What would be the word for someone who is a bit obsessed with the Netherlands and has an affinity with all things Dutch? If my country of obsession was France I’d be a Francophile; England and I’d be an Anglophile. But Netherlandsophile just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Whatever it’s called, I am one. For years I made an annual trip to the Netherlands getting to know Amsterdam really well and exploring the rest of the country. I have friends living in various parts which gives me a bit of insider perspective too.
I haven’t been for the past couple of years, not because I’ve lost interest but just because of the way my holidays have fallen.
During my recent visit to Manchester’s Christmas Markets I saw lots of stalls selling a variety of Dutch goodies and this made me realise just how much I like Dutch food and how much I’m missing it.
So here’s a list of my thirteen favourite Dutch things to eat. I’m vegetarian so this list doesn’t have any meat on it.
Patatje oorlog met uitjes
This translates as ‘fries at war, with onions’. Fries (patatje) can be bought all over the Netherlands at takeaway shops that also sell burgers, cheese pastries and sausage type things known as ‘croquettes’ from little glass cubby holes. You put your money in the slot and open the tiny door and help yourself to the food item you’ve just bought. Febo is the biggest and best known chain of these vending-machines-that-aren’t-quite-vending-machines shops, though they’re mostly found in the West of the country.
If you want fries you have to ignore the little windows and place your order at the counter. They come served either in a tray or a cone and you choose which sauce to have with them; both curry and ketchup are popular choices. I, however, like mine served with peanut sauce and mayonnaise. Yes, that is a thing. It’s actually not seen as that weird in the Netherlands and even has its own name: oorlog. Oorlog is the Dutch word for war and fries served in this way are called patatje oorlog because the sauce combo is supposedly seen as a war of flavours. Particularly when the uitjes (very finely chopped raw onions) are added.
Believe me when I say patatje oorlog met uitjes is delicious and should be high on everyone’s list of interesting foods to try when visiting the Netherlands.
These are tiny bite-sized pancakes made with yeast. They puff up in the pan and are usually served with butter and icing sugar. Each (melt in the) mouthful is a little bite of heaven. They’re getting harder to find now, outside of touristy places, but you can still get good ones at Schiphol Airport.
Mmm, pancakes. Can anyone really say they don’t like pancakes? Dutch pancakes are thick and huge and come with loads of different savoury and sweet toppings.
Savoury toppings can be a mix of cheeses, meats and veggies, whilst sweet pancakes can be topped with fruit, chocolate, nuts, liqueurs, cream, syrups … the list is endless.
Sometimes the simple things in life are best though. Order a plain pancake, sprinkle it with sugar and dribble it with syrup or treacle from one of the selection of bottles on the table. Then roll it up, pick it up (or cut it into slices with a knife and fork if you’re being posh) and take a bite. Life is good.
Apple pie seems like such a normal, everyday thing. It’s a traditional dish in the UK and America and probably other countries as well. Apple pie in the Netherlands, however, is apple pie on a whole different level.
Appeltaart or appelgebag is a deep pastry case filled with spiced (usually cinnamon) apples and topped with a crumble. Seems simple, yet tastes so good. I really think there must be a secret ingredient they don’t tell anyone about because I’ve never been able to replicate it.
This is basically a cheese butty. But if that sounds boring and bland, think again. First, the bread will be delicious. Whether it’s served on a baguette or some other kind of bread roll it will be good. Guaranteed. The bread will have a bit of butter on it and a couple of slices of (usually) mild cheese (jonge kaas), though you can buy them with more mature cheese as well (oude kaas). You may find broodje kaas with added lettuce or even mayo, but you don’t need it. The pure, unaduterated taste combination of bread and cheese will have you never wanting to order a stuffed Ploughman’s sandwich again.
Ok, so this looks like the same thing as above just with the words switched around. Don’t confuse them though, as they are completely different things.
Kaasbroodjes are the Dutch version of cheese pasties. The puff pastry outer is wrapped round a thick cheesy sauce inner. They are best eaten hot. They’re not something I’d really sit down in a cafe to eat, but are good for a snack on the go. Pop one in a paper bag and it’ll warm your hands as well as your belly.
NB Although I love Febo for their patatje oorlog met uitjes, I don’t recommend you get your kaasbroodje from there. Go to a bakery or a shop selling sandwiches and hot snacks instead.
Stroopwafels are two thin waffles sandwiched together with syrup. They’re great eaten straight from the packet, though traditionally you have them with coffee. If you sit the stroopwafel on top of your cup for a minute or two the hot coffee warms the waffle and melts the syrup. Another nice way to eat them is to warm them and serve them with ice cream for a dessert. So delicious.
