From savory to sweet and creamy to spicy, there are so many Dutch treats to eat in the Netherlands. To enjoy Dutch cuisine like a local (and not a tourist), these are the best Dutch foods to try when you visit Amsterdam, Maastricht, or anywhere in between.
When we moved back to the US after living in the Netherlands for more than three years, one of the things I missed the most was the traditional Dutch food. It was easy to preserve memories by looking at photographs, and I could easily keep in touch with my friends. But the food…
I would sometimes dream about Dutch treats at night I missed the food so much! Even now, when I return to the Netherlands, my goal is to eat so many Dutch frites mit mayonnaise (French fries with Dutch mayonnaise) that I nearly make myself sick. That way, I am fully sated until my next trip to my adopted country.
A friture is to the Dutch what a fast-food hamburger joint is to Americans. These quick-serve restaurants, food trucks, or food stands produce ready-in-minutes, often Dutch fried food like bitterballen, frikandellen, and frites. While I have yet to find anything close to a friture in the US, my beloved Bruges restaurant in Salt Lake City can at least satisfy my craving for a frikandel speciaal and frites when I head out west.
Fun Fact: The Dutch word for yummy is lekker, and it was probably the first word I learned in Dutch when I lived in the Netherlands as a teenager.
Bitterballen are savory Dutch treats commonly served at frituren, establishments serving fast food in the Netherlands.
What Does Dutch Treat Mean?
Although I’m using the phrase as a play on words to describe the best Dutch foods from the Netherlands, there is another meaning for the phrase “Dutch treat.” In the US, the phrase “going Dutch” or “Dutch treat” means a date or other outing where each person pays their own way.
On the surface, that sounds like a reasonable concept. After all, I’m an independent woman and don’t expect a man to always pay for dinner or the movies. Away at college, my kiddos regularly “go Dutch” with their friends when they grab a bite or coffee. However, the expression dates back to the 17th century and was bestowed upon the Netherlands by the English who meant it to be that the Dutch were stingy.
Savory Dutch Foods to Try in the Netherlands
Bitterballen, Deep-Fried Dutch Croquettes
Made with a variety of fillings, bitterballen are a popular Dutch fast food in the Netherlands.
Bitterballen are croquettes made of chunks of slow-cooked, savory meat that has been thickened with butter and flour, rolled into balls, breaded, and deep-fried. An order of this Dutch fried food can include anywhere from four to eight bitterballen, and they are a common menu item at Dutch frituren, establishments serving fast food in the Netherlands. To accommodate vegetarians, some restaurants now offer this Dutch treat using mushrooms, instead of meat, for the filling.
Sage Advice: Author Emily Wright is convinced that Dutch food is going to be the next big thing. Make your own bitterballen by following her recipe on page 76 of Dutch Feast. You can even serve them with little Dutch flag toothpicks for a bit of extra festive fun! Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the Dutch flag is a red, white, and blue horizontal triband.
Dutch Frites/Friet or Patat, Dutch French Fries
While the French and Belgians argue over who invented French fries, the Dutch are busy eating this tasty treat. Served in a cone topped with a massive amount of dipping sauce, they are one of the most lekker foods you can eat in the Netherlands. Dipping sauces range from regular old tomato ketchup to curry ketchup that tastes more like American barbecue sauce than Indian curry. One of the most popular Dutch frites sauces is mayonnaise. I don’t like American mayonnaise, but I can not get enough Dutch mayonnaise on my frites when I visit the Netherlands!
Sage Advice: If you’re looking for a taste of the Netherlands on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, be sure to check out Bruges in Salt Lake City. Their freakendel special is the closest I’ve found to authentic Dutch frites and frikandel, including the sauces. I’m also in love with the frites at Duck Fat in Portland, Maine.
Erwtensoep, The National Soup of the Netherlands
While some soups are served as starters, erwtensoep (Dutch pea soup) is hearty enough to be a full meal. After all, it pretty much includes all of the major food groups in one bowl. It’s typically packed with protein like bacon, ham, and/or sausage. In addition to dried peas (obviously), it usually includes onions, leek, and potatoes. While you may not officially be able to eat this Dutch treat with a fork, one test of quality is to see if the erwtensoep is thick enough to hold your spoon upright in the bowl. Be sure to sop up every last drop using buttered pumpernickel bread when you give this traditional Dutch food a try.
Want to Make Dutch Split Pea Soup, or Erwtensoep, at Home?
It’s easy to make authentic Dutch split pea soup at home. Photo by The Forked Spoon.
Dutch pea soup is full of protein, fiber, and delicious veggies. It’s easy to make, easy to freeze, and a great way to use up a ham bone. Try it at home with this recipe from The Forked Spoon.
Frikadellen, Sausage-Like Dutch Treats
Frikandellen are a famous Dutch food.
