The ultimate culinary hit list for visiting the Netherlands’ capital.
While Amsterdam is home to nearly 20 Michelin-starred restaurants, the city’s true culinary scene shines on the street, where unfussy finger foods abound at food carts and open-air markets. Dutch food is remarkably diverse, including light, health-conscious delicacies (raw herring, regional cheeses, seasonal produce) and hearty, meat-forward ones (fried meat, fried potatoes, fried meat and potatoes together). For the ultimate Dutch food experience, work your way through the following 10 dishes, all of which are readily available on the street and at many sit-down restaurants.
1. Hollandse Nieuwe Haring
Though the Dutch eat herring all year round, the small, oily fish hits peak popularity in mid-May through July, the season of “Hollandse Nieuwe Haring” (Holland’s new herring). The summertime specialty is defined by herring with a fat content of at least 16 percent, thanks to more plankton to feast on in warmer waters. After being cleaned and soused in a mild salt solution, the herring is served raw with diced onions as a garnish. To dine like a local, dangle the fish by its tail and drop it in your mouth; if that doesn’t suit your taste, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat it over bread or crackers, too.
Invented in Gouda, the historic city south of Amsterdam famous for its namesake cheese, stroopwafels are the unofficial staple snack of the Netherlands. Made from two crispy, paper-thin waffles joined together with a caramel filling, this chewy baked good is available all over Amsterdam, both made-to-order at street carts, cafés, and restaurants and pre-packaged in grocery stores.
Similar to croquettes, bitterballen are deep-fried meatballs served with a mustardy roux for dipping. Offered at almost every pub in the city, this savory finger food is perfectly engineered to complement a night of one too many regional beers (known for their high alcohol content — often eight percent or more).
Thin, round, and plate-sized, pannenkoeken are the Dutch take on pancakes. Traditionally served for lunch and dinner with savory combinations like Gouda and ham, they are also available in sweeter varieties (think: berries, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream) at breakfast.
You can’t go far in Amsterdam without encountering “drop,” a salty black licorice in the shape of coins, peas, and diamonds. The Dutch take their black licorice very seriously — on average, every person in the Netherlands eats four pounds of it a year, which is the world’s highest consumption rate — so it’s worth a taste, even if you’ve grown up eating saccharine Red Vines and Twizzlers.
To anyone who’s travelled to Quebec, kapsalon triggers memories of poutine. Made with a heap of thick-cut french fries topped with donair meat, gouda, salad greens, garlic sauce, and sambal (Indonesian hot sauce), this classic Dutch street food is best enjoyed sitting on a bench overlooking a canal. Pro tip: Ask for extra napkins.
Here’s another fried finger food: battered chunks of fish, usually cod or haddock, served with remoulade or tartar sauce for dipping and often a side of crispy french fries. Sold at fish stands across Amerstam, it is a handy alternative for those too squeamish to try raw herring.
No guide to Dutch delicacies is complete without a section devoted to kaas (“cheese” in English). As the world’s second-largest cheese exporter behind Germany, the Netherlands is a cheese-lover’s dream destination. Within the gouda family, be sure to try graskaas, a creamy, minimally aged cheese made from the first milkings of spring when the cows feast on fresh grass after a winter spent indoors. For a sharper bite, try boerenkaas (a.k.a. “farmhouse cheese”), an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese aged for several months to produce a rich, nutty flavor. If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t miss out on leyden, a yellow, semi-firm cheese studded with cumin and/or caraway seeds. And that’s just the beginning! For a thorough taste test, visit one of the many cheese shops lining Amsterdam’s canals.
Poffertjes are tiny, puffy buckwheat pancakes covered in powdered sugar and melted butter. A favorite of kids and adults alike, they are a fixture at street festivals and outdoor markets, where they are piled into brown paper cones perfect for portable snacking.
A hearty mix of potatoes mashed with vegetables and sauerkraut, stamppot is the quintessential Dutch comfort food. Though often served with smoked sausage (“rookworst”), variations on this classic dish abound, from meatless versions to seasonal vegetable medleys.
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