About the food of the Netherlands

Windmill. Photo by Gouwenaar.

If you like windmills, green pastures, unusual architecture, a dollop of Indonesian culture, and being way, way below sea level, then our week at the Dutch Global Table is for you. But first, let’s start with the basics. We have lots of names to keep track of. The country goes by the Netherlands and Holland (Holland being reserved for when her territories are also being referred to). Regardless, her people are called the Dutch and 25% of their land is below sea level and twice that no more than 1 foot above sea level, giving the country yet one more name: “The Low Country.”

The Cube Houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands viewed from Blaak Subway Station. Photo by Cmglee.

It’s funny to be spending a week on the food of Netherlands during 101F days, since this isn’t really her element. In fact, there’s a wintery-crunchy-leaves-snowy-skies sort of feel to the place which is reflected in the food. Most Dutch food is hearty and homey – sausages, potatoes, soups, stewed meat (hachee), and thick brown gravies. They are known for a fantastic potato salad, loaded up with all manner of goodness [Recipe]. Great cheese and butter also come from this region. For vegetables, favorites include Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage. Carrots and onions are mashed with potatoes – this is called hutspot.

Man in snow from 1960. Windmill in the snow. Photos courtesy of Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo and Rasbak.

Even with all that hearty food, a nice summery meal is still possible. On the balmy summer days, one might make a meal of potato salad with chopped veggies, steamed asparagus wrapped in ham, or even fish (sometimes battered and fried as with kibbeling, other times served pickled as with herring).

There is a huge Indonesian influence on Dutch cuisine as well, thanks to former colonial days. You’ll find glutinous rice used in various ways, most notably in a rice and custard pie of sorts called rijstevlaai from southern Netherlands. There’s also dishes like nasi goreng [recipe], which we made when we cooked Indonesia. This vegetarian fried rice is loaded with sweet shallots, kecap manis (apparently the predecessor to ketchup), and topped with a beautiful fried egg.

When it comes to sweets, the Dutch have a few fun tricks up their sleeves. There are tons of apple fritters, pies, and tarts, but one of the all-time favorite breakfast sweets is hagelslag, served as  buttered bread loaded up with a “hailstorm” of high quality chocolate sprinkles [Recipe]. Chocolate doesn’t have to be in sprinkles to be enjoyed, however, as chocolate milk and hot chocolate are beloved as well. And on Saint Nicolas Eve (December 5) children often find the first letter of their name in chocolate as a gift, supposedly from Saint Nicolas himself.

If chocolate isn’t your thing…. well… there’s still a ton of options. For starters, there’s gingerbread [recipe] and Ontbijtkoek, or Dutch spice cake  [Recipe], which is used in elaborate celebrations for the Queen’s birthday. Think cake hanging from strings for all to eat.

Cake on strings. Hanging from the sky. For all the people.

Let them eat cake, indeed.

Thirsty? Wash it all down with a beer (anyone up for a glass of the famous Heineken?)

Maps and flag courtesy CIA World Factbook. Bakery in Amsterdam, by Yair Haklai.




    • Sasha Martin says

      I find it amazing that they’d make a peanut-buttery looking spread made from cookies. And then spread it on cookies. What genius. And quite possibly my husband’s dream snack 🙂

  1. bdubz says

    Oooh Mosterdsoep. Gently mustardy (that is a real word in our house), super smooth and yummy 🙂

    And then lots of little speculaas with hot chocolate.

  2. Kate Machin says


    There’s a food cart in NYC called Wafels & Dinges that serves that spread (only they call it spekuloos) on hot waffles – divine!

  3. Brian S. says

    Most people think of Holland as one of those small quirky European countries, famous for chocolate and canals. But once upon a time it strutted large on the world stage. That area was, beginning about 1300, an entrepot of world trade, and art and culture too, though most of the action took place in what’s now called Belgium. Holland’s turn came around 1600. They were ruled by Spain but fought a long (80 years) and bloody war for independence. At the same time as all the fighting, those brave and canny Dutch merchants became a world economic power. Much of the world’s wealth and commerce flowed through Amsterdam. Also at that time, the Dutch were somewhat more tolerant than other European countries. Well, maybe not tolerant by today’s standards, but by the standards of those times they were a beacon of liberty.

