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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:
ApfelstrudelPiled 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.
Cheese TastingCreamy? 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.
FeboThese 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.
When traveling in the Netherlands, stamppot is a must-try traditional dish, a mixture of boiled potatoes and vegetables served alongside rookworst, or Dutch smoked sausage. // © 2014 David Wade
Raw herring is a common snack that can be purchased from street vendors. // © 2014 Carley D. Thornell
Another snack often eaten on the go are frites, served in a paper cone and topped with mayonnaise. // © 2014 David Wade
Translated as “rice table,” rijsttafel is collection of small plates and snacks — ranging from meat skewers to nuts and pickles — that surround a bowl of rice. // © 2014 David Wade
For a more luxurious experience, visitors to the Netherlands might sit down for afternoon tea at Hotel Des Indes, where a four-course affair of sweet and savory treats is served. // © 2014 Hotel Des Indes
Named after Baron Hendrik Hop, Hopjes are coffee-flavored candies made in The Hague and widely sold in the Netherlands. // © 2014 Carley D. Thornell
No visit to the Netherlands is complete without cheese, and at family owned Reypenaer Tasting Room, guests can sample different varieties paired with wines and ports. // © 2014 Carley D. Thornell
FritesServed 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.
HerringDue 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.
High TeaCenturies 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.
Hopjes 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.
JeneverEvery 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.
Living-Room RestaurantsIf 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.
RrijsttafelAn 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.
StamppotTraditional 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.