I’ve always been obsessed with Dutch things. Dutch art, Dutch history, Dutch architecture. That’s precisely why I did a Master’s degree in Dutch Studies.
However, one thing that most people aren’t obsessed with is Dutch food. Dutch cuisine being simple and rustic, it may not be as popular as other European foods. But after spending a few years living in the Netherlands, I can assure you that there are Dutch foods that are absolutely delicious. There are also many region-specific foods that are a must-try on your visit! Let’s look at the best of them, from sweet to savory!
Stroopwafels don’t need too much of an introduction. First made in Gouda in the 18th century, stroopwafels came into existence when bakers added a sweet caramel syrup to leftover cookies to reuse them. These waffles became popular, and the procedure to make them soon involved pressing the batter in hot iron, then removing the edges so that it could separate into two discs, which are then filled with a cinnamon caramel syrup or ‘stroop’.
These stroopwafels became popular all over the world thanks to Dutchies. You can eat them warm to feel the melting caramel, or put them on top of your coffee or tea so it slowly melts. You can by stroopwafels in almost every market, but the best ones are made fresh at the street stalls in Holland, and should be enjoyed right there warm!
2. Drops (Licorice)
Personally. I’m not a big fan of Drops, but other people love them. These licorice-flavored candies come in different shapes and are the most popular Dutch snacks. They also consume about 32 million kilos per year, with each person eating at least 2 kg per year. No wonder they’re also the largest producer of drops in the EU.
Some drops are soft and sweet, while others are hard and salty, they’re often referred to as Zoute Drop (salted liquorice) or Doubbel Zoute Drop (double salted liquorice.) Careful, your Dutch friends might force you to eat some.
If you’re into licorice, consider trying Dropshot, a Dutch liquor made with salted licorice!
Once called oliekoek, the traditional olieballen has been depicted in paintings dated as far back as 1652. Literally translating to ‘oil balls’, that’s basically what they are! Also called smoutballen in the Netherlands, they’re eaten during funfairs or Christmas seasons.
Once made by scooping the balls of dough into hot lard, they’re now deep-fried in oil instead. The fried dough balls are often served covered with powdered sugar, similar to donuts. Some versions also contain currants, raisins, candied fruit, zest, or pieces of apple.
Speculoos or Speculaas is a spiced biscuit that’s traditionally baked around 5th December which is St Nicholas Day in the Netherlands. The shortbread type biscuits often have the image of a ship, elephant, farmhouse, horse or other elements from St. Nicholas story on them. The biscuit may have gotten its name from the Latin world speculator or “he who sees everything” which was St Nicholas epithet. Or it could have come from the Dutch word ‘specerij’ which means spice.
The thin, crunchy biscuits are made with hints of cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, or ginger. Dutch people love Speculoos and have even created variations of the cookies – some with anise or almond flour.
But the best part about Speculoos is that you can eat it as a bread spread. Popularly called Speculoos, Speculla or Biskoff Spread, this version of the cookie butter is made with 60% crushed Speculoos cookies. It has a caramelized ginger taste as popularized by Els Scheppers in the popular Belgian TV show “De Bedenkers” (The Inventors).
I wasn’t convinced at first, but the spread is fantastic.
5. Hagelslag (Sprinkles)
Anyone who’s visited Holland knows that hagelslag – chocolate sprinkles, are the most important part of Dutch breakfast or lunch as eaten on bread. Sounds weird, but it’s actually tasty. Dutchies also use hagelslag for baby showers – by eating blue or pink sprinkles for the gender reveal.
Although decorative confectionary was in use for cakes since the 18th century, the Dutch version, Hagelslag was first invented in 1936 by the Venz company in response to letters from a five-year-old boy, H. Bakker, asking for a chocolate bread topping. It’s possible that the chocolate sprinkles were really just for himself.
Literally translating to ‘pepper nuts’, these spicy small biscuits originated in the 16th century when spices became more affordable in Europe as a result of trade with the Far East. The cookies made of rye flour, anise, and sugar with cinnamon or cloves; soon came to be associated with Sinterklaas day on the 5th of December.
According the tradition Saint Nikolas comes from Spain by boat on Sinterklaas day. He would bring gifts for the children and put gold coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. Saint Nick also threw gold coins in the windows of 3 young girls houses to provide them a dowry. Since then, to celebrate Sinterklaas day, these irregularly shaped cookies were often thrown in handfuls in kids’ rooms so that they could look for them. What a weird tradition!
While the traditional pepernoten didn’t have any particular shape, the modern-day pepernoten are round in shape and often confused with Kruidnoten, which are also made for Sinterklass day. These cookies have a shape of a half-sphere, are hard and crispy, and have a typical ‘speculoos’ flavor.
These cute little Dutch pancakes are served at Christmas events and in summer festivals, similar to olieballen.
