What comes to mind when you think of Dutch food? For me, it’s Gouda cheese and stroopwafels. But surely a culture of explorers and spice traders must have more to offer. With one full week in Amsterdam, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Dutch cuisine but had plenty of time to delve into the national dishes.
So, what is there exactly? For one, a popular snack called bitterballen, or deep-fried meatballs with a texture reminiscent of Spanish croquettes. These tasty little nougats are best served with grainy mustard and icy beer. Another Dutch delicacy is stamppot, a hearty mash of boiled potatoes and assorted vegetables. Stampot is often served with links of smokey sausage, though I did see vegetarian options on some menus. For dessert, it doesn’t get any better than apple pie. Thicker and drier than the American version, Dutch apple pie is almost cake-like in its consistency. Served with a generous dollop of cream, it’s the perfect end to any meal!
Here are the best restaurants I found during my stay in Amsterdam. Addresses and pricing information can be found at the bottom of this post. If your favorite spot isn’t included, be sure to tell me about it in the comments!
Our first meal at Loetje was so delicious we went back a second time later in the week. The house specialty is a thick filet of tender steak slathered in buttery gravy. My mouth waters looking at the photo! You can get the steak topped with extras like sauteed liver and onions, but sometimes unadulterated is best. For something a little “lighter,” I recommend the pork schnitzel. Side salads are large enough for two to share, but you might want your own order of crispy fries. Loetje is a good place to sample veal bitterballen, though I preferred the more delicate flavor of their shrimp kroketten. Loetje’s apple pie is also excellent, should you manage to save any room.
It’s hard to imagine a more charming restaurant than Moeders, which is Dutch for Mothers. The walls are plastered with photos of smiling, happy women – mothers of people who have dined there over the years. Tables are set with mismatched china, also bestowed upon the restaurant by generous patrons. The end result is a comforting, homey atmosphere that immediately puts you at ease. Moeders’ cooking is equally satisfying, featuring an assortment of Dutch classics and comfort food. I opted for “Mother’s spare-ribs,” a half portion of delectable barbecue ribs served with fries and a cabbage salad. Those with bigger appetites should order the “Father” sized portion. Reservations are essential.
Another cozy nook is the Pantry. This highly-rated restaurant specializes in Dutch home cooking with a focus on quality over quantity. The Pantry’s limited number of dishes are divided into four set menus, each with three courses. My set began with crunchy, gooey goat cheese croquettes and ended with a plate of fluffy poffertjes, or mini pancakes dusted with powdered sugar. The main course was a flavorsome casserole of mashed potato, cauliflower, curried ground beef, and Dutch cheese. It was an excellent welcome on our first night in Amsterdam. (Incidentally, when we showed up to the Pantry without a reservation, I mentioned to the waiter that we had just arrived in town. He was so tickled that we chose his restaurant for our first meal, that he made room for us even though they were fully booked. His warm hospitality set the tone for the entire trip!)
Delicious as all that Dutch food was, it was a little heavy to eat every day for a week. To mix things up, we decided to check out Amsterdam’s Indonesian food scene. The Dutch East India Company was established in what is now Indonesia in the early 17th century. A booming spice trade was soon underway, introducing the exotic flavors of Southeast Asia to Northern Europe. Dutch colonists also introduced the rijsttafel, or rice table, as a means of trying many Indonesian dishes in one sitting. We enjoyed our rijsttafel at restaurant Long Pura, which aims to recreate the ambiance of a Balinese temple in the middle of Amsterdam. We were each served a generously-sized appetizer, then given a total of 12 dishes to share. The chicken satay, egg in a spicy chili sauce, sauteed green beans with tofu, and chicken stewed in coconut milk were especially memorable.
While the Dutch Republic was dominating the eastern spice trade, the surrounding Low Countries were under the thumb of the Spanish Crown. After centuries of fighting, a French, British, and Dutch alliance finally succeeded in severing ties with the Spanish Empire and returning control of the region to the Austrian Hapsburgs. Thankfully, that tense history is long buried. Today, Spanish culture is celebrated in Amsterdam with tapas bars all over the city. At La Oliva, beautiful little pintxos line the bar, each more appealing than the last. We made our selections after having them all described by the waitstaff, and toasted a successful day of sightseeing with glasses of Rioja.
For dessert, we walked a few blocks to Winkel, a cafe renowned for its apple pie. Each towering slice is crammed with tender slices of apple, perfectly seasoned with cinnamon, and accented with fresh cream. You will absolutely want your own piece! Don’t be put off by the line of people waiting outside; our party of four was seated quickly.
Another Dutch treat you must try is pancakes. The traditional varieties come topped with bacon, cheese, and apple. I went all out with a savory pancake covered in goat cheese, spinach, and pine nuts. It was out of this world! Pancakes Amsterdam uses a buckwheat flour batter for its dinner plate-sized creations, though you can request gluten-free if needed.
B&B Keizers Canal
Every morning in Amsterdam began with a lovely breakfast prepared by Paulo, owner of the B&B my friends and I rented for the week. Our wonderful host plied us with assorted cheeses and cured meats, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, fresh fruit and orange juice, and eggs cooked any way we liked them. While we ate, Paulo provided helpful advice about our day’s agenda and kept our coffee cups full. The B&B’s two basement rooms were surprisingly large and bright, and the townhouse’s central location makes it a great base for sightseeing. Since my friends and I rented both rooms, it was like we had our own private house for the week.
Which Dutch treat would you most like to try?
Have a favorite Amsterdam restaurant to add to the list?
Cafe Loetje Address: Johannes Vermeerstraat 52, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: €€ Moeders Restaurant Address: Rozengracht 251, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: €€ The Pantry Address: Leidsekruisstraat 21, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: €€ Long Pura Address: Rozengracht 46-48, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: €€€ La Oliva Address: Egelantiersstraat 122-124, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: €€€ Winkel 43 Address: Noordermarkt 43, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: € Pancakes Amsterdam Address: Multiple locations; I visited the one in the Nine Streets neighborhood Pricing: €€ B&B Keizers Canal Address: Keizersgracht 669, Amsterdam, Netherlands Pricing: €€€