There are lots of different ways to get to know a new city. Arguably one of the best is through your stomach. Not immediately considered as a top foodie destination, the Dutch’ food scene isn’t the country’s most obvious drawcard. But, there are some interesting foods you should absolutely try on your next visit. Not all will appeal, but we guarantee that no visit to Holland is complete without sampling these 5 national dishes. Smakelijk eten!
1. Bitterballen — the national bar snack
Bitterballen are probably the most well-known and best-loved bar snack in the Netherlands. Similar to a meatball, bitterballen are made with a combination of roux, stock, and ground meat — usually beef — which are then breaded and fried. Sometimes, they’re also flavored with curry powder. While the beef stock makes them a little more fragrant than standard meatballs, the “bitter” in the name doesn’t refer to their taste, but rather the drinks that the snacks are served with. “Bitters” are typical Dutch herb liqueurs. So be sure to order a serve when you take the obligatory Heineken pitstop!
2. Stamppot boerenkool — winter comfort food
Before kale became the world’s favorite superfood, the Dutch were cooking it with sausage and potatoes to make the ultimate winter comfort food. Stamppot translates to “mash pot” and refers to any vegetable that’s prepared in a one-pot casserole. In this case, kale, and potato are cooked with onion until soft and served with a typical Dutch smoked sausage. As well as typical restaurants, you can find boerenkool in winter markets when kale is in season.
3. Hollandse Nieuwe — salted herring
No list of must-try Dutch foods would be complete without the humble herring. Its impact on Dutch history is unprecedented: large-scale herring fishing in the 15th century was the precursor to the mighty Dutch navy fleet and an important source of revenue that ushered in the state’s Golden Age. Herring is still lauded today, with the season beginning in early June when the herring are at their fattest (the official start date is announced late November, so the Dutch have ample time to get excited). The herring is cured in salt and often eaten on bread with diced onion and pickle. An acquired taste, perhaps, but one you shouldn’t leave without experiencing. Most Dutch food tours will include a taste.
4. Hagelslag — breakfast of champions
A breakfast table favorite of kids and big kids alike, hagelslag is the culinary equivalent of the United States’ s’mores and Italy’s gelato brioche: Take a slice of bread (white or brown), spread with unsalted butter, cover with sprinkles, and consume with no regrets. The sprinkles were traditionally chocolate, but now also come in many other flavors. If you figure they’re just an occasional treat served at kids’ parties, the Dutch would disagree. 14 million kilograms of hagelslag (meaning “hail blow” or “hail storm”) are consumed in the Netherlands each year. It may not make it to your list of “most exotic food experiences,” but we hold a deep respect for cultures that understand that bread, chocolate, and butter needn’t be over-complicated.
5. Stroopwafel — syrup waffles
Stroopwafeln are a sweet treat made from 2 wafer cookies held together by a thin layer of cinnamon-flavored caramel. They’re said to have originated in Gouda (the namesake of Holland’s infamous cheese) in the early 1800s. Holland doesn’t have a history of waffle-making, so it’s likely that the inspiration came from Belgium or the neighboring French Flanders. No matter: the Dutch have perfected their own recipe and since 1870, the stroopwafel can be found country-wide.
6. Discover the world of Dutch cheese (and swoon over baby cows)
Besides gouda, one of the most-consumed cheeses worldwide, the Netherlands produces a wide variety of mostly hard cow’s milk cheese. Niek Bertels is the store manager of “Cheese and More” by Henri Willig in the Hague. Join him as he takes you on a virtual journey starting in the Dutch countryside. Discover how Dutch cheese is made (plus: see cute footage of baby cows). You’ll then learn a thing or two on how to put together a Dutch cheese tasting board. Henri Willig is a popular Dutch cheese producer, and a cheese-tasting at one of their stores is a must when you’re visiting the Netherlands.