When two friends from Madrid and I planned an extended weekend in Amsterdam we had two main goals—go to a concert we had tickets for and eat our hearts out.
There was one problem with that two part plan– we had no idea what Dutch food was. Surely, it had to be good, most food around Europe is, but we had no clue what to expect. When I started to look around for Amsterdam food tours, I noticed that Eating Amsterdam, from the same mind-blowing food tour company as Eating Rome, offered a few. I knew this was our chance at pure Amsterdam gluttony.
Spoiler alert—yes, there is such thing as Dutch food and it really is fabulous. If you know what to buy and where to look, you can eat well, and I mean very well. The thing is though, Dutch food in Amsterdam just doesn’t fit into one particular category. It spreads itself wide due to a large mix of influences, regional ingredients and cultural habits. It’s as simple as it is complicated and it’s as multi-faceted as it is basic.
One of the favorite things I learned on our food tour was about a special Dutch word which we lack in English. “Gezelligheid” is a term to describe basically the feeling of all things cozy. A warm crackling fire-place, the feeling of being surrounded by good company, an enormous slice of apple pie….this word sums all of that up.
Being such experts at comfort, the Dutch can translate it straight into their food. And if comfort had a taste, it would be this apple pie from Café Papeneiland, one of the oldest cafés in the city.
This pie was so good we considered trying to bring a whole one home for Thanksgiving. That wouldn’t work, so instead we just went back for seconds.
Most people have heard of Dutch pancakes, and while the maple syrup is of foreign influence, the Dutch sure know how to make them well. These mini pancakes, poffertjes, are as cute as the name to match. Who wouldn’t feel good eating little doughy pancake bites sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with syrup?
The Dutch have had their fair share of colonies spread across the world and with this meant the exchange of both spices and new populations. Although I can’t condone colonization as a good thing, I sadly do enjoy what it does to the culinary scene in a specific culture. There is no easier way to travel without getting on a plane than to visit authentic foreign restaurants—and Amsterdam has a ton.
One of the first stops on our Eating Amsterdam tour was to a little whole in the wall eatery offering home-cooked dishes from Suriname. With the first bite of this sandwich I was sold. The shredded chicken was juicy and the sauce was perfectly spicy and flavorful.
This is the sandwich you want to eat after a night out.
Another day I had Ethiopian for the first time. Later that night I got a hummus and falafel kebab from a shop owned from a man who emigrated from Jerusalem. All of these meals made my soul happy, and my stomach particularly full.
To me, Amsterdam is such a romantic city. To me, instead of being party central, or overly touristy, romance oozed over the city. I even found this true in Amsterdam’s food scene. Not only is a comforting meal in a cozy pub romantic in itself, but so are the cafés and the quintessential canals.
During our food tour we even got the chance at a fancy canal boat ride, with cheese, champagne and appetizers included. Even in the dreary weather I couldn’t help but imagine cruising on a boat with a loved one while eating delicious little snacks on the way. Amsterdam is the perfect date city for food!
Although I’m yet to explore most of Scandinavia (after Iceland I’m now dying to see more!) many influences and similarities of the region were evident in Amsterdam. Pictured above is a bite of cured herring with a pickle and onions, similar to the pickled herring popularly consumed in Sweden. This fatty part of the fish was almost buttery, and melted in your mouth.
Also popular in Scandinavia, licorice is a candy staple for the Dutch as well. An acquired taste us Americans surely aren’t used to, the Dutch love this spicy, bitter and sometimes salty root.
We tried a variety of flavors, but our guide saved the best (and by best I mean worst) for last. Extra salty licorice sent most of us either repulsed, gagging or spitting it out. I’d say that was a first for me on a food tour.
Still, I enjoyed the experience and the honey licorice really isn’t all that bad. In fact, I could get used to it.
While I’m aware this isn’t a Dutch characteristic– but rather a phenomenon in Amsterdam itself– the abundance of greasy, fried and fast food joints around the city is astounding. We can only assume the reason why they are so popular.
When you’ve got an handful of tourists and locals who enjoy smoking a legal joint, you’re going to have food establishments to cater to that. While I couldn’t resist some perfectly fried fries dipped in a variety of dipping sauces, this was about all the “stoner food” in Amsterdam we tried. Still, these kebab-pizza-hot dog take away eateries are abundant and make for an interesting juxtaposition next to all the fine cheese shops.
It’s simple but high quality
Entering a cheese shop in Amsterdam is entering a cheese paradise. An hour could easily pass just trying cheese after cheese, debating which to buy.
Heard of Gouda or Edam? If you like cheese, of course you have. Those happen to be Dutch cheeses, among many, many others. There’s beautiful goat’s milk cheeses, smoked cheese, Maasdammer cheese, smelly blue cheeses and fresh unpasteurized cheeses, too.
Just enter any cheese shop and ask to try a few. Dutch people are so nice and happy to share their specialties that you’ll leave having had a free mini-cheese tasting and possibly what seems like a new friend.
Amsterdam also has it’s own craft beer scene. Over my weekend there we tried an overwhelming quantity of both Belgian and Dutch beers, but when I was at a pub I would order a Brouwerij ’t IJ, a popular Amsterdam microbrew. Many of the varieties are Belgium-style, and all are unpasturized, unfiltered and top fermented. So, so much better than a Heineken!
I went on Eating Amsterdam’s Jordaan Food and Canal Tour. While they sponsored my trip, of course all opinions on the food above are my own. If you are ever in Amsterdam, Prague, London or Rome I highly recommend their tours. They are one of the best when it comes to city food tours!