Ok, so I know that the unidentifiable lumpy, green sludge above doesn’t look particularly appetising. I’m not going to lie, it is hard to make something that resembles a bowl of sick look good. But, it is a national Dutch dish, so when in Amsterdam and all that…
The Netherlands were the last country I travelled to in 2015 as part of my 12 countries in 12 months challenge. My friend TJ and I went to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam. It was the first time I’d been to The Netherlands, and TJ’s first time in Amsterdam (her grandmother lives in Eindhoven, so she’s been to the country quite a bit). We had a great time exploring the city and saw in the New Year at a party in Zindaam, a suburb of Amsterdam.
Unlike other countries I went to last year (most notably Colombia), I think it’s fair to say that the Netherlands isn’t particularly renowned for its cuisine. And with such an eclectic mix of people living there, when you want to eat there’s a diverse range of restaurants to choose from. This made it pretty hard trying to find somewhere that served typically Dutch food.
There are over 1.1 million people living in Amsterdam, and more than 4 million tourists visit the Dutch capital every year. According to the 2012 census, 49.5% of the Amsterdam population were Dutch, and 50.5% were of foreign ancestory, with over half of these being Indonesian – TJ’s grandmother is actually included in the 35% of Indonesians in the city.
So, it’s not a surprise that the city’s restaurants range from Indonesian, Chinese and Surinamese to Turkish and Mediterranean. In fact, when we were roaming the Red Light District we ending up eating in a Spanish tapas bar, of all places. Amsterdam is made up of over 170 different nationalities, which makes it one of the most diverse cities in the world – so what the heck should you eat when visiting Amsterdam?
What to eat in Amsterdam.
If you’re looking for something quick and easy, you can’t get any faster than the hole-in-the-wall “cafés” that are dotted all around the city. Head into any Febo to find an array of hot snacks, including hamburgers, kroketten and frinkandellen, all steaming behind glass doors. Put your euros into the slot and dinner is served. Yum. The experience should definitely be on your list of Dutch must-tries, for the novelty value alone. It’s not Michelin star by any means, but it beats the spaghetti bolognese (if you can even call it that) from a vending machine that we were offered on our first night in Zaandam.
Food from The Netherlands may not be as well-known as French or Chinese cuisines, but there are a few dishes that are typically Dutch. These were some of our favourites:
Erwtensoep: pea soup.
Erwtensoep, or “snert” as it’s also known, is a very thick soup made of split peas, celery, leeks, carrots and pork. The waiter at the De Roode Leeuw restaurant explained in great detail about how this dish is popular in the winter, eaten with slices of rookworst (smoked sausage) piled high in the middle, and a slice of rye bread topped with a sliver of katenspek (a type of Dutch bacon which has been cooked first and then smoked) on the side.
The Dutch consider a well-made erwtensoep to be thick enough that a spoon stays upright in it. That is why it’s often eaten the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to blend and the soup thicken.
As a big fan of soup, this is not a claim I make lightly: it was the tastiest, most flavoursome soup I’ve ever had. It was thick, hearty and just what we needed to get over our New Year hangover. Here’s TJ and a massive bowl of erwtensoep, mmm… Apparently erwtensoep is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day – coincidently that’s just when we ate it.
Stamppot: mash potato.
Another for cold winter evenings, stamppot is the ultimate Dutch comfort food, not dissimilar to the old British classic, bubble and squeak. Translated literally as ‘mash pot’, it’s a traditional dish of potatoes mashed with other seasonable veg. It’s usually made with various combinations of sauerkraut, carrot, endive, onion or kale, and served with a big sausage.
My main course at the De Roode Leeuw restaurant was a big helping of sauerkraut stamppot, served with two ginormous slices of rookworst (honestly, they were about an inch thick, each), two thick slabs of “bacon” and a sweet, red wine gravy. I might have been able to finish it, had a I not polished off a huge bowl of erwtensoep before.
Pannenkoeken: sweet and savoury Dutch pancakes.
Pancakes are common around the world, and not really specific to any country. But Dutch pancakes are a lot larger than American and English pancakes, but thicker than a French crêpe.
Pancakes are eaten throughout the day in The Netherlands (though typically for dinner), unlike in the US where they’re only really served for breakfast, or in UK where they’re considered a dessert. Another difference is that a Dutch pancake is more akin to a pizza. The pancakes are covered in toppings, like bacon, cheese, apple or raisins.
Of course we had to have pancakes in Amsterdam, it would’ve been a crime not to. So after we’d queued for hours in the freezing cold to get into the Anne Frank House, we rewarded ourselves by heading to the Pancake Factory on Prinsengracht.
With eyes bigger than our bellies, we ordered a pancake each from the daily specials board, our waitress mocking that we wouldn’t be able to eat it all. They arrived, covered in hot chocolate sauce, stroopwafel pieces, cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream, icing sugar and chocolate curls.
Just 15 minutes later, we sat there in a sugar-induced food coma, feeling sorry for ourselves. We were determined not to let the waitress win, but alas, we were defeated. I blame the boozy hot chocolates we had before the calorific pancakes came.
If you’ve visited Amsterdam, what did you eat while there? Have you tried any of the foods above? Drop me a comment in the box below – I’d love to hear from you.