Dutch cuisine is shaped by the practice of fishing and farming, including the cultivation of the soil for raising crops and the raising of domesticated animals, and the history of the Netherlands.
Traditionally the Dutch diet consisted of bread and herring. In the 18th century the potato, which had been brought from Peru to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century, gained popularity, to become the staple food by 1800.
Historically Dutch cuisine was closely related to northern French cuisine, which is still visible in traditional Dutch restaurants and the Southern regional cuisine. In the course of the 15th century haute cuisine began to emerge, largely limited to the aristocracy, but from the 17th century onward these kinds of dishes became available to the wealthy citizens as well, often consisting of a rich variety of fruits, cheeses, meat, wine, and nuts.
The national cuisine however became greatly impoverished at the turn of the 20th century, when there was great poverty in the Netherlands. As mass education became available, a great number of girls were sent to a new school type, the Huishoudschool [housekeeping school], where young women were trained to become domestic servants and where lessons in cooking cheap and simple meals were a major part of the curriculum, often based on more traditional Dutch dishes, a process which has been slowly turned.
Modern culinary writers distinguish between three general regional forms of Dutch cuisine.
The regions in the north and east of the Netherlands, roughly the provinces of Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel and Gelderland north of the great rivers make up north eastern Dutch cuisine.
The region is the least populated area of the Netherlands; and, historically, the least developed part. The late [18th century] introduction of large scale agriculture means that the cuisine is generally known for its many kinds of meats. The relative lack of farms allowed for an abundance of game and husbandry, though dishes near the coastal regions of Friesland, Groningen and the parts of Overijssel bordering the IJsselmeer also include a large amount of fish.
The various dried sausages, belonging to the metworst-family of Dutch sausages, are found throughout the region and are highly prized for their often very strong taste. Most towns and various villages have their own variety of this sausage. The region also produces the traditional smoked sausages, of which [Gelderse] rookworst is the most renowned. These sausages traditionally have been smoked over wood chips, and are served after they’ve been boiled in water. The sausage contains a lot of fat and is very juicy. Larger sausages are often eaten alongside stamppot, hutspot or zuurkool; whereas smaller ones are often eaten as a street food.
The provinces are also home to many kinds of pastries and cookies. In contrast to southern Dutch cuisine, which tend to be soft and moist, the northeastern pastries generally are of a hard texture and heavily spiced with ginger or contain small bits of meat. Various kinds of Kruidkoek [such as Groninger koek], Fryske dúmkes and small savory pancakes [including spekdikken] are considered typical.
In terms of alcoholic beverages, the region is renowned for its many bitters [such as Beerenburg] and other high-proof liquors rather than beer, which, apart from Jenever, is typical for the rest of the country.
The provinces of North Holland, South Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and the Gelderlandic region of Betuwe are the parts of the Netherlands which make up the region in which western Dutch cuisine is found. The area is known for its many dairy products, which includes prominent cheeses such as Gouda, Leyden [spiced cheese with cumin], Edam [traditionally in small spheres] as well as Leerdammer and Beemster, while the adjacent Zaanstreek in North Holland is known for its mayonaise and mustards.
Zeeland and South Holland produce a lot of butter, which contains a larger amount of milkfat than most other European butter varieties. A by-product of the butter-making process, buttermilk, is also considered typical for this region.
Sea food such as herring [eaten raw], mussels, eels, oysters and shrimps are widely available and typical for the region. Kibbeling, once a local delicacy consisting of small chunks of battered white fish, has become a national fast food.
Pastries in this area tend to be quite doughy, and often contain large amounts of sugar; either caramelised, powdered or crystallised. The oliebol [in its modern form] and Zeeuwse bolus are good examples. Cookies are also produced in great number and tend to contain a lot of butter as well as a filling of some kind, mostly almond.
The traditional alcoholic beverages of this region are beer [strong pale lager] and Jenever, a high proof juniper-flavored spirit. A noted exception within the traditional Dutch alcoholic landscape, Advocaat, a rich and creamy liqueur made from eggs, sugar and brandy, is also native to this region.
Southern Dutch cuisine constitutes the cuisine of the Dutch provinces of North-Brabant and Limburg and the Flemish Region in Belgium. It is renowned for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes and is often called Burgundian which is a Dutch idiom invoking the rich Burgundian court which ruled the Low Countries in the Middle Ages renowned for its splendor and great feasts.
