Dutch cuisine is more home cooking than, say, the haute cuisine of the French. Nonetheless it is highly enjoyable, and that’s the point, isn’t it? Here’s a brief overview.
The Dutch eat a ton of dairy products. Gouda and Edam are its most well known cheeses, named after the towns from whence they originated. However the list of cheeses is long, most falling within the same family as these famous names. Most are dipped in a wax or plastic coating. There are various ages at which they are released for sale, the terms being “jong,” (young) “belegen” (aged up to 48 weeks and oude (old) (48 months or more, a hard cheese). More on cheeses here https://www.dutchamsterdam.nl/295-amsterdam-delicacy-herring#notraw, and here https://dutchreview.com/culture/dutch-cheese-varieties/ and here https://www.quest.nl/mens/voeding/a25455309/oude-kaas/
Cheeses are generally consumed on their own and used to make cheese sauces. While the French pair it with wine, the Dutch are much less likely to do so, being more into beer drinking than wine. They often serve it with mustard, which seems to make it go better with beer than one might assume. It is served cubed with a ‘borrel,’ a late afternoon bar snack.
Fish forms a significant part of the diet, mostly served deep fried other than salmon and tuna, which are served as filets with a sauce in the case of the former and canned with salads and sandwiches. There are fish trucks in almost every main plaza with deep fried offerings, especially ‘lekkerbek‘ (cod) in filets or in bits called kibling. Some also offer fries and drinks. Haring (herring) is always available from these trucks. It is served filleted after having been cured. You can have it with chopped onions and pickles.
With this background, what will you find in restaurants?
Sandwiches. The restaurants are very creative with these offerings. There is a salmon brood on just about every menu and you feel you are in the lap of luxury with hearty brown or white bread together with sauces and veggies.
Fries Nary a meal goes by without them. Often they are served in attractive baskets either to the individual or the table. They are consistently the equal of the best fries anywhere, crispy and hot. They serve them with mayonnaise, mustard, or sate sauce (peanut sauce), and a few others. There are fries shops in many towns. Just fries and sauces sold there.
Kip sate is one of my favorite main courses. The Dutch controlled Indonesia through the Dutch East India Company. As a result Indonesian items are on Dutch menus. Kip is Dutch for chicken. A sate is a peanut sauce. Chunks of chicken are skewered then grilled before being served with a peanut sauce. The sauce is fairly sweet and sometimes a bit spicy. It is served with fries and vegetables. A rice tafel (rice table) is a large selection of Indonesian specialties served on a lazy Susan. Look for an Indonesian restaurant rather than an Indo-Chinese restaurant as the former provide a more genuine experience.
Pork is a favorite, grilled and then served with a sauce, some veggies and fries. Chicken as well, but more as a sate served with fries and some veg. Beef is less common and quite expensive in restaurants. Steaks of various cuts are offered in restaurants, although the Dutch eat more pork than beef. They like it with pepper sauce or perhaps a Hollandaise.
White asparagus is wildly popular. It is in season in late spring to early summer. While still in the ground it is covered to keep it from turning the normal green. I have had it with a cheese sauce, but is also severed with slices of ham with a hard boiled egg. Belgian endive, called ‘witlof,’ is also very popular, topped with a cream sauce. We had it first at a friend’s house. It is steamed, cut in half and allowed to drain before wrapping it in a slice of ham, topped with a cream sauce and bread crumbs, then put in the oven for a bit.
Mussels are usually served fried. At home they are more likely to steam them. These days most people do not deep fry at home. A friend does some really fine ones with onions, garlic, carot, celery and creme fraiche.
‘Poffertjes‘ are small, cylindrical snacks made with pancake batter poured into a mold and served with powdered sugar. Pannenkoeken are pancakes but as lunch or dinner offerings with various savory toppings and served as a dessert as well . They are not a breakfast item! They also have waffles, served as sweet snacks, small and thin with powdered sugar. At a fund raiser for a windmill’s petting farm I told the volunteer that I had them for breakfast with sausage or bacon and she nearly fell over with a mixure of surprise and I tkink I detected a bit of disgust at the mere thought of it. Stroop (syrup) waffles are cookies made with sugar or corn syrup. Waffles in the Belgian style are unknown.
Uitsmijters are fried egg dishes with two or three eggs, ham and cheese on toast, sometimes served with potatoes on the side. They are served for breakfast and lunch. The Dutch love soup. Mustard soup is a specialty of the town of Doesburg, home of a mustard factory. It is a cream based soup and is quite tasty. Burgers have become popular, an American import that is in vogue is much of Europe.
Borrel are pre dinner drinks often served with snacks around 4-5 pm with dinner coming at 6 – 8 pm. Croquettes are common borrels, with a crunchy exterior covering a creamy filling. Frikandel are a kind of sausage. Bitterballen are deep fried meatballs. Kaassoufflé is a deep fried cheese delight served with a sate sauce. Loempias are fried rolls, like Chinese egg rolls, coming from the Indonesian tradition. Blocks of cheese are served with mustard, as mentioned above. I have never seen red peppers stuffed with sweetened cheese in a restaurant but they are common in grocery stores. At friends’ houses we’ve had rolls of salmon with something like cream cheese, and jamon serrano called rauwe ham also stuffed with the same or similar kinds of cheese. Hard sausages are sliced and offered up. There are lots of others, but these are the ones I have run across the most.
Special thanks to Marcella and Yoost for corrections and suggestions.
Next: beer, the national beverage.