Seven Foods You Must Try in Amsterdam

The Milkmaid (Johannes Vermeer, circa 1658); art that looks good enough to eat.
The Milkmaid (Johannes Vermeer, circa 1658); art that looks good enough to eat.

“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.

Papienland has been serving up delicious apple pie since 1864.
Dutchies make some of the world’s best apple pie.

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:

Herring is a Dutch delicacy.
Herring is a Dutch delicacy.

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.

Poffertjes are fluffy pancakes served with melted butter + powdered sugar.
Poffertjes: fluffy pancakes served with melted butter + powdered sugar.

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 that 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.

badge_AmsterdamInterNations3. 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.

stampot2
Stamppot, Holland’s national dish.

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.

Despite the resemblance, bitterballen are not meatballs.
Despite the resemblance, bitterballen are not meatballs.

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.

DropStore
Shop till you drop at Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje, an old-fashioned candy boutique in Amsterdam’s Jordaan.

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.

Read more about Amsterdam in my AFAR Wanderlists.
Read more about Amsterdam in my AFAR Wanderlists.

Eet Smakelijk!

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!

56 comments

  1. I voted for the herring since a good stamppot should be homemade. And not every tourist might know people in a’dam. Anyway, down here I posted a link for people in other parts of the world that wanna try our raw treat. Also you might wanna add a 7th thing to this list: broodje paling (eal).
    The best you can get at villages around the Ijsselmeer like Voldendam, Marken or Spakenburg!

    http://lordsofthedrinks.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/the-dutch-way-to-fight-the-hangover/

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      • Well for haring I advise you to go to Scheveningen, you can make that a beach day.
        Paling swims in sweet water, so Voldendam is perfect.
        But you are right about the funny clothes. I went there with 3 Hungarians and a Polish friend and I convinced them to dress up for a picture in these traditional clothes.
        It seemed a bit stupid and touristic, but it was so much fun and we cherish this picture still today! 😀

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  2. All the Holland-style foods I’ve tried have been enjoyable. However, the food I recommend is the delightful flavours of Dutch-Indonesian style: a fabulous mix of asian-european. With beer of course.

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  3. I miss the bitterballen and kroketten in your list. Especially when on a city trip it is nice to go into an dutch brown cafe and have a Dutch beer with some snacks before heading to your Indonesian rijsttafel. These are not too expensive though when you do a smaller sample like Nasi Rames speciaal. For 10-15 euro’s you get almost enough to feed two people.

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    • Thanks for a great comment. All the foods you mention were on my list, as well as frikandel, hagelslag + our infamous FEBO; I just cut them ’cause the post was getting too long. What’s your favorite place for reasonably priced rijsttafel in A’dam?

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  4. Since I’m currently fasting, reading this article was a true torture 🙂
    Nevertheless I would go for pannekoken just to compare to our french crèpes.
    I wouldn’t refuse some golden Vlaams Frites either miam! That reminds me this passage of Pulp Fiction when John Travolta tells his friend Samuel Jackson about his trip in Europe :

    Travolta: You know what they put on French fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
    Jackson: What?
    Travolta: Mayonnaise.
    Jackson: Goddamn.

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    • I hope you’re off your fast when you visit soon. Our pannekoken are a little different than your crepes. They’re made with buckwheat flour + are a little heavier. You can order with sweet or savory toppings of your choice, just like a pizza. Thanks for that hilarious Pulp Fiction quote. Mayo is, alas, a food group in Holland…the little salads you buy at the Albert Heijn are swimming in the gooey stuff.

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  5. This article totally opens the door of food in Holland for me ! ;D It’s so funny to eat erring is to lay back your head and swallow the whole ! XD But I am not a fish eating person ;P But tis way of eating is great, I eat noodles like that when i was small ;P I like sweets and I am determined to try the Pannekoken at least !! Want to try eating with sushi or ham with sweet flavours together ! I love how you write, not just explaining the food but your desciption the words that you used are beautiful give me a romantic feeling of Holland ! ANd i love the background picture the red shoe ! The shape is so cute and with picture of the house and the big windmil ~ ! I would love to buy one of these kind of shoe when I come to Holland !!

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  6. I tried Pannekoken and Vlaams Frites they are my favorites. But this time i will taste stamppot and some of the other suggestion in this blog.