It is the only Dutch culinary region which developed a haute cuisine and it forms the base of most traditional Dutch restaurants including typical main courses served such as Biefstuk, Varkenshaas, Ossenhaas, these are premium cuts of meat, generally pork or beef, accompanied by a wide variety of sauces and potatoes which have been double fried in the traditional Dutch [or Belgian] manner.
Stews, such as Waterzooi or Hachee, a stew of onions, beef and a thick gravy, contain a lot of flavour and require hours to prepare. Vegetable soups are made from richly flavored stock or bouillon and typically contain small meatballs alongside a wide variety of different vegetables. Asparagus and witlof are highly prized and traditionally eaten with cheese and/or ham.
Pastries are abundant, often with rich fillings of cream, custard or fruits. Cakes, such as the Vlaai from Limburg and the Moorkop and Bossche Bol from Brabant, are typical pastries. Savoury pastries also occur, with the worstenbroodje [a roll with a sausage of ground beef] being the most popular.
The traditional alcoholic beverage of the region is beer. There are many local brands, ranging from Trappist to Kriek. Beer, like wine in French cuisine, is also used in cooking; often in stews.
Dutch agriculture roughly consists of five sectors: tillage-based, greenhouse-based, and fruit agriculture, animal husbandry and fishery.
- Tillage-based crops include potatoes, kale, beetroot, green beans, carrots, celeriac, onions, all kind of cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, endive, spinach, Belgian endive, asparagus and lettuce. Recently some initiatives have been started to encourage interest in such “forgotten” vegetables as common purslane, medlars, parsnips, and black salsify
- Greenhouses are used to produce tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and sweet peppers
- Fruits include apples, pears, cherries, berries, and plums
- The Dutch keep cows both for milk and for their meat, chickens for their eggs and for meat, pigs for their meat and sheep for their wool and meat. Goat are increasingly kept for cheese production. Traditionally horse meat was a common dish [steak and sausage] but is less popular today.
- The fishery sector lands cod, herring, plaice, sole, mackerel, eels, tuna, salmon, trout, oysters, mussels, shrimp, and sardines. The Dutch are famous for their smoked eel and soused herring, which is eaten raw.
Breakfast and lunch differ little in Dutch cuisine and both consist of a wide variety of cold cuts, cheeses and sweet toppings; such as hagelslag, vlokken and muisjes. Chocolate spread, treacle [a thick, dark brown sugar syrup called stroop], peanut butter [which is savoury, not sweet] and confiture are popular too.
The Dutch are famous for their dairy products and especially for their cheeses. The vast majority of Dutch cheeses are semi-hard or hard cheeses. Famous Dutch cheeses include Gouda, Edam, and Leyden. A typically Dutch way of making cheese is to blend in herbs or spices during the first stages of the production process. Famous examples of this are cheeses with cloves [usually the Frisian nagelkaas], cumin [most famously Leyden cheese], or nettles.
Dutch bread tends to be very airy, as it is made from yeast dough. From the 1970s onward Dutch bread became predominantly whole grain, with additional seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds often mixed with the dough for taste. Rye bread is one of the few dense breads of the Netherlands. White bread used to be the luxury bread, often made with milk as well as water. A Frisian luxury version of white bread is sugarbread, white bread with large lumps of sugar mixed with the dough. Kerststol is a traditional Dutch Christmas bread made of bread dough with sugar, dried fruits, raisins and currants and lemon and orange zest, eaten sliced, spread with butter.
Those who do not want to have breakfast but need something on their stomach in the morning often eat the famous Dutch ontbijtkoek. It is usually served as a small slice, possibly with delicious rich Dutch butter.
Dutch people invite friends over for koffietijd [coffee time], which consists of coffee and cake or a biscuit, served between 10 and 11 a.m. [before lunch] and/or between 7 and 8 p.m. [after dinner]. The Dutch drink coffee and tea throughout the day, often served with a single biscuit. Dutch thrift led to the famous standard rule of only one cookie with each cup of coffee. It has been suggested that the reasons for this can be found in the Protestant mentality and upbringing in the northern Netherlands. The traditionally Roman Catholic south does not share this tradition, in Limburg a vlaai [sweet pie or pastry with filling], cut in eight pieces, is traditionally served when visitors are expected.
