Updated: Jun 29
WARNING - Do not read this article if you are currently hungry, as you will be ravenous after you read about and see all the delicious food I have consumed on my trip.
I LOVE FOOD.
Always have, always will.
My mom was the food editor of the newspaper in Dallas, Texas when I was a child, and I learned from an early age to appreciate that cuisine is one of the strongest expressions of culture that one can find.
When global citizens sit around a table and break bread, there is a special confluence of kinship, joy and sustenance.
Therefore, one of the main reasons for my trip to The Netherlands - besides visiting friends whom I have not seen for several years due to the pandemic - was to explore the local food offerings here in Holland.
Dutch cuisine may not be as popular or well-known to Americans as French or Italian; however, one of the biggest positive surprises about my visit to Holland has been the regional fare.
One of the first local items I tried was bitterballen.
Bitterballen (plural of bitterbal) are a Dutch meat-based snack, made by making a very thick stew thickened with roux and beef stock and generously loaded with meat, refrigerating the stew until it firms, and then rolling the thick mixture into balls which then get breaded and fried.
Bitterballen come with a spicy Dutch mustard, which I find to be far superior to the typical American yellow mustard.
Kroketten are Dutch croquettes that contain the same ingredients as bitterballen yet come in a larger size and are not shaped in the size of a ball. Kroketten can be eaten with mustard or on a sandwich. This Dutch snack is so widely available that even McDonald’s has their own version, the McKroket.
I also had home-made pannekoeken (or Dutch pancakes). Dutch pancakes are more like crepes than American pancakes. Similar as in the States, these pancakes are eaten with syrup; however, pannekoeken also come with a variety of sweet and savory ingredients and are eaten at all times of the day. The Dutch even have pannekoeken with pizza ingredients.
Similar to pannekoeken are poffertjes, and my friends say that these miniature pancakes are delicious. Poffertje are made with yeast and buckwheat flour and have a light, spongy texture and are sometimes served with custard in or on the poffertje.
The Dutch eat a lot of potatoes, and Holland is well known for its fries.
My friend commented that he had eaten fries every day the week I was there (for me, it was probably five out of seven days). The Dutch fries are cut thick (almost like steak fries in America) and come in a large basket with copious amounts of mayonnaise (if you prefer ketchup, it is very hard to find).
Fries are so ubiquitous that you can even order them at sushi restaurants!
I am not kidding; I did this.
Many Dutch dishes include fries, and one that does is kibbeling – which is like a miniature fish and chips.
Typically found served from a food stand in the market square, kibbeling is a Dutch snack consisting of battered chunks of fish, commonly served with a mayonnaise-based garlic sauce or tartar sauce.
I also ate fries with frikandel, which is like a Dutch hot dog. I tried the very popular frikandel speciaal, which is a frikandel served together with mayonnaise, curry or ketchup and chopped raw onion.
Yet another local delicacy which is only available in the springtime (and can also be found in Germany at this time of year) is white asparagus.
White asparagus is typically served with Hollandaise sauce, ham, eggs or salmon.
I devoured my white asparagus with all of the above.
The asparagus is white because it is covered with a tarp and receives no direct sunlight, thereby creating this foodie delight.
I also love Dutch desserts, and there are plenty from which to choose.
The most hedonistic dessert I have ever tried is a Bossche Bol.
Found primarily in its city of origin, ‘s-Hertogenbosch (also referred to as Den Bosch), a Bossche Bol is a grapefruit-sized pastry filled with whipped cream and coated entirely with chocolate fondant icing.
Think of an éclair or profiterole but on steroids.
This King of desserts packs almost 500 calories but is SOOOO worth it.
The Jan de Groot bakery is the most famous place in Den Bosch to find a Bossche Bol; however, lines can be incredibly long.
The queues are so legendary that the restaurant installed a traffic light outside the front door that is green if there are tables available and red if there are not.
If you are unable to find a spot at Jan de Groot, fear not. There are many cafes in Den Bosch that serve the Jan de Groot pastries as well.
However, I would highly recommend the authentic Jan de Groot experience if you can pull it off.