A frikandel is a minced-meat sausage that looks a bit like a dark brown hot dog without a skin. It another common Dutch fried food that is served bun-less. My favorite way to eat a frikandel is as a frikandel special (frikandel speciaal in Dutch). To make a frikandel special, the frikandel sausage is sliced lengthwise, sprinkled with finely chopped onions, and drizzled with curry ketchup (that tastes a bit like barbecue sauce) and Dutch mayonnaise.
Sage Advice: While frikandellen are usually made from an assortment of beef, chicken, and pork, be warned that some manufacturers also use horse meat in their sausages.
Herring, a Favorite Fish
Plentiful in the North Sea, herring are small silvery fish that are a popular Dutch food.
From salted to pickled to smoked and smothered in cream sauce, small silvery herring are regularly incorporated into Dutch dishes. The bravest foodies may want to try herring the Dutch way as a sort of Flanders sushi. With the head and innards of the herring removed, the whole fish is dunked in salt and then consumed by tipping back your head and downing the whole filet pelican-style. Raw salted herring is also commonly enjoyed with raw onions on a fresh bakery bun.
If you’re not sure you can stomach salted herring, you can also try this traditional Dutch food pickled, fried, or smoked.
Kaas, Dutch Cheese
As one of Europe’s smaller nations in terms of area, it might be hard to imagine that the Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products. But once you’ve had just one bite of their amazing Gouda or Edam cheese, you’ll understand why everyone else in the world must have this Dutch treat! In addition to the most popular Dutch cheese varieties (like the Gouda and Edam mentioned above), be sure to try Maasdam or Leyden cheese. On the other hand, I find Limburger cheese to be a bit more of an acquired taste!
Sage Advice: After Gouda, Edam, Leyden, and Maasdam, here is a short list of Dutch cheeses you’ll also want to try when you visit the Netherlands: nagelkaas (clove cheese), goat cheese, geitenkaas (a semi-hard white cheese), and Leerdammer.
Mussels, Dutch Treats from the North Sea
I’ve read that the Dutch consume about 60 million kilos of mussels in their coastal country each year. I’m pretty sure that I ate about one million kilos of mussels in one sitting the first time I tried them! Our Dutch neighbor invited my family over for dinner, and she prepared the main dish quite simply. The mussels were steamed in a white wine broth with just enough garlic and sprinkled with plenty of fresh parsley. Holy cow, were they good!
Pannenkoeken, Gigantic Savory or Sweet Pancakes
As big as dinner plates and nearly as thin as crepes, pannenkoeken can be both savory and sweet. Savory pannenkoeken can be made with a variety of traditional Dutch flavors like smoked salmon, bacon, Gouda cheese (of course), mushrooms, and sour cream. A modern twist to pannenkoeken include pizza-like toppings such as pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, and oregano.
Sage Advice: If you’re going to eat pannenkoeken at a popular place, like Amsterdam’s Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs, be sure to make reservations in advance.
Sate/Satay, Skewered Meat Inspired by Indonesia
Satay is a popular food in the Netherlands
Formerly known as the Dutch East Indies, what is now Indonesia is a former Dutch colony. As a result, there is an Indonesian influence on Dutch cuisine. One of my favorites is sate (also known as satay). Long strips of meat are threaded onto bamboo skewers, grilled, and served with sauce. In the Netherlands, meats used in sate include chicken, mutton, beef, pork, and fish. The most famous sauce is a not-too-spicy peanut sauce called satay sauce, but others can be quite spicy.
Sweet Dutch Foods to Try in the Netherlands
Chocoladeletter, Dutch Sweets in the Form of Chocolate Letters
When it comes to Dutch sweet treats, chocolate is at the top of my list. During Christmas in the Netherlands, nearly everyone receives a large, chocolate letter of their first initial in their wooden shoes from Sinterklaas. Made from dark, milk, or white chocolate, most of the letters are plain. However, some Dutch Sinterklaas treats may include orange flavoring or nuts like hazelnuts.
Sage Advice: If you’re looking for where to buy Dutch chocolate letters, just head to a local grocery store in the Netherlands.
Drop, Dutch Black Licorice
Known as drop, Dutch licorice can range from salty to sweet and be hard or soft.
America’s biggest black jellybean fan may still have a hard time embracing Dutch drop, a traditional Dutch candy. The salty variety can be quite bitter and salty. And, while the sweeter fruit-wrapped licorice (also known as English licorice) may be more tasty to unfamiliar palates, many Dutch don’t consider it to be real licorice.
Fun Fact: The average Dutch resident enjoys more than four pounds of drop per year. So if you truly want to experience the Netherlands like a local, you’ll need to make this typical Dutch candy one of the Dutch foods you try.
