Dutch cuisine has been enriched by many foreign flavors, initialized perhaps when Holland ruled the spice trade in the 17th century. Other major influences come from the former colonial empire: Indonesia, South America, and the Caribbean, including current possessions such as Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. More recently, the Netherlands has seen an influx of immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, bringing their own traditional dishes into Amsterdam’s cuisine. Simply said, you will find an abundance of interesting restaurants, cafes, and snack houses dishing up food from Surinam, Indonesia, the Antilles, India, Italy, Argentina, Mexico, China and Japan, to name a few!
Even with its many influences, the Netherlands has managed to preserve a few of its truly unique and delicious culinary traditions. Stroop waffels (caramel squeezed between two cookie waffles) are simply delectable, especially when fresh as can be found at the Albert Cuypstraat market. Bitter ballen are small balls of minced beef mixed with butter and flour and sometimes other ingredients, served with mustard at almost every casual social function in the land. In days leading up to Christmas, peppernoten, small buttons of cinnamon covered in chocolate, start to proliferate into reception rooms of every business and home in Amsterdam.
Another Dutch delicacy not to miss is raw herring, or Dutch sushi, if you please. Raw fillets of herring, tail attached, are served garnished with chopped raw onions. Any Amsterdammer will happily demonstrate the proper way to eat herring is by lifting it high in the air by its tail, and eating it upwards, like a penguin swallowing a fish!
And although the Dutch cannot claim “cheese” as their own, Dutch cheeses are world famous and rightly so. The array of choices in most supermarkets can be overwhelming if you are not from a traditionally cheese eating nation. Cheese is one grocery worth spending a few extra euros because the good stuff is really excellent.
And then there’s FEBO, which is an odd and uniquely Dutch innovation. FEBO is a snack vendor that operates with minimal staff by supplying hot food through vending machines. You approach the wall of snacks (croquettes, fries, burgers), find a snack that seems palatable, insert the requested amount of money, open a small window and voila! You now have greasy FEBO food. And, while FEBO is usually only relevant to those who plan to stay out past 1am on a regular basis, everyone intending to integrate into Dutch society should experience this fast-food phenomenon at least once.
The Dutch eating schedule might seem odd for those who originate from a country where people have a full lunch. In Amsterdam, breakfast consists of a variety of breads, cold cuts, cheeses, butter (and coffee), followed by lunch, which surprisingly also consists of bread, cold cuts, cheese, and sometimes salad. The truth is that there are just a few restaurants that serve lunch. Most establishments open only for dinner (around 6 p.m.), which is the main meal for most people.