Starting as a Catholic tradition, the ‘poffertjes’ are sometimes called ‘brothers’. Why? Because at one time in the Netherlands the communion host was turning out very dry, and the brothers experimented with different recipes. Their experiments created the poffertjes as they’re known today.
These yeast based fluffy pancakes are made in a special poffertjespan, and served with a crazy amount of butter and sugar. Sometimes, they’re also served with whipped cream or s sweet syrup.
The Ontbijtkoek is a delicious ginger-spiced cake made with rye flour. Spices used include ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sometimes a candied citrus peel called succade is also added.
The recipe varies in different parts of the Netherlands. Literally translating to ‘breakfast cake’, Ontbijtkoek with a thick layer of butter on it is a must-have for breakfast or as a snack.
Is ontbijtkoek really a Dutch cake? It depends. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had a breakfast cake that contained pepper. In the Middle ages, the cake was made using leftover bread and different spices. In the 16th century, the cake had begun to be produced by many bakeries all over the Netherlands using ginger and other spices.
Ontbijtkoek’s is sometimes also called peperkoek (pepper cake) or kruidkoek (spicy cake).
Made of two puff pastries that are filled with a custard cream, the tompouce pastry looks a lot like the French millefeuille.
The Tompouce or tompus was created by a pastry chef in Amsterdam who was inspired by General Tom Thumb. Who was General Tom Thumb? He was a 1 meter tall dwarf called Charles Sherwood Stratton who performed in PT Barnum’s circus as Napolean. A Frisian dwarf who copied him used the French name Admiral Tom Pouce. And at some point in time, the name was given to the pastry too.
On King’s Day the icing often turns orange to celebrate the Dutch Royal Family.
Vla is a thick custard-like drink made of milk, eggs, vanilla and sugar. It originated in the 13th century and was often used to cover pastries or cakes. In the 1950s it became popular as a sweet alternative to porridge.
Because it was originally sold in bottles, a special tool called a flessenschraper or bottle scraper was invented to help individuals scrape all the contents out of the bottles. You’ll now find vla sold in cartons everywhere, with flavors such as vanilla, caramel, chocolate, banana, apple and orange.
11. Paasbrood and Kerststol
These popular oval shaped candied breads originated when the crusaders brought back almonds and spices from the East. The first known written record of the bread was the German stollen in the 14th century, which is quite similar in ingredients.
Made with yeast, raisins, dry fruits, candied peel, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar they have an almond paste in the center. Some versions also include kiwi, cardamom, crystallized ginger, dried cherries, dried cranberries, ginger, walnuts or almonds.
The dough is filled with amandelspijs which is an almond paste log in the center before baking. When ready, it’s dusted with icing sugar before serving.
When served for Easter as an end to the fasting season, it’s called paasbrood or paasstol. When served for Christmas, the bread is said to symbolize the Christ child, and it’s called Kerststol.
1. Kaas (Dutch Cheese)
Somehow some wheels are even bigger than my whole body…
You’ll struggle not to try cheese in the Netherlands – it’s everywhere! Maasdam, Leerdammer, Edam Holland, Boerenkaas, there are so many! Hollandse geitenkaas is soft and milk made from Dutch White Goats milk. But don’t forget to try some Gouda jong belegen met komijn (young Gouda cheese with cumin) or pesto Gouda!
In 18th century Amsterdam, a pub owner named Jan Barentz was looking for some finger food to feed his clients who were often hungry while drinking. His wife crumbled leftover croquets, rolled them with eggs and breadcrumbs, and deep-fried them in hot oil. And they soon became famous!
Bitterballen is a classic food that you’ll find at most bars around the Netherlands. They’re usually ordered or served as snacks accompanied with drinks, and there’s nothing bitter about them! Those small, fried, bread-crumbed balls contain a mixture of veal and beef ragout to go with mustard. They’re usually VERY hot inside, so wait a bit after you get them and never put a whole ball in your mouth straight away, otherwise, you’ll burn your tongue.
3. Krokets (Croquettes) & Kaasbroodjes
Friends of bitterballen, krokets or croquettes are made of meat ragout that’s rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Their history dates back to the time of Louis XIV, who loved Kroketten. It’s said the first recorded recipe for a croquette was from Louis XIV’s personal chef. They can be found in cafes, snack bars, or in self-serve dispensers at the Febo chain stores. Even McDonald’s has their own version of McKroket.
Croquettes are usually filled with veal or beef, but if you fancy something meat-free, try kaasbrodjes. Kaasbrodjes are simply French pastries filled with cheese that have been deep-fried. They’ve become popular as Gouda cheese pastries in other countries.
4. Pannenkoeken or Dutch Pancakes
Pancakes are well known all over the world, but Dutch pancakes or pannenkoeken are a bit different. They’re a mixture of thin French crepes and thick American pancakes, and traditionally also included buckwheat. Often served in pannenkoekenhuizen or pancake houses, they’re also really wide and can go all the way up to a foot in diameter.