What is it with the Northern countries and liquorice? The Scandinavian countries are all very much into liquorice (in Sweden I discovered that the only thing more delicious than liquorice ice cream is liquorice and chilli ice cream) and even in Britain we have our Liquorice Allsorts. The Netherlands is no exception and drop (liquorice) can be found everywhere and in about a zillion different varieties.
Salty liquorice is probably even more popular than sweet liquorice. This is an acquired taste for some people, but I liked it from the off. One of my best finds on the liquorice front has been liquorice flavoured chewy mints. Really. The combination is sooo good.
These fried fruity dumplings sound so much better in Dutch than they do if you translate their name into English. Yeah, ‘oily balls’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it? A bag of these freshly fried balls sprinkled with icing sugar is a real winter treat. They’re traditionally sold around New Year, but you can find them at other times.
Cheese is probably the food the Dutch are best known for. Edam and Gouda are the ones everyone seems to have heard of and tried (good luck with pronouncing ‘Gouda’ by the way), but there are others.
Boerenkaas, which translates as farmers’ cheese, is an artisanal raw milk cheese made from local milk. Others include, Delft Blauw which is a blue cheese and Maasdammer which is full of big holes and has a nutty taste. Cheese flavoured with cumin is popular too.
Dutch cheese is categorised by how long it has been aged for: jong means it has been aged for about a month; belegen, 4 months; oud, ten months and overjarig, more than one year. The very mature cheeses become hard and have a really strong flavour. I like using them in place of Parmesan.
NB Most Dutch cheeses are made with animal rennet. I don’t eat meat or fish and try to avoid things labelled with animal fat, but I do eat cheese even if it has animal rennet in it. If you’re a stricter vegetarian than me, you’ll need to be careful with which cheese you eat in the Netherlands.
This translates as ‘breakfast cake’and is a slab of dense ginger cake. Cut off slice and thickly spread it with butter and enjoy it with your morning coffee. I think it’s good enough to eat at any time of day and I’ve even served it hot slathered with custard for a pudding. But then, I am English.
Speculaas is usually found as tiny thin biscuits served with coffee. The biscuits are dry in texture and brown in colour. They are spiced with cinnamon, cardamon, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and ginger and go so well with coffee it’s no wonder they’re the standard thing to serve with it.
In recent years it’s been possible to buy speculaas as a sandwich spread. It’s sold in jars and is the consistency of peanut butter. Spread it on a hot toasted bagel and it will melt into it and go really gooey. So good for a decadent breakfast treat. I’ve also found speculaas flavoured ice cream which is delicious on a pancake or waffle.
This is what you call comfort food. Potatoes and cabbage all mashed together and traditionally served with a fat Dutch sausage. I prefer mine with cheese melted on the top. I’ve said ‘cabbage’, but it can be anything really … spinach, chicory or even carrots. I’m not sure how many restaurants you’ll find with this on the menu, but it’s so simple and easy to prepare you can easily make it for yourself. It’s a great way to use up leftovers too.
So those are the foods I love eating when I’m in the Netherlands, but just to balance things out a bit, here’s one I’ve never really got into:
Bread with sprinkles
Why oh why do the Dutch think it’s not just acceptable, but also delicious to take a slice of perfectly good bread and butter and ruin it by covering it with multi-coloured hundreds and thousands? They really do this. I know Dutch people who eat this for breakfast. Really.
Along with trying all that Dutch food you’ll want something to drink.
I love Dutch coffee so much I even have a Dutch coffee machine (it’s a Senseo if you’re interested). In the UK we’ve undergone an invasion of American style coffee shops with their buckets of watered down coffee and three cows’ worth of milk with each bucket. Dutch coffee is the complete antithesis to this. It’s strong and served small. Bigger than an espresso, but not by much. You can add milk if you like, but if you do, just add a drop. Don’t drown it.
Witbier met citroen en stampertje
Witbier is white beer and although it’s not actually white, it is pale and slightly cloudy in appearance. It’s extremely refreshing, especially when served with a wedge of lemon (citroen). Of course you need to have a stampertje (mashing stick with a flat disc at the bottom) to stomp all the flavour out of that lemon. So much fun.
NB I don’t know how to spell stampertje. I also have no idea what it’s called in English, hence my wordy description.
What do you think of my choices of not-to-be-missed Dutch foods? Are there any I’ve missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.