Cultural Experience | Netherlands

A Food Guide to The Netherlands

If you’re planning on visiting the Netherlands, it’s probably safe to assume that you haven’t chosen to visit this beautiful country because of its food.

Unlike Italy, France, or Greece, Holland isn’t exactly well known for its traditional dishes. With that being said, there are some Dutch delicacies you should definitely try during your stay. Here is a quick collection of some of the most famous (or infamous) Dutch dishes and treats for you to taste.

Everyday Classics

Hagelslag – can you imagine a better way to start the day than with toasted bread spread with an unhealthy amount of butter and covered in sprinkles? Yes, that’s actually a real thing in Holland. In fact, hagelslag – the sprinkles – are considered the most popular bread topping in the country! Usually eaten on buttered bread for breakfast or lunch, these sprinkles come in a range of varieties including: white, milk and dark chocolate, fruit flavoured and even liquorice seed flavoured (however the latter are usually reserved for celebrating the birth of a new baby). For a cheap breakfast when you visit, pick up a loaf of bread, a tub of butter and a box of hagelslag for a traditional Dutch start to the day.

hagelslaag pink bread toast dutch food Holland image

Pink hagelslag is served when celebrating the birth of a baby girl and blue is served when a boy is born.

Gouda Kaas – this Dutch cheese is one of the most popular cheeses around the world, and when you visit Holland you can even make a trip to the Gouda to see the city where it gets its name. The Dutch people love cheese and there is a huge range of cheese types for you to buy at the markets and grocery stores. Consider trying brandnetel (stinging nettles) or green pesto.

Dutch cheese market stall Leiden gouda image

Markets almost always have dedicated stalls for cheese

Pannenkoeken – served with both sweet and savoury toppings, these delicious pancakes are thinner than traditional American pancakes, but thicker than French crepes. Eaten for lunch or dinner, pannenkoeken are normally about the size of a large pizza and include classic toppings such as ham and cheese or apple and cinnamon or more exciting ones such as walnuts, honey and goat cheese or warm cherries and vanilla ice cream.

dinner Dutch pancakes pannenkoeken Leiden image

Pannenkoeken with pineapple, cinnamon and sugar. Yum!

Hutspot – this is as about exciting as it sounds, a traditional Dutch dish made from a combination of potatoes mashed together with carrot and onion. Often served with sausage, this hot dish is the perfect meal for the cold winter months.

Erwtensoep – another classic winter favourite, this chunky pea soup is served in most cafes across the country during the colder months. So grab a bowl and warm up! Be careful, the soup often contains pieces of sausage, so isn’t necessarily suitable for vegetarians.

Dutch food Erwtensoep pot soup image

Chunky pea soup is common in restaurants and cafes during the winter months

Bitterballen – a savoury Dutch snack often eaten when having drinks at a pub, these hot balls of meat are deep fried, resulting in a crunchy outer layer and a smooth consistency inside.

Milk – yes, okay I know this isn’t exactly a food, but it needed to be on the list. The Dutch are in love with milk and it’s estimated the people of Holland consume on average 25% more dairy products than people in the UK or US. No wonder the Dutch people are all so tall! (They are, in fact, the tallest people in the world with the average male in the Netherlands at a height of 6-foot, 1-inch).

Sweet Treats

Poffertjes – these mini pancakes are much more similar to American-style pancakes than pannenkoeken in terms of consistency and taste, however they are much smaller than American pancakes. You can often find poffertjes being sold at street vendors where they are cooked right in front of your eyes. Lekker!

Dutch food poffertjes mini pancakes Leiden market image

Dutch poffertjes are most commonly served with powdered sugar and butter

Stroopwafels – best served hot, these are a typical Dutch cookie made of a layer of stroop (syrup) sandwiched between two thin waffles. Sold hot at farmer’s markets, these are absolute sugary bliss. Local’s tip: if you buy a large hot stroopwafel, don’t hold it vertically while you eat it, as the warm syrup will slide out of the waffles and you’ll be left with a lump of syrup at the bottom of the paper.

girl holding stroopwaffel dutch food netherlands image

Large, hot stroopwafels are often available at markets and smaller ones can also be bought at grocery stores

Festive Foods

Oliebollen – similar to donuts, oliebollen are basically deep-fried balls of dough (the translation is literally “oil balls”). Sold only in the fall and early winter, these delicious treats are served at stalls which pop up across the country as the temperatures start to drop. When you order one, make sure you request it warm and never turn down their offer to sprinkle some powdered sugar on top. Yes, you will probably end up with powdered sugar all down your front, but it’ll definitely be worth it.

olibollen stall Leiden market image Dutch food

Oliebollen, with and without raisins, are sold at vendors like this across the country during the winter months

Kruidnoten – specifically eaten in the time leading up to and on Sinterklaas (5th of December), kruidnoten are delicious small spice cookies. I prefer mine coated in dark chocolate; white and milk chocolate versions are also sold in many stores.

Chocoladeletters – chocolate letters are another fun Dutch tradition during the festivities of Sinterklaas. At most major grocery stores, you can buy any letter of the alphabet in white, milk or dark chocolate. Kid yourself not, these are not to be eaten in one sitting – they are considerably large portions of chocolate! Unlike most chocolate bunnies, these aren’t hollow.

For the Brave Only

Drop – salty liquorice. Um what? This is one of those foods which really takes some getting used to. Unlike the American liquorice which is red and sweet, Dutch dropjes are black and, well, salty. The Dutch love their dropjes and as a result the Netherlands has the highest liquorice consumption per capita in the whole world!

Dutch food Drop candy AH Albert Heijn image

There is a wide variety of drop as seen on the shelves of this grocery store.

Frikandel – imagine you’re a farmer and you’ve just finished making sausages from all the good meat from the pig – what do you do with the extra bits of pig that don’t make it into the sausages? If you’re a Dutch farmer, the answer is to throw all the offcuts and discarded meat into a big container, force the meat through a sieve at high pressure to separate out the bones, puree the resulting “white slime,” shape it into a sausage, deep fry it and serve it as a frikadel. Yum? I don’t think so. And yet these bizarre sausages are one of the most popular fast food snacks in the Netherlands and are available to buy at most large train stations. But be warned – not only do these contain pork and chicken, but often they also contain horse. Eek!

Hollandse Nieuwe Haring – if you like fish, the Dutch new herring is definitely something you should try. To eat the herring like a local, cover the fish in small pieces of raw onion then lift the whole herring by its tail, tilt your head back and eat upwards.

eating dutch food herring image

Eating herring the Dutch way


Dutch windmill Kinderdijk pinterest image

Veronica White

University of East Anglia | 10 stories

Veronica White is a freshman at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, studying for a degree in Environmental Science. Born in North Carolina, USA, she moved to the Netherlands when she was eight, where she experienced many opportunities to travel around Europe and further afield. Her dream is to one day travel the world making documentaries to teach the public about the environmental problems her generation is facing. In addition to enjoying writing, Veronica is an avid photographer who never leaves the house without her camera bag hanging off one shoulder.

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