Hagelslag, Chocolate Sprinkles Served on Buttered Bread
Hagelslag are Dutch sprinkles for toast that are affixed to a slice of bread with a thick schmear of fresh butter.
When I think of all the sugary breakfast items that I absolutely loved as a kid, but rarely let my kids eat now that I’m a mom, hagelslag is at the top of that list. These delicious sprinkles come in several flavors like dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and rainbow-colored fruit. But, if you’re visiting a country known for Dutch sweet treats like chocolate, why wouldn’t you have it for breakfast? To eat hagelslag, spread a slice of bread with butter and fill it from corner-to-corner with the hagelslag of your choice!
Fun Fact: Hagel is the Dutch word for hail, like the shape of these tasty sweet sprinkles.
Oliebollen, Fritters with Fruit Bits and Powdered Sugar
Oliebollen are a lekker way to celebrate the winter holidays and ring in the new year.
Typically eaten in winter, from early December through the New Year, oliebollen are a type of Dutch sweet treat that resemble a doughnut hole or fritter. Some oliebollen contain bits of apple or currents, and all oliebollen are sprinkled with powdered sugar. When raisins or currents are used in oliebollen, they are typically soaked in rum overnight. Yum!
Poffertjes, Silver Dollar-Sized Dutch Treats
Unlike the massive pannenkoeken, poffertjes are small Dutch pancakes about the size of American silver dollar pancakes.
Poffertjes remind me of silver dollar pancakes. But unlike American pancakes that are always cooked on a flat griddle, these yummy Dutch sweet treats are cooked in a heavy cast iron pan with divots. The semi-circular indentions in the pan help the pancake dough puff up. Poffertjes are brushed with melted butter and dusted with powdered sugar before being served.
Want to Make Poffertjes at Home?
Make Dutch pancakes at home with this poffertjes recipe from Recipe Pocket. Photo courtesy of Recipe Pocket.
If you can whip up pancake batter, you can make Dutch poffertjes at home! While it’s easiest to make poffertjes in a mini pancake pan, what I love about this poffertjes recipe from Recipe Pocket is that it includes directions on how to make these miniature Dutch pancakes in a traditional frying pan.
Speculaas, A Spiced Shortbread Cookie with Almonds
Speculaas are traditional Dutch cookies commonly enjoyed at the holidays.
Another Dutch treat common around the Christmas holidays are speculaas cookies which taste a bit like crisp gingerbread. These traditional Dutch cookies are usually shaped like windmills and often have slivered almonds pressed into the bottom. Here in the United States, you may know speculaas in the form of the speculaas butter available during the winter holidays at my beloved Trader Joe’s.
Stroopwafels, Caramel Syrup Filled Waffle Cookies
Stroopwafels are thin Dutch caramel wafers pressed together with syrup.
In addition to its famous cheese, the town of Gouda is also home to stroopwafels, one of the best-known Dutch sweet treats. In fact, these waffle-like wafers pressed together with caramel syrup, or stroop, are generally considered to be the national cookie of Holland.
Stroopwafels are especially fantastic as an afternoon pick-me-up that is warmed up over a cup of coffee before being devoured. While it is relatively easy to find imported stroopwafels in the US at stores like World Market, they never seem to taste as fresh to me as the stroopwafels that jump on a plane with a co-worker in Amsterdam and arrive on my desk about 24 hours later.
Sage Advice: Experience more Dutch culture with this off-the-beaten-path bike tour of Amsterdam.
Want to Make Stroopwafels at Home?
Stroopwafels are Dutch cookies that sandwich two crispy waffle wafers together with gooey caramel syrup. Photo by Barth Bakery.
Check out this recipe for Dutch Stroopwafel Cookies from Barth Bakery. To make authentic Dutch stroopwafels at home, you’ll need a waffle cone iron, cookie iron, or pizzelle press.
Vlaai (or Limburgse Vlaai), Dutch pie from the Southern Region of the Netherlands
Vlaai are Dutch pastries from the southern Dutch province of Limburg.
Vlaai is a type of pie from the southern Dutch province of Limburg. To make these traditional Dutch pastries, pie crust is filled with fresh fruit like cherries, peaches, and plums, and then capped off with a beautiful lattice top.
But the crust used for vlaai isn’t your traditional flaky pie crust. Instead, it’s a sweet yeast dough that gives this delicious Dutch dessert from the southern part of the country a unique twist.
Look for several variations to this famous Dutch dessert that include:
Kruimelvlaai, a Dutch pie with a struesel or crumb topping instead of a woven lattice top crust
Rijstevlaai, a traditional Dutch pastry that features a cooked rice filling in lieu of fresh fruit
Fun Fact: While Americans typically celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, and other milestones with cake, the Dutch mark life’s milestones with vlaai.
By: JENNIFER VAN LENT/ everydaywanderer.com