Dutch national dishes tend to be of the ungarnished, hearty, wholesome variety—solid, stick-to-your-ribs stuff. A perfect example is erwtensoep, a thick pea soup cooked with ham or sausage that provides inner warmth against damp Dutch winters and is filling enough to be a meal by itself. Similarly, hutspot, a potato-based “hotchpotch,” or stew, is no-nonsense nourishment to which klapstuk (lean beef) is sometimes added.
Seafood, as you might imagine in this traditionally seafaring country, is always fresh and well prepared. Fried sole, oysters, and mussels from Zeeland, and herring (fresh in early June, pickled other months) are most common. In fact, if you happen to be in Amsterdam for the beginning of the herring season, it’s an absolute obligation—at least once—to interrupt your sidewalk strolls to buy a “green” herring from a pushcart such as Stubbe’s Haring . The Dutch are uncommonly fond of paling (an oily freshwater eel) and Zeeland oysters and mussels known as Zeeuwse oesters and Zeeuwse mosselen, from September to March.
At lunchtime you’re likely to find yourself munching on broodjes, small buttered rolls usually filled with ham and cheese or beef, although a broodje gezond (healthy sandwich) with cheese and vegetables is a good choice for vegetarians. Not to be missed are the delicious, filling pancakes called pannenkoeken, often eaten as a savory dish with bacon and cheese. Poffertjes are a sweet, lighter, penny-size version that are especially good topped with apples, jam, or syrup. Dutch gebak (pastries) are fresh, varied, and inexpensive; and you will notice the Dutch sitting down for a koffie and one of these delicious hapjes (small snacks, or literally, “bites”) throughout the day.
The popular Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), a feast of 15 to 30 small portions of different dishes eaten with plain rice, has been a national favorite ever since it arrived in the 17th century. If you’ve never experienced this mini-feast, it should definitely be on your “must-eat” list for Holland—the basic idea behind the rijsttafel is to sample a wide variety of complementary flavors, textures, and temperatures: savory and sweet, spicy and mild.
For authentic Dutch dishes, look for the neerlands dis sign, which identifies restaurants specializing in the native cuisine. You’ll find numerous moderately priced restaurants and brown cafes , which are cozy social centers with simple but tasty food, sometimes served outside on sidewalk tables in good weather. Sidewalk vendors, with fresh herring and the ubiquitous broodjes or other light specialties, are popular as well.
Although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there is the next best thing—a dagschotel (plate of the day) and dagmenu (menu of the day). Another way to combat escalating dinner tabs is to take advantage of the tourist menu offered by many restaurants. And these days, Amsterdam is increasingly a destination for fine dining, with Michelin-starred restaurants such as Bord’Eau , La Rive , and Vinkeles as well as swathe of stylish, mid-priced eateries.
Beer, Gin & Wine
What to drink when in Amsterdam? Beer, for one thing. As you make the rounds of the brown cafes, you can get regular brands such as Heineken, Grolsch, or Amstel, or you could try something different such as witte (white) beer, which is sweeter than pils, the regular beer.
Also popular is the potent native ginlike liqueur known as jenever (the name comes from the Dutch word for “juniper”), a fiery, colorless spirit distilled from grain or malt, served ice cold and drunk neat—without any mixer, or even ice. In the 16th century, it was the drink of the masses in Holland, as the drinking water was filthy and the jenever was believed to have medicinal properties. Dutch brands include Jonge Wees, Bols, Rembrandt Korewijn, and De Kuyper.
There are even some Dutch wines, perfectly respectable although produced in modest quantities by 150 wineries around the country. Total annual production is some 800,000 liters (211,000 U.S. gallons).
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