The filling sitting on top of it is usually made from raisins, apples, bacon, or cheese. They’re sometimes served with just cream, plain syrup, or with powdered sugar.
A popular way for tourists to have them is while sailing on ‘De Pannenkoekenboot’ boat tours that offer unlimited all-you-can-eat pancakes on every cruise.
Stampot which means mash pot is a mixture of mashed potatoes with other veggies – onion, cabbage, lettuce, carrot, turnip greens, kale, or sauerkraut – and a smoked sausage called rookworst. My personal preference is stampot made of potatoes, spinach, onion, mushrooms and bacon.
The version of stampot with mashed potatoes, carrots, and onions is called hutspot.
It must be served with a gravy called jus and you’re supposed to make a small hole in the mash and fill it with the sauce, known in Dutch as a kuiltje jus (little gravy pit).
6. Joppiesaus or joppiesauce
Dutch people love fries, and fries need a sauce. That’s where joppiesaus comes along. It’s a mixture of onions and a mild curry powder with mayo. It’s very unhealthy, like most of the Dutch specialties, but it tastes good.
The bright yellow sauce Joppiesaus was invented by Janyne “Joppie” de Jager circa 2000 when Janyne worked at Annie’s Snackbar in Glanerbrug. Elite Salades & Snacks bought the recipe, and it entered production in 2002. You’ll find it served with fast food dishes across the Netherlands!
7. Kibbeling and Lekkerbekje
Kibbeling is the most popular market snack in the Netherlands. It’s a fried battered fish (usually cod or the ray-finned whiting) with tartar sauce that’s the Dutch answer to fish and chips.
The word kibbeling usually referred to the cheeks of the cod which were an important part of the Dutch diet in the 19th century. Before that, circa the early 1800s, it referred to the waste parts of a fish including the head that were usually given to the poor, but come 1849, it referred to only the cheeks of the cod. In the 1950s, a fishmonger from IJmuiden got the brilliant idea of breading the cod cheeks and selling them as a snack to tourists. And it soon rose to popularity.
Lekkerbekje is a form of kibbeling that hasn’t been chopped into bits. It’s usually served with patatje oorlog, which is thickly fried fries with mayo.
While I like kibbeling, I prefer fried mussels, served in the same stalls as the kibbeling. I never considered eating fried mussels before, especially not battered, but they’re super tasty.
8. Hollandse Nieuwe or Haring (Herring)
Almost a symbol of Holland by itself, the raw herring is a very popular dish. Don’t be afraid of the fact that it’s raw, because it’s really good and covered with onion. And it’s not really raw. The herring has been gutted and salted to preserve it.
You can also try a broodje haring which is a herring sandwich or eat the deboned fish on its own with pickles. You’ll find herring sold at carts called haringhandels everywhere. Traditionally, the best time to enjoy the herring is between May and July when it’s really sweet.
To eat it the traditional way: grab the fish by the tail, hold it in the air, tip your head back, and bite upwards!
9. Erwtensoep or Snert
Almost every country on the planet has some version of a pea soup. The Dutch version was added to the list of Dutch intangible cultural heritages in 2019!
Traditionally eaten in winter, the Snert or Erwtensoep is a really thick pea soup made with split peas. The Erwtensoep is usually made with celeriac, leeks, onions, carrots, potato and pork meat. Just before the soup is served, thin slices of a smoked sausage called rookworst is added to it. Bacon, butter, cheese, or roggerbrood (rye bread) is served alongside.
This thick soup is so popular that there’s a snert world championship held in Groningen every year since 1995! In winter, you’ll find snert or Erwtensoep sold at any of the koek-en-zopie stalls around the Netherlands.
These long, deep-fried and skinless hot dog styled sausages are a traditional snack in the Netherlands. Made of ground chicken, beef, or pork meat mixed with nutmeg, mace, pepper, or mace, the sausages were once called frikadel. Making allusions to it’s phallic shape, the Dutch playwright PC Hooft called it a recipe for old spinsters.
The sausage is often served in long buns or broodje, or with fries, raw onions, lettuce, mayo, and Currygewürzketchup. When served with mayo, curry ketchup, and diced onions, it’s called a frikandel speciaal.
This traditional Dutch dish is a stew of fish, meat, poultry, or veggies. The dish was probably created when meat was cooked in large iron cauldrons and then cooked with vinegar or wine to tenderize the meat. Laurel leaves, cloves, apple butter and breakfast bread are added, and the dish is served with rice or potatoes.
Derived from the French word hacher, which means to grind or chop, the origins are unknown. It may have originated in the Medieval times at around the same time as the hutspot, and is often eaten with it.
November 15 is celebrated as National Hachee Day.
How many of these Dutch food have you tried? Which are you favorite?