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With 50 outdoor markets, 2,000 restaurants, cafés and pubs, Amsterdam, Holland is the best place to begin a culinary tour of Dutch foods and drinks.

Dutch cheese

Markets and stores sell Dutch cheeses, including Edam, Gouda and Leyden, which is flavored with caraway seeds.

Dutch cheeses
Dutch cheeses
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Dutch eat cheese on bread for breakfast or lunch. Amsterdam broodjeswinkels or sandwich shops serve broodjes, round, buttered rolls, topped with meat, cheese or other fillings.

Also popular for lunch is uitsmijter, an open-faced sandwich of ham and or roast beef topped with a fried egg.

Good fast food

You can literally snack your way through Amsterdam, sampling local specialties like erwtensoep, a porridge-thick pea soup. Also called snert, it is usually served with bacon, sausage or ham and buttered rye bread (roggebrood).

Especially addictive are Dutch French fries (friet), served in paper cones and topped with mayonnaise, spicy ketchup or peanut sauce. Locals like French fries with a mixed topping of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and chopped onions, called oorlog.

Deep-fried kroquetten (croquettes) of meat or cheese, served piping hot with mustard for dunking are a common Dutch snack. Bitterballen (smaller deep-fried beef meatballs, covered with crispy breadcrumbs) are also delicious snacks.

Popular fast food chains in Amsterdam include Febo, for kroketten and frikandel (deep-fried sausages) and Maoz for falafel.

Man eats raw herring dipped in chopped onion at herring stand in Gouda.
Man eats raw herring dipped in chopped onion at herring stand in Gouda.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Herring fillets

During the Holland herring season (late-May to September), you'll see herring carts in Amsterdam and seaside resort towns, like Scheveningen, near The Hague.

To eat raw herring at a stand, you dip the fillet in chopped onions and hold it by the tail over your mouth. Gradually lower it as you eat it. You can also eat the raw herring on a bun.

In Holland, herring is also called matjes (salty, young fish), schmaltz (fat, less salty herring), kipper (cold-smoked pickled herring) and bismarck (cured in salt and vinegar).

Another local seafood delicacy is gerookte paling (smoked eel). You'll find them in fishing centers like Kampen, in Overijssel.

If the idea of eating these snake-like smoked fish gives you shudders, try them anyway. After one bite you'll realize why they are so popular. Smoked eel is delicious, tasting a lot like tender hickory-smoked ham.

Dutch dishes

Traditional Dutch meals include stamppot, mashed potatoes and vegetables, such as kale or endive, served with fried speck (bacon) or rookworst (smoked sausages). Hutspot combines mashed potatoes, carrots and onions with sausage or bacon.

Rijstaffel in Amsterdam
Rijstaffel in Amsterdam
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

No visit to Amsterdam, however, is complete without an Indonesian rijstaffel (rice table), a feast brought back by trading ships from the Dutch East Indies. Rijstaffel consists of a dizzying array of 17 to 30 meats, seafood, vegetables, condiments and sauces served with rice.

Go easy on the sambal (hot pepper sauce). It will incinerate unaccustomed palates, but it's a great excuse to have another Amstel or Heineken beer!

Dutch desserts

Stroopwafel cookies (thin crispy waffles, sandwiched together with treacle or syrup) are a delicious Dutch sweet.

Holland is famous for its chocolate. Van Houten invented Dutch process chocolate, which reduced the bitterness of chocolate, in the Netherlands. He also created the first cocoa powder machine.

Droste is a popular brand of Dutch chocolate. Chocolate shops, like Puccini Bomboni in Amsterdam, sell handmade chocolates, flavored with amaretto, apple and pepper.

The Dutch even serve chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) on buttered bread for breakfast.

Leffe beer glass
Leffe beer glass
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Good for breakfast, lunch and snacks are the meat, cheese and fruit-filled pancakes served at a pancake house (pannekoekhuis). Tiny light pancakes, called poffertjes, are topped with butter and powdered sugar.

Amstel beer

The Dutch drink coffee mid-morning, as well as at 5 pm, for the traditional borrel or drink, with a snack. Beer or jenever (Dutch gin) are alternatives for borrel.

Boutique breweries in Holland also make bottom-fermented beers, using a lagering process. Similar to Pilsener beer, the Dutch call this light foamy beer pils.

Bols liqueur

Holland makes several varieties of Bols liqueurs. Advokaat, a thick, yellow eggy concoction is often served with whipped cream and eaten with a spoon.

The best known Dutch drink is jenever or Dutch gin, made from distilled juniper berries, grain and molasses alcohol. The oude (old) type is yellowish, dryer and smoother while the jonge (young) is clear and more highly flavored e.g., Heineken's Bokma Jonge.

Jenever comes in many flavors, including lemon, red currant and blackberry. You don't mix jenever. Drink it as the Dutch do, from a shot glass, without ice.

Brown Café - Restaurant De Reiger in Amsterdam's Jordaan neighborhood
Brown Café - Restaurant De Reiger
in Amsterdam's Jordaan neighborhood
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

But beware. Jenever looks as innocent as water, but packs a knee-withering wallop. When the Dutch drink jenever followed by a beer chaser, they call it a head-knocker.

Brown cafes

In Holland, many corners of the old neighborhoods feature convivial bruine kroegen, or brown cafes, named for the burnished walls, stained from hundreds of years of tobacco smoke. You can enjoy a Dutch beer, jenever or liqueur in brown cafes.

Alternatively, sample Bols liqueurs and jenever in a tasting house where bartenders traditionally fill the tall shot glasses so full, that you must bend over the bar to take the first sip.


Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions: www.holland.com

More things to see & do in Holland:

North Holland Tour

Zeeland & North Brabant Holland

Utrecht Holland Vacation

Drenthe, Groningen & Friesland Holland

Flevoland & Urk Holland