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  7. I had to vote for the fries.. I know, it’s not too “unique”, but I can’t forget that surprising experience in A’dam of eating pure fries, almost immaculate.. And they also have some special sauce there, like spiced mayonnaise. I don’t recall it being “saté sauce” though. Maybe I don’t know what it is 🙂
    Anyway, when I travel I always like to get acquainted with the local cuisine, let alone when I stay a whole semester, so thanks for the eye-opening review; I’ll be looking for these treats.. And for that mysterious sausage in the beginning of the post…

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  8. Stroopwafles are definitely my fave. I still remember the oversized waffle I bought in Albert Cuypmarkt still warm and oozing with stroop syrup. The runner up must be pannenkoken, the first time I ever ate pancakes for dinner was in the Netherlands, before that I had never thought of them as savoury or a main dish before! I must admit I also love the chocolate Hagelslag sprinkles with bread and butter for breakfast and the Kaassoufle as a quick snack from FEBO. I always wonder how the Dutch stay so slim…

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  9. Being a Dutch men myself i voted for Stamppot! The best there is, is the one that my mom makes! I might be a bit biased 😉

    PS: is pannekoken an English term for pancakes?? In dutch you miss a letter! it’s pannenkoEken.

    What about the Dutch deep fry snack walls? usually refered to as Febo overhere. I have never seen those abroad either and my favorite is the frikandel.

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  10. As i remember from my last journey to the pirate city of adam you really get waffels almost everywhere. But this time I really want to try this stroopwafles at the Albert Cuypmarkt because I’m a gourmet who’s really addicted to the sweet stuff. And now by your article and the comments of the others I´m even more motivated 🙂

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  11. We are arriving to Amsterdam next week and what&where-to-eat was one of the most important questions for us, this post helps us out a lot, I think I am gonna print it off. Can’t wait to try Vlaams Frites. Thanks 🙂

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  12. This is exactly what I was hoping to find. I am going to be in Amsterdam very soon and one of the things I like the most about visiting new cultures is finding new dishes that I love, then learning to cook them. I am a huge fan of pancakes so I am really interested in trying pannakoken and stroopwafels..

    Syrup between 2 cinnamon wafels, sounds amazing!

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  13. I am visiting Amsterdam with a friend in November and I love trying the local foods each city has to offer! Comfort foods like pancakes, potatoes, and waffles sound wonderful, especially as we head into autumn and winter. I’m not too fond of the herring and licorice that I’ve had here in Denmark so far, but I’m always willing to try something twice. Thanks so much for your post – I hope I can try all of these foods during my stay in Amsterdam 🙂

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  14. This article is so helpful for two foodies like my friend and I! We think it’s the most delicious way to learn about the culture and history of a place! Also wondering how the frites compare to those in Brussels (which are also so good) – very excited to explore these options!

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  15. Waffle with chocolate shld also included as one of the specialties of Amsterdam or Netherlands as a whole…But, my personal favorite is stroopwafel.. The best way to eat is to put it on the top of cup of hot coffee and then eat it.

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  16. Waffles with chocolates shld also be included in the list. For me, stroopwafels are personal favorite especially wen you eat it warm by putting on top of coffee cup..:)

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  17. I already wrote this names in a paper to try all of them!!
    When I am travelling I always try to eat a tradicional dish, but sometimes is difficult because of the differents languages! I already had a lot of surprises choosing dishes that I didn´t have any idea what it was haha.

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  18. Melissa It’s Irina and Claudio, actually it’s funny cause the first thing we ask when we arrive in a different country is exactly this haha typical food! so this post comes in handy! All of these dishes seam great and we can’t wait to taste them all!!(if time + budget allows)
    I (irina) personnaly loveeeee sweets so I’m sure I’ll find the pancakes and the Stroopwafels perfect for me! now claudio..he’s not a big fan, so tha’s fries and that sort of things for him!
    Irina & Claudio from Argentina

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    • In addition to Dutch food, you’ll find every kind of cuisine that exists in Amsterdam thanks to the city’s diversity: 187 nationalities living within its tiny space on Earth. Eet smakelijk!

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  19. What a lovely article!
    I personally absolutely adore the raw herring tradition. Spending some time in the south-western part of the Netherlands I have seen a lot of people ordering the herring and onion in the local fish shop and eating it straight away exactly in the same way you describe it in your article. What a funny habit!
    I myself find the taste and texture of the raw fish a bit strange (coming from a country where everything fishy except a carp and a trout is considered dangerously bizzare – Czech Republic 🙂 but after few attempts I am slowly getting to like it!
    I haven’t tried any of the other deliciously looking meals yet therefore I am looking forward to have a beautiful taste marathon in Amsteradam! I’ll just get stuffed with sweets and get fat (…well I guess I could try walking it off around this wonderful city afterwards :-)!

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  20. All the food looks very tasty, especially pancakes! Mmmm) I love pancakes with honey or jam, but pancakes with Camembert sound so crazy and tasty at the same time) In Amsterdam I hope to try it!