A popular Dutch story [never confirmed] says that in the late 1940s the wife of the then Prime minister, Willem Drees, served coffee and one biscuit to a visiting American diplomat, who then became convinced that the money from the Marshall Plan [European Recovery Program, the primary plan of the United States for rebuilding and creating a stronger foundation for the countries of Western Europe, after World War II] was being well-spent.
Café au lait is also very common. It is called koffie verkeerd [literally "wrong-way-round-coffee"] and consists of equal parts black coffee and hot milk. The Dutch drink tea without milk and the tea is quite a lot weaker than the typical English types of tea which are taken with milk. Other hot drinks used to include warm lemonade, called kwast [hot water with lemon juice], and anijsmelk [hot milk with aniseed]. In the autumn and winter the very popular hot chocolate or chocolademelk is drunk. Both anijsmelk and kwast are hardly drunk anymore and have lost their popularity.
Dinner, traditionally served early by international standards, starts at about 6 o’clock in the evening. The old-fashioned Dutch dinner consists of one simple course: beans or potatoes, meat and vegetables. Traditionally potatoes with a large portion of vegetables and a small portion of meat with gravy, or a potato and vegetable stew. A typical traditional Dutch dinner would include stamppot [Dutch mashed potato mixed with other mashed vegetables] and pea soup. Vegetable stews served as side dishes are for example rodekool met appeltjes [red cabbage with apples], or rode bieten [red beets]. Regular spices used in stews of this kind may be bayleaves, juniper berries, cloves, and vinegar. Stews are often served with mixed pickles, including zure zult [head cheese] or stewed pears [stoofperen]. Due to the influx of other countries traditional meals have lost some popularity. Stamppot is traditionally eaten in winter, but newer lighter versions have come in fashion during spring/summer.
If there is a starter, it is usually soup. The final course is a sweet dessert, traditionally yoghurt with some sugar or vla, thin milk pudding [cooked milk with custard].
The below listed meals have historic origins as meals for common laborers. In the 17th to 19th century workers worked 10 to 16 hours on farms or in factories in unheated rooms, hence these meals are very heavy on calories and fat and were meant to replenish a laborer’s energy.
Well-known Dutch dishes are:
- Hutspot, made with potatoes, carrots, and onions served with meats like rookworst [smoked sausage], slow-cooked meat, or bacon. This is a legacy of the Spanish invaders, who, according to legend, left a pot of this stew behind in their abandoned trenches when the town of Leiden, which they had been besieging, was liberated in 1574 – so this hutspot was one of the first foods its starving inhabitants found. Before potatoes were introduced in Europe hutspot was made from parsnips, carrots, and onions
- Stamppot rauwe andijvie, raw endive mashed with hot potatoes, served with diced fried speck [a kind of bacon]
- Hete bliksem [literally Hot Lightning], boiled potatoes and green apples, served with “stroop” [syrup] or tossed with diced speck
- Zuurkoolstamppot, sauerkraut mashed with potatoes. Served with fried bacon or a sausage. Sometimes curry powder, raisins or slices of pineapple or banana are used to give a stamppot an exotic touch
- Boerenkoolstamppot, curly kale mixed with potatoes, served with gravy, mustard, and rookworst sausage. This dish, boerenkool met rookworst, [which could be translated literally as farmers cabbage with smoked sausage], is made of mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage and it is usually eaten with smoked sausage. ‘Boerenkool met worst’ is one of the oldest and most popular Dutch dishes. Boerenkool was mentioned in cookbooks from the year 1661, mashed potatoes were not used in this dish yet, although the sausage was already served with the cabbage in this dish. The dish became popular after a few bad corn-seasons when potatoes became popular as food. Boerenkool contains a lot of carbohydrates, which makes it a popular meal for cold winter days.
- Another dish served at the dinner table is a very thick pea soup, called snert and it can be served either as a main dish or as an appetizer and is traditionally eaten during the winter. Snert has a very thick consistency and often includes pieces of pork and rookworst – smoked sausage – and is almost a stew rather than a soup. The thick consistency of the Dutch pea soup is often described as that “… you should be able to stand a spoon upright in a good pea soup”. It is customarily served with roggebrood [rye bread] spread with butter and topped with katenspek, a variety of bacon which is first cooked and then smoked. The meat from the soup may also be put on the rye bread and eaten with mustard.
- A uniquely Dutch soup is “Dutch Mustard Soup” or “Zaansemosterdsoep“, thought to have been first created in 1977 at Kaatje bij de Sluis in Blokzijl.
