There is much good eating to be found in Amsterdam, including a wide range of Dutch specialities and favourites that are well worth seeking out.
Apple pie, cake or tart is popular in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam we often saw an enormous apple pie, under its protective glass dome, atop many a bar and cafe counter and on many restaurant menus.
This unusual recipe involves pressing noodles into a block shape, rolling the block in breadcrumbs and deep frying it. It is sometimes made in other shapes such as bamischijf (disc-shaped). This popular snack is usually accompanied by one of a large range of sauces; see Patat/ Friet, below, for an idea of the range.
Liquorice is one of the most famous and popular Dutch sweets and is available in a range of shapes and flavours. Zoute drop means ‘salty liquorice’, also known as salmiak (for the ammonium chloride in the recipe). Zoete drop means ‘sweet liquorice’ and flavours include mint, honey and laurel. English liquorice allsorts are known as Engelse (English) drop .
Sausage-shaped, but skinless, this minced-meat snack is are more like a burger in texture and taste, but is deep fried. Developed in the middle of the last century, it’s become one of the most popular snacks in the Netherlands. Most often served with curry ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise it’s also enjoyed with a combination of mayonnaise, curry ketchup and raw onion, in which case it’s called frikandel speciaal.
Meatballs are one of those universal dishes; so many cuisines have a version of these in one form or another. In the Netherlands they are often served plain or in a simple tomato sauce.
Originating from The Hague in the 18th century, these coffee caramel cream sweets are individually wrapped in distinctive packaging.
I love the name of ‘hot lightning’ for this simple dish of boiled potatoes and apples (a mix of sour and sweet) served with stroop (treacle syrup) and an optional scattering of bacon or ham. Variations include the addition or substitution of pears for apples and a thunder and lightning version in which ham and mustard are added.
Kaas is the Dutch for cheese. Traditional pubs often offer one or more Dutch cheeses on their bar snacks menu. As well as plain cheeses, versions with cumin, herbs and other spices added are also popular. You may find smoked cheeses too.
This cheese snack, popular throughout the Netherlands consists of hot liquid cheese inside a deep fried bread crumbed casing.
Another very typical Dutch snack, croquettes are most commonly filled with meat ragout, but other fillings are also popular. A great choice with a glass of beer. Kroketten are formed into a short sausage shape. A smaller, round version are known as bitterballen.
Herring from the North Sea has been a staple of the Dutch diet for centuries. Today, maatjes are a popular snack available from stands around the city. Maatje derives from the Dutch word for ‘virgin’, by the way and refers to the fact that the best herring is caught after the fish have gorged on food but before they’ve had a chance to reproduce.
Though most guides describe maatjes as raw herrings, in fact they are very lightly soused (preserved) in brine. The gills and part of the gullet are removed, to eliminate bitterness, but the liver and pancreas are left in place during the pickling, as the pancreatic enzymes they release are said to contribute to the flavour.
In days gone by, there was much excitement when the herring season started as the nieuwe haring (new herring) was particularly prized for its oil-rich flavour. These days, all herring must be frozen following the catch (to kill nematodes) which means the best fish is available all year round.
The meltingly soft fish is usually served chopped into pieces, with diced raw onion and pickled gherkins, on a small paper tray. For a more filling version, opt for broodje and the vendor will stuff the fish, onion and pickles into a soft bread roll.
Literally ‘oil balls’, oliebollen are Dutch doughnuts, traditionally made to celebrate New Year’s Eve and also popular at funfairs. They are also sold from street stalls, most commonly during winter. Sometimes dried fruits, pieces of apple or citrus zest are mixed into the dough.
Dutch pancakes are thinner than American or Scottish ones, but thicker than French crepes and are usually much larger, often up to a foot in diameter. Savoury pannenkoeken often have bacon, apples and cheese added. Plain or sweet ones are usually served with treacle syrup or icing (powdered) sugar.
French fries are ubiquitous in Amsterdam and a very popular snack or quick meal. They are most often served with mayonnaise but you may also find them offered with curry ketchup, variations of mayonnaise such as garlic or curry, Indonesian-inspired sate peanut sauce, speciaal – a mix of mayonnaise, curry ketchup and chopped raw onion, samurai – mayonnaise mixed with sambal oelek (Indonesian chilli paste) or oorlog (‘war) – a (perhaps jarring, given the name) mix of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and raw onion, though it can also be a combination of other sauces and toppings on offer from that vendor.
These tiny fluffy pancakes made in specialist pans with shallow indentations into which the batter is poured. They are usually served hot with melting butter and icing (powdered) sugar and are enjoyed as a sweet snack or dessert.
Just as Indian food has become a national institution in Britain, given our country’s history in India, so Indonesian food is similarly prevalent in the Netherlands. Many Amsterdam restaurants offer the rijsttafel, which translates as ‘rice table’ and describes a meal in which tiny portions of many dishes are served together, along with rice.
Rookworst translates as ‘smoked sausage’, and is made from ground meat, spices and salt stuffed into a sausage casing and smoked. These days, smoke flavourings are sometimes used as a short cut. Rookworst is traditional served with stamppot.
Speculaas / Speculoos Paste
I love speculaas – delicious thin and crunchy spiced shortcrust biscuits, traditionally baked for St Nicholas’ Feast (December 5th) but nowadays available all year round. Often, the biscuits have a picture stamped onto the front before baking
A related delight is speculoos paste (note the French/ Flemish spelling variation), which you can buy in jars from grocery shops. The biggest brand making this seems to be Lotus but others, such as Vermeiren make it too. Thick and spreadable, I’m intending to enjoy the contents of my jar on toast, and maybe as a tasty cake filling.
Despite the Dutch name translating to ‘pork belly’ or ‘bacon’, spekkoek is actually a cake; another Indonesian dish which has become very popular in the Netherlands. The stripes of cake, built up layer by layer, resemble streaky pork belly bacon. The cake is very rich, containing lots of egg yolks, butter and sugar and is laborious to make. In Indonesian, the cake is known as sweet layer cake or thousand layer cake, and is enjoyed during special celebrations. In the Netherlands, it is often served as dessert in rijsttafel restaurants.
Stamppot means ‘mash pot’ and is a really comforting winter warmer of a dish made from mash potatoes with the addition of onion, bacon and one of a range of leafy green vegetables. Rookworst is often served on top.
Much thinner and denser than the light, fat waffles I’m more familiar with, these circular beauties are two thin layers of pressed batter with a treacle syrup filling which has a lovely caramel flavour. These lovely chewy snacks are enjoyed fresh from roadside stands but cold, ready made ones sell very well too.
Although tompoes means ‘tom cat’ or ‘tom puss’ the name actually derives from tompouce, as it’s still sometimes written, i.e. ‘Tom Thumb’. It refers to a traditional pastry made from two layers of puff pastry, a filling of sweet pastry cream and a smooth layer of pink icing on top. The colour varies only on and just before Queen’s Day, when it is orange instead of pink, to reflect the main colour of the Royal Standard.
These simple, crumbly peppermint sweets are named for a former queen and come with her likeness embossed on their surface. Available from sweet shops and kiosks, we were often given a couple with the bill at cafes and restaurants.
With thanks to Eurostar for return train tickets to Amsterdam and the first night’s hotel stay.