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  21. hey! thank you for the tipps. i’m looking forward to try a bitterballen today! they look great, we’ll see about the taste 🙂

    while i am from germany and spended some days at the baltic sea, i am a big fish fan. so i guess the hering is worth a try aswell!

    eet smakelijk 🙂

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  22. It never occured to me that there are no Dutch restaurants. And after reading this, I am pretty sure there should be some. Simple or not – good and special food has nothing to do with the number of ingredients. And some of these dishes seems so different from what I know that they are definitely worth trying!

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  23. I should definitely try those pancakes once I’m there!

    Being pragmatic is something Filipino and Dutch cuisine share. Filipino food is not as popular because it doesn’t have that exotic twist most Asian food have. But it’s not difficult to find a few great dishes others can truly enjoy, just like the ones in your list!

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  24. I have a sweet tooth and a good one! The stroopwafels and drop are already tantalizing my taste buds! I have to definitely try this out when I am there. Also wondering, are there vegetarian options too? I saw some but would love to know more if you have written on it. I am slightly constrained with the kind of meat I eat. But yeah, this is all too excitig already!

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    • Mallika, you must try Maoz…best cheap vegetarian feed in A’dam. For about 5 euros, you get a pita stuffed with a few falafel balls. Then there’s a salad bar you can return to again and again. No one’s watching. Check out the one on Leidsestraat, about 15 min. from me by foot.

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  25. I’m already hungry even I’m just seeing the photos! I hope the Dutch way of cooking herring will give me a new experience to this kind of fish since the Japanese style of eating it raw as sashimi doesn’t suit me so well!

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  26. I’m definitely hoping to try as many of these foods as I can. All but the haring sound delicious, but I may just have to try it out as it’s such a quintessential Dutch food. Heeding your advice on restaurants, as well. Thanks for this great post!

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  27. This is a brilliant guide! I always love to try new local foods and now I know exactly what to look for. Great site, I no longer feel like I need to buy an expensive touristy guide book! Thank you!

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  28. Yummy! Can’t wait to try all this food… Especially as it looks really different from what we are used to eat here in France. The pancakes are so tempting! And I heard so much about the apple pie that I have to taste it. I had a Danish friend when I studied in the UK who told me Dutch pastries were wonderful, and she knew what she was talking about… Gotta love Amsterdam! Thanks for this article, now we’ll know what to order for the weekend 🙂

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  29. Hi Melissa! This is such a useful read because I’m a huge foodie, and I can definitely want to indulge in the best delicacies that Amsterdam has to offer when I’m there. I have a huge sweet tooth so you can bet how much I’m going to stuff my face. The apple pies are so highly raved and I’ve heard a lot about a place called Winkel 43, which apparently serves very good apple pies. I’ve also had the pleasure of eating Stroop waffles that a friend brought back from the Netherlands for me a few years back! They were so addictive, all gooey and sweet and I polished off almost the entire pack of them in a day hahaha. I love Stroop waffles so much and can’t wait to get my fill of them when I’m there.

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  30. Melissa, I really enjoy your open and honest writing about Amsterdam. Food is generally a prime attraction in any travel destination so this was my most interesting read of all your fabulous posts. I got curious about the Dutch apple pie and read up on it some more. Many would think that apple pie originated from America but it’s a European food that dates back as far as the Middle Ages. Pies were generally savory rather than sweet as sugar was a luxury commodity. The things we take for granted these days eh……… I thought this was interesting “it is said that during that time, because ovens with temperature control didn’t exist, baking time was measured by the number of prayers a person had to say until the pie was ready.”
    Anyways, all these delicacy looks appealing and I will definitely aim to try everyone on this list.

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  31. Food is always a good idea. It’s great to know the main fiches of Amsterdam since they are not very famous. I am not a lot into potatoe, but have to try the poffertjes my mouth was melted with it.

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  32. I have to try vlasms fries and see if it really competes with my beloved canadian poutine!! Thank you for this post i’m slighlty more hungry but also more informed for my trip to amsterdam 🙂

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  33. Honestly, after the phrase “the best part of Dutch cuisine: its simplicity” I was awaiting to read some truly simple recipes…ha! far from! I already can’t wait for a moment to try Pannekoken, as it seems something from heavens!:) and after reading this post I just wonder why the Dutch cuisine hasn’t been widely promoted yet because at least its unique…will see how tasty it is! (^_^)

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  34. Yes! I will certainly have to try Stamppot, Bitterballen, Stroopwafels, and of course some apple pie! Knowing myself I may end up trying everything. Great article that is certainly helpful for any travelers trying to get a taste of the culture!

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