Edition 31 October 2019, by Marla Thomson
You’ve got your housing, your job and you’re getting settled in at both. You’re done with your administrative things and have your residence permit. You’re jumping into the local culture and now it’s time to dive into an important aspect of any new home-away-from-home, and one of the most enjoyable in my view: the food! When it comes to foods that you simply must try, the Netherlands does not disappoint with its selection of tasty eats.
Of course there are the well-known foods like cheese (the Gouda-styled that is simply called “kaas” in the supermarkets, but a wide variety of other, less famous cheeses too), the caramel cookie waffle known as stroopwafels (best eaten from a street vendor in all its gooey goodness), crepe-like pannenkoeken and their bite-sized counterpart the poffertjes (another street food favorite). And lastly, raw herring covered in chopped onions, that is famously eaten by tilting the head backwards and opening wide! But beyond these well-known treats, the Netherlands has a wide selection of foods that are uniquely Dutch in themselves and in the way they are prepared.
Long, skinless pieces of chopped meat and spices, usually deep-fried and served with mustard, or as a “speciaal” smothered in mayonnaise, ketchup and chopped onions. Frikandel is an either love-it or hate-it food (I love it!), but should be tried at least once!
Friet or patat.
French fries or chips exist in just about every country and like every country, the Dutch have their own unique spin on frying cut potatoes. Usually available with a variety of sauces, including Dutch-style ketchup and/or mayo. Asking simply for “patat met” will get you fries and a healthy side-serving of creamy, sweet Dutch mayo.
When I first arrived to my new apartment, my landlady stocked my kitchen with food to get me started, and included a box of chocolate sprinkles known as hagelslag. The box showed them sprinkled on a slice of white bread, which didn’t make sense to me since sweetened sprinkles are for … cookies, right? To my and most non-Dutchies’ surprise, chocolate sprinkles on buttered white bread is the breakfast favorite here in the Netherlands! Another “you have to try it at least once” treat.
This creamy dessert goodness does not get the attention it deserves! Usually available in a milk carton-like container in the dairy section of the grocery store, this creamy dessert is the Dutch version of American style pudding or custard, only better. It goes without saying that the Dutch know dairy and vla – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and even caramel flavored – is Dutch dairy at its best. Eat it on its own or over fruit or other pastry desserts – just realize that once you open a carton of vla you’ll likely finish it off!
And my favorite for last, kroketten.
No, not the croquet or the croquette you are thinking of. Said to have been created in the 19th century by a butcher blending leftover meat with spices and vegetables into a stew-like ragout, thickly covering it in breadcrumbs and deepfrying until golden brown. Whatever the origin is, the result is one of the tastiest snacks you’ll try here in the Netherlands, and – apart from maybe Belgium – you can only get them here.
Also try bitterballen – like kroketten but smaller, a bite-sized favorite treat with a drink out ‘n about (“borrel”).
And fortunately – except for the hagelslag and vla – you can get all these treats at a traditional Dutch snack bar. Most cities and towns have neighborhood snack bars where you order the uncooked item from a glass display (much like a butcher’s or deli’s display) and it’s cooked to order – or in most cases, deep-fried to order! Some snack bars, like the one close to where I live, will have a small bar or seating area and television with whatever live football game is on.
And for the days in between eating out, the produce in the grocery stores is some of the freshest in the world. With the Netherlands being the second-largest exporter of produce in the world and the country being so small, there is no shortage of fresh foods in the supermarkets. Food security has been a national priority since the final days of German occupation in World War II, when the Netherlands suffered Europe’s most recent hunger crisis in the “Hunger Winter”. This has led to agricultural innovation in the Netherlands based on greenhouse and hydro cultivation that is now also able to meet the world’s need for long-term, sustainable, exportable and earth-friendly agriculture for the rapidly growing world population.