- Meat dishes include gehaktballen meatballs, slavink, minced meat wrapped in bacon, balkenbrij, a type of liverwurst and meatloaf. The butter based gravy [boterjus], in which the meat has been fried and/or cooked, is also served. A variant of this, eaten around the IJsselmeer [a shallow lake in the central Netherlands], is butter en eek, where vinegar is added to the gravy.
- Another Dutch dinner dish is pannenkoeken [pancakes are named after pannenkoeken], which come in several varieties including poffertjes [miniature pancakes] and spekdik [a Northern variant with bacon]. Wentelteefjes [French toast] are similar. Broeder, a type of cake, is also eaten for dinner, mainly in West Friesland.
- In season, mosselen [mussels] are quite popular and commonly served with friet/patat [french fries].
- Desserts often include vla [vanilla custard] or yoghurt. Regional variants include broodpap, a bread porridge made from old bread, milk, butter and sugar. Other puddings and porridges are griesmeelpudding, grutjespap, Haagse bluf, hangop, Jan in de zak, karnemelksepap, rijstebrij [rice pudding], krentjebrij [also called watergruwel].
- On special occasions, usually different types of pastries are eaten. When a baby is born in a family, the young parents traditionally serve their guests beschuit met muisjes [Dutch rusk covered with sugared aniseed].
- The Dutch festival of Sinterklaas [dedicated to Saint Nicholas, celebrating his name day] is held on the 5 December. Saint Nicholas, leaves gifts in the children’s shoes. On this occasion, the Dutch drink hot chocolate milk and eat spice cookies, like speculaas. These special pastries are said to be distributed by Saint Nicholas’ aide Zwarte Piet; and they include pepernoten [gingernut-like biscuits but made with cinnamon, pepper, cloves and nutmeg mix of spices], boterletter or banket, a baked pastry crust filled with an sugared almond paste filling and shaped into a letter, letters made from chocolate, marzipan, borstplaat [discs of fondant]; and several other types of spiced cookies: taai-taai and kruidnoten and banketstaaf.
- Christmas in the Netherlands is a typical family holiday. Traditionally there is family brunch with “Kerststol” [fruited raisinbread; often filled with almond paste]. Christmas dinner is also a family occasion where roast pork, game or other luxury meat may be served. An alternative typical Dutch tradition for Christmas meals is ‘gourmetten‘, when people sit together around a gourmet-set [small table top cooking stove with miniature frying pans] and use their own small frying pans to cook different types of meats, fish, prawns/shrimps and finely chopped vegetables accompanied by salads, fruits and sauces.
- On New Year’s Eve, Dutch houses smell of the piping hot oil used to prepare oliebollen, appelflappen and appelbeignets [battered apple rings] in deep-fat fryers. These yeast dough balls, either plain or filled with glacé fruits, pieces of apple and raisins and sultanas, are served with powdered sugar and are a special treat for New Year’s Eve. The Dutch also took their oliebollen to America, where they are now known in a slightly different form as doughnuts. In Limburg nonnevotte are sometimes served during New Year’s Eve, although it is mostly eaten during Carnival. Around New Years Knieperties are popular, in particular in the northern provinces.
- On birthdays all kinds of cakes and cookies are eaten, including appeltaart [apple pie], Bokkepootjes, Bossche bol, dikke koek, cream cake, Fryske dumkes, gevulde koek [cookies filled with almond meal], Groninger koek, Janhagel, Ketelkoek, Kindermanstik, Krakeling, Krentenwegge, Kruidkoek, Limburgse vlaai, Ouwewijvenkoek, peperkoek [gingerbread], Rijstekoek, Spekkoek [from Indonesia], Sprits, Tompouce, Trommelkoek, Bitterkoekjes, Kletskop and Stroopwafel. Poffertjes are tiny puffed pancakes served on special occasions, served warm with melting butter and powdered sugar on top. They are mostly combined with a drink: milk, chocolate milk or yoghurt drink. Dutch people call such a restaurant where they sell poffertjes a poffertjeskraamthey can be found all around Holland. Poffertjes can be eaten as a dessert after dinner or as a sweet lunch.
