“Why are there no Dutch restaurants in foreign cities?” asks the Boom Chicago comic. We all know the answer. It’s the same reason there’s no Dutch Town in China. Or virtually anywhere. Unless you count Solvang, a touristy Danish village on the California coast with a replica of a Dutch windmill.
Let’s just say, Holland is not renowned for haute cuisine. Some blame it on the weather—long stretches of gray calling for warm comfort food, not salads and smoothies. Combine a cool, changeable climate with Dutch pragmatism and what you sometimes get is bland, stodgy fare—ironic when you consider Holland ruled the spice trade for 100 years in its 17th-century heyday.
Yet what many complain about is the best part of Dutch cuisine: its simplicity. Dutchies make some of the best apple pie in the world. Their penchant for minimalism is reflected in the sensual surfaces of still life paintings by Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer and other Golden Age masters. Called pronk (show-off) pieces, these food porn masterpieces showcase fresh, seasonal ingredients and uncomplicated meals.
While Amsterdam is no gourmet capital, here are 7 Dutch treats:
1. Hollandse Nieuwe Haring: Holland borders the North Sea, so lots of fish is eaten, both smoked and fresh. Stands throughout Amsterdam hawk raw herring, a typical Dutch snack served with raw onions and pickles. The kind called Hollandse Nieuwe appears between May and July.
To eat herring like a Dutchie, pick the fish up by its tail and slide it into your mouth with your head tilted back. If you can’t swallow a whole fish, order a broodje haring ―a sandwich that’s an acquired taste for foreigners, but very popular with the Dutch.
2. Pannekoken + Poffertjes: Dutchies love their pancakes—crepe-like treats made with buckwheat flour, topped with optional bacon, cheese, strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate or even sushi. Prepared in a cast-iron pan, pannekoken are flipped before one side is done, keeping the inside softer than the interior texture of American pancakes.
In the Negen Straats, a pannekoken covered with witlof, ham, Camembert and raspberry sauce will set you back around €10 at Pancakes! Or, try poffertjes, small, fluffy pancakes served with melted butter and powdered sugar. A pancake topped with bacon, salami and syrup may be an acquired taste, but Dutchies love the combo.
3. Vlaams Frites: Van Gogh’s De Aardappeleters (potato eaters) shows us potatoes have long been a staple of the Dutch diet. The lowly tuber rises to a sublime level in vlaams frites, Flemish fries made with thick-sliced potatoes, fried crisp and slathered with mayo. Those with adventurous palates might try patatje oorlog (potato war)―fries with mayo and saté sauce, topped with onions. Some say it’s street food that rivals Canada’s poutine. Those with an iron stomach might gamble on patat speciaal―fries, mayo, ketchup and raw onions.
Hole-in-the-wall stands throughout Amsterdam sell vlaams frites. Popular outlets include Vlaams Frites Huis near Spui, where tourists and locals alike have been lining up for hot cones of patat topped with a wild assortment of sauces since 1957.
4. Stamppot: More spuds! Like many Dutch dishes, this one is tasty and hearty, but hardly haute cuisine: boiled potatoes mashed with boiled weeds—carrots (wortel stamppot), kale (boerenkool stamppot) or endive (andijvie stamppot)—topped with a rookworst or meatball and a generous dollop of gravy. Order yours at fine Dutch restaurants like Moeder’s and Bistro Bij Ons.
In winter, scoops of stamppot replace ice cream at Ijscuypje shops in Amsterdam. If you find a stamppot café anywhere else in the world, serving freshly mashed potatoes topped with sausage, bacon or meatballs, I’d like to hear about it.
5. Bitterballen: This popular Dutch snack resembles meatballs, but bitterballen are actually rounds of creamy ragu, coated with breadcrumbs, deep fried and served with hot mustard. Traditionally made with beef, some feature veal, chicken or even mushrooms. I’ve never met one I liked, but you might, at cafés throughout Amsterdam.
6. Stroopwafels: Some can’t get enough of this sticky-sweet, butter-caramel confection: stroop syrup sandwiched between cinnamon-laced wafers, cooked at a high temperature on a waffle iron. First made in Gouda during the 18th century, stroopwafels are sold in virtually every grocery store in Holland. Pick up freshly made ones at the Albert Cuypmarkt, great with a cup of hot java that melts the caramel.
7. Drop: Opinions vary about this licorice candy, available in a plethora of textures and flavors, from hard and salty to soft and sweet. Dutchies love the dark, distinctively flavored candy and boast the highest per capita consumption of it in the world.
Wherever you eat in Amsterdam, be sure to enthuse, “eet smakelijk” before diving in. Pronounced ATE smak-a-lick, it’s the equivalent of “bon appétit” in France and America. Enjoy your meal!