Another local delicacy I tried was Limburgse Vlaai.
Limburgse Vlaai is found primarily in Maastricht, which is in the Limburg province in the Southern part of Holland bordering Germany and Belgium.
Limburgse Vlaai is similar to pie and contains various types of fruit and pudding fillings ranging from gooseberry to rhubarb to apple.
Holland is also known for all of its different types of waffles. Whether from a store, street stand or café, you can find freshly-made waffles everywhere.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention stroopwafeln. While ubiquitous across The Netherlands - and you can pick them up at any supermarket or at Schiphol airport - the most famous stroopwafeln come from Gouda.
Yes, I know you may think that Gouda is famous for its cheese; however, most Gouda cheese is produced in surrounding neighborhoods and not actually in the city of Gouda.
On my trip I visited an artisanal dairy farm and cheese shop to witness how Gouda cheese is made. The process is quite time-consuming and once the cheese is formed, every cheese wheel needs to be turned every single day while it ages.
Think of how much work this is to turn all this cheese on a daily basis!
When I wasn’t pigging out on the delicious local cuisine, I diversified my palate with fare from the Far East.
The Netherlands has always had a strong connection with Asia given its historical trading prowess, so it is not a surprise that one can find staples from all of the various Asian cuisines.
While here, I have had amazing Asian noodle dishes, pho, dumplings and other regional Chinese dishes.
Similar to London or other European capitals, there are great doner places as well, especially for late night snacking. Prices are incredibly reasonable - you can get a doner sandwich for five euros, and it takes a very hungry person to eat it all.
Some particular food venues and restaurants stood out for me on my trip:
This uniquely shaped building houses a large food hall with every type of restaurant imaginable. I tried several Asian cuisines and shopped at the various food outlets offering a variety of items from cheese, candy, nuts and more.
Arles offers a 3-, 4- and 5-course tasting menu. I did the three-course prix fixe menu for 39 euros.
First, I had the calamari with blood orange, yoghurt and radicchio. The combination of the citrus with the dairy and calamari was excellent. My brother had the watercress and wasabi with soba noodle appetizer, which is an excellent vegetarian option.
For our main course, my brother had the plaice, which is a flaky white fish. It had fantastic flavor and was the highlight of the meal for me. The fish was cooked perfectly and came on top of a bed of whipped potatoes. I had the lamb shoulder which is almost like a terrine but warm. The lamb was paired with root vegetables and a red wine reduction.
For dessert, we shared the rice pudding and the pastry with coffee and chocolate flavor. I was so full I could not even finish dessert. Overall, I highly recommend Arles as the food and service are exquisite and the menu is inventive and affordable. The location in De Pijp is very convenient, as we walked from the Leidseplein area, which took about 20 minutes.
Loetje is a high-end steakhouse with locations across The Netherlands. I visited the location in Laren, a high-end village known for its many Dutch celebrity residents.
Loetje is known for its Biefstek (steaks) and they come in four sauce options (original, garlic, spicy and with chopped liver) and two sizes (regular and XL). I had the XL Biefstek Ossenhaas, which is the original sauce option. The sauce is like a brown gravy and is quite tasty.
My brother had the Knoflook option, which is a garlic gravy (in my opinion this was the best). The meat comes medium rare to rare unless you specifically ask for it to be prepared in a different way. My steak was very thick as an XL and part of my steak was quite rare.
We ordered mushrooms (which were tender and tasty), salad and fries as our sides. The steaks also come with slices of white bread which can be used to mop up the gravy that comes with the steak.
For dessert, we shared the trio of chocolate. There is also a dessert of the day option as well. For many tourists this is likely not a common destination since it is a little off the beaten path; however, if you are in the mood for a great steak in a luxurious atmosphere surrounded by Dutch locals, this is an excellent option.
With all the food I have consumed, I am thankful for my Peloton app and all of the walking I am doing to keep me in shape!
Stay tuned for next week’s post where I will review the museums I visited on my trip to The Netherlands, and I will also be dropping the April episode of the Social Musings by Austin podcast on Apple Podcasts here.