  4. dutchgirl says

    Finally you’re on my turf!! What you say about the food is actually true. In my home no day goes by without ‘hagelslag’ (both in dark and milk variety). We have other varieties too: coloured fruit hagelslag and the rose/white and blue/whit mice (anice seedscovered in layer of coloured sugar). These are being served on beschuit (biscuit) when a baby is born.
    The most famous candy we have is ‘drop’ (licorice). Dutch people love it, while most foreign people don’t like because it can taste salty. However sweet varieties are available as well.
    I asked my kids what they thought were the most Dutch foods there are and they came up with (and I agree): stroopwafels (two thin waffles with sugarsyrup in the middle), Boerenkoolstamppot met worst (borecole stew with smoked sausage) and drop.
    By the way: most Dutch children don’t get presents at Christmas. We celebrate Saint Nicolas eve on December 5. It works practically the same as Christmas in the US. The kids get presents and treats. That is also the moment to give chocolate letters to your beloved ones. You can only buy them from October till December 5.
    I can’t wait to see what you will be cooking this week! I love your blog and am a follower for a long time now. Every now & then I try something I saw on your blog.

    @Brian: did you know that the Netherlands had the first multinational company in the world. It was called the V.O.C. (United East Indian Trading Company). We were king of the world in the 16th century….

    • Sasha Martin says

      Waffle & sugar sandwiches?? Sounds epic. The Dutch really know how to do up sweets…. 🙂 Tell your kids thank you for weighing in. Glad to hear you get to try some of the recipes with them – happy stovetop travels 🙂

  5. mmm. yes. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but on both sides my grandparents are Dutch and my mom did a lot of Dutch cooking.
    Yes for stroopwafels and drop and speculaas (esp. gevulde speculaas)! And borecole was the worst: my opa grows tons of kale and potatoes in his garden and would always dump off piles of them that my mom would reluctantly cook.
    I would also add boterkoek as one of my favorites. And making oliebollen is always an adventure 🙂
    I have yet to visit the Netherlands, but this post makes me want to even more…

    • Sasha Martin says

      Sounds like your family did a wonderful job of preserving the old traditions – I would have thought you were a resident with all those fancy sounding dishes 🙂

  6. Melissa says

    Hi Sasha,

    Did you only make the nasi goreng? Or it there other Dutch recipes that I’m not seeing….

    • Sasha Martin says

      I’ll have a few recipes up throughout the week. Check back today, for instant, and you’ll find the cake on a rope recipe 🙂

  7. Long time fan here. Glad you’re finally in the Netherlands! I’d just like to add that you’re missing out on possibly the best kind of food that one can serve their kids; pancakes! We serve ours with strips of bacon or apple slices in them, like this: http://i.imgur.com/tJwVP.jpg They’re thinner than American pancakes, but usually bigger and a bit denser, too, so we more often eat them for dinner than for breakfast. A famous topping for them is ‘stroop’, which to my understanding is the equivalent of treacle. No maple syrup, though! Or at least, not when I was growing up.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Ohh, pancakes are fabulous! Pancakes with bacon embedded in them might be genius…

    • Lissa says

      I was going to say: where is pannekoek? And poffertjes? Those are my favorite foods from Nederland!!!

  8. dutchgirl says

    Stroop is made of sugar beets, it is a side product when producing sugar. Stroopwafels aren’t sandwiches but cookies, mostly enjoyed when we have a coffee break in the morning or afternoon. And indeed, pancakes are an all time favourite. Most Dutch kids enjoy the four P’s: Pancakes, Pizza, Patat (French fries), Poffertjes. Poffertjes are like tiny pancakes covered with butter and icing sugar. Not very healthy, but it tastes great!

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