A famous Dutch sweet is zoute drop, salty liquorice and liquorice sweets. These sweets are small, black and look much like gums. The four types of drop are soft sweet, soft salt, hard sweet and hard salt drop. Drop can be bought in shops and pharmacies and has a medical function as it helps to cure throat and stomach aches. Dutch drop is sold in a large variety of shapes and forms. Drop can be either sweet or salty [or very salty]. It is sometimes flavoured with coconut fondant [Engelse drop], honey [honingdrop], mint [muntdrop], salmiak [salmiakdrop], or laurel [laurierdrop]. Typical shapes are diamonds, ovals, oblongs and coins. Honeycomb shape for honeydrop are also familiar. Some manufacturers have introduced speciality ranges where the drop is made in thematic shapes, such as cars [autodrop], farm animals and farm machinery [boerderijdrop], etc.
Another popular Dutch sweet is the Stroopwafel ["stroop" meaning syrup]. A thin wafer made typically in a pizelle pan is sliced horizontally and sandwiched with a light caramel syrup, the stroop. Occasionally crushed hazelnuts will be mixed with the stroop, and the wafers may be spiced with cinnamon.
One of the Dutch confectionary specialties is vlaai, made of a yeast dough and stuffed with fruit [such as apple, apricot, pineapple, plum] or berry filling. Other ingredients may include custard and rhubarb. Rice vlaais, stuffed with a rich rice-cream filling, are also produced. They can be additionally grafted with fruits, whipped cream or chocolate.
Wine plays only a modest role in Dutch cuisine, but there are many brands of beer [mainly lager] and strong alcoholic liquor. The most famous Dutch beer producers are Heineken in the west and Grolsch in the east. Traditionally Noord-Brabant and Limburg had a strong beer tradition, with many different types of beer [not unlike Belgium]. However in the 20th century big brewers took over many of the small time breweries or offered them a license to sell their beer brand, while stopping their own production. Also a variety of bitters where Beerenburg is the most famous. Strong liquors include Jenever [gin] and Brandewijn [brandy], but also kandeel [made from white wine], Kraamanijs [a liquor made from aniseed], Oranjebitter [a type of orange brandy, which is served on festivities surrounding the royal family], advocaat, Boerenjongens, raisins in brandy, Boerenmeisjes, apricots in brandy.
The Dutch have their own types of fast food, sold in snackbars. A Dutch fast-food meal often consists of a portion of french fries [called friet or patat], with a sauce and a meat product. The most common sauce to accompany French fries is mayonnaise [or a sweeter low fat alternative called fritessaus], while others can be ketchup or spiced ketchup, peanut sauce or a pickle relish of chopped vegetables and spices, like piccalilli. Sometimes the French fries are served with a combinations of different sauces, most famously speciaal [special]: mayonnaise with spiced ketchup and chopped onions; and oorlog [literally "war"]: mayonnaise and peanut sauce, sometimes with chopped onions.
A quite new addition to Dutch Fastfood is the Kapsalon [literally Barbershop], consisting of either shoarma or döner, fries, salad, cheese and various sauces. It was given its name because the original [Friet] Kapsalon, which was a lunch meal as ordered by the owner of a barbershop in Rotterdam.
The meat is usually deep fried; this includes the frikandel [a deep fried, skinless minced meat sausage], and the kroket [meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs, deep-fried].
A smaller, spherical version of the kroket, the bitterbal, is often served with mustard as a snack in bars and at official receptions. Regional snacks include eierbal [a combination of egg and ragout] in the North and East, and Brabants worstenbrood or more commonly saucijzenbroodjes, slightly spiced sausage meat baked in pastry [similar to the English pigs in a blanket].
Other snacks are the Indonesian-inspired bamihap or bamischijf [disk shaped mee goreng in breadcrumbs, deep-fried], nasibal [ball shaped nasi goreng in breadcrumbs, deep-fried] and kaassouflé [cheese soufflé, or fried puff pastry dough with a small amount of cheese in the center, popular amongst vegetarians].
Almost all meat products are factory made from cheap cuts of meat and supplied to the snackbar frozen. French fries need to be deep fried twice at different temperatures. In most cases the fries are supplied frozen and fried once. Some snackbars offer locally prepared snacks, e.g. sliced pork belly covered in breadcrumbs.
Another kind of fast food is fish. This includes raw herring, which is sold in markets and eaten [often with chopped onions and gherkin], by lifting the herring high in the air by its tail, and eating it upwards, or [less messily] on a bun. Other regular fish snack are Kibbeling [deep-fried nugget-sized chunks of cod], Lekkerbek [deep-fried cod, similar to the British Fish and chips, but delicately spiced and with a batter more like tempura], smoked eel, and rolmops.