of mashed potato, sliced-up rookworst sausage, and sauerkraut. You’ll find it on the menus of family-oriented Dutch restaurants in the canal ring – the kinds of restaurants also serving pannenkoeken and poffertjes – and no two chefs make it the same way.
Seven: Patat met mayonaise
Golden-fried chips, smothered in tangy mayonnaise, served in a cone. The French may have their fries and mayonnaise, but only the Dutch have patat and mayonaise. Do not – I repeat – do not do patat without mayonaise.
Eight: Pannenkoeken (pancakes)
Whereas we Aussies eat sweet pancakes for breakfast or as a dessert, the Dutch reserve their fluffy flapjacks for dinner. And a big dinner it is, too; pannenkoeken are bigger than Aussie pancakes and thicker than crepes, so what you’re getting is a golden-brown disc about a half-centimetre thick and 30 centimetres in diameter. All the better for spreading boter, suiker (sugar) and ijs (ice cream), right?
Crafted long ago by an Amsterdam pastry baker, this famous Dutch treat is the perfect end to a decadent dinner. It’s similar to a vanilla slice in constitution – two layers of puff pastry and a pastry cream filling – but the flavour is unlike any other cream-based dessert treat you’ll find in Europe. So it’s delicious, but not, strictly speaking, easy to eat.
Fear not! The industrious Dutch have devised it a three-step system: First, you take off and eat the top layer of pastry; second, you either take to the filling with a pastry fork or eat it with your hands (depending on your company, I guess); then you wash it down with a stout short black.
And, if you’re in Amsterdam this Koningsdag, you may find the pink upper layer of your tompouce replaced with an orange one, because orange is the colour of the Dutch royal family.
Eet smakelijk! (eat well!)
- This one’s on you, Starbucks.
- Amsterdam’s answer to the 2am drunk kebab.
Pronunciation of Dutch words in this here article
In Dutch, the letter G is said as though you’re clearing your throat or hacking. It’s like a cccch sound. And get those Rs rollin’.
De Pijp: De payp
Heel lekker: Hayl lecker
Stampot Zuurkool: Stum-pot zoo-er-coal (say the er quickly at the end of the zoo)
Eet smakelijk: Ayt smahk-e-lek