In the Netherlands, typical frites are served with mayonnaise. // © 2014 David Wade
Feature image (above): Visitors can opt to try raw herring from one of many street vendors around the city. // © 2014 Carley D. Thornell
Established in the early 17th century to profit from the international spice trade, Dutch East India Company’s worldwide reign soon ballooned to include the sugar business. So it comes as no surprise that the cuisine of the Netherlands embraces both savory and sweet today.
From salty street snacks like frites with mayonnaise to shops around every winding canal corner, overflowing with candies and luscious plated desserts, hearty Dutch cuisine is not ideal for travelers watching their waistlines — though pedaling one of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous bikes through town should help burn off a few calories. With world-class museums to boot, the Netherlands is just as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach.
Here are some culinary experiences you don’t want to miss on a visit to the Netherlands, along with a few venues where you can find them:
Piled high and held aloft with a stiff crust, Winkel Cafe 43’s famous apple tart — along with its perfect spot for people watching in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam — has been drawing crowds for decades. Though many opt to replace a more traditional meal with a slice framed by fresh whipped cream, farm-to-table dishes here are featured daily with choices posted on a chalkboard.
Creamy? Nutty? Pungent? An afternoon at a Reypenaer Tasting Room is sure to expand your cache of synonyms to describe the sensory experience of nibbling one of the Netherlands’ most famous exports. Learn about the company’s two family-owned cheese houses as you serve yourself six varieties paired with wines and port.
These walk-up fast food restaurants are a Dutch institution and may be your best bet to sample the most indulgent local snacks in one locale. Try a “frikandel,” a minced-meat hot dog; a “kaassouffle,” breaded and deep-fried cheese; or a “croquette,” which consists of vegetables and meat rolled in breadcrumbs before being fried. All of Febo’s offerings are ideal for late-night snacking and guilty-pleasure eating.
Served in a paper cone with a glob of slightly yellow mayonnaise, fries here are a popular street-stall snack that has many varieties of names and toppings. Called “patat” in the northern part of the Netherlands and “friet” in the south, these long, coarse-cut potato sticks can also be served with curry ketchup or raw onions.
Due to the Netherlands’ location along the North Sea, fish has always been an integral part of Dutch cooking — though most of the herring eaten here is actually raw, not cooked. There’s a Haringhandel fish stand on almost every street corner, and you can either drop fish into your mouth by holding the tail or opt for the sliced version topped with onions or pickles. Herring also come served fried or in a bread roll (a dish known as “broodje haring”), which may be the way to go for newcomers.
Centuries ago, tea was one of the world’s hottest commodities. Today, the movers and shakers of the world still put their pinkies up to politic at Hotel Des Indes in The Hague, the capital of the province of South Holland. A four-course afternoon high tea here is a stately affair, featuring savory sandwich and soup starters, macaroons, chocolates, petit fours and herbal and flowery teas to match. The setting is just as rich: You are surrounded by tones of royal purple, brocade, velvet and sparkling chandeliers in a space that was built to host aristocrats and heads of state.
The Dutch are famous worldwide for their love of licorice, but hopje candies are ubiquitous in the Netherlands. Made in The Hague, these coffee-flavored confections have their own intriguing legend — they were named after Baron Hendrik Hop, whose doctor advised him not to drink coffee. Hop asked a baker to create a candy to mimic the flavor of coffee and this creamy confection still lives on in candy dishes across Holland.
Every country has its signature spirit and the Netherlands lays claim to jenever, a juniper-flavored liquor. Pronounced “yeh-nay-ver,” a sip makes it easy to see how this is the drink from which gin evolved. There are two different varieties — new and old — named for their distilling technique, not for age. The former is more neutral, while the latter is more aromatic and similar to whiskey. Try raising a glass at Pulitzers Bar in the Hotel Putlizer, Amsterdam. Separate lounge areas in the bar, which is frequented by locals, are decorated in blue, red and black — the brand colors of spirit maker Johnnie Walker.
If you’re open to a rotating menu and the company you dine with is as important as the meal itself, a “living-room restaurant” is one of Amsterdam’s most unique experiences. Chefs open up their homes and houseboats to offer farm-to-table meals of two or three courses, served family-style. Whether it contains crusty bread dipped in a fennel-scented bouillabaisse broth accompanied by steamed artichoke with aioli, no two meals — or group of dining companions — is alike. One restaurant with this quirky experience is Caro Kookt in the Jordaan district.
An Indonesian version of tapas, “rijstaffel” or “Dutch rice table,” harkens back to the Netherlands’ trade route in the West Indies. It’s a colorful, multisensory experience, as a large tray is paraded out with upwards of a dozen small plates and bowls surrounding a pile of rice. There are spicy red curries; meats swimming in sweet, coconut-tinged broth; skewers of lamb and chicken; vegetables; nuts; pickles; and crisp rice crackers provided to enhance the sensation of crunch — clearly, no one at the table will leave hungry.
Traditional Dutch comfort food sticks to your ribs. For “stamppot,” boiled potatoes are mashed together with vegetables such as kale and served with “rookworst,” a type of Dutch smoked sausage. There are many different varieties of stamppot, which can be sampled at Restaurant Moeders (“moeders” is Dutch for mother). The affordably priced Moeders has a laid-back atmosphere with a comfy hodgepodge. Its walls are covered in portraits of diners’ actual mothers, and no set of cutlery is alike.