Frommer's Favorite Local Grub

Raw herring is a Dutch specialty, and there are dozens of haringhuis fish stands in town. The top place is (arguably) the centrally located Stubbe's Haring, Haarlemmersluis (tram: 1, 2, 5, 13, or 17), at Singel. It's a great spot for "new herring" and other seafood snacks.

The Indonesian rijsttafel is Holland's favorite feast; it has been ever since the United East India Company sea captains introduced it to the wealthy Amsterdam burghers in the 17th century. The rijsttafel (literally, "rice table") originated with Dutch plantation overseers in Indonesia, who liked to sample selectively from Indonesian cuisine. It became a tradition upheld by Indonesian migrants to Holland who opened restaurants and, knowing the Dutch fondness for rijsttafel, made it a standard menu item. Rijsttafels are only a small part of an Indonesian restaurant's menu, and there's a trend among the Dutch to look down on them as "just for tourists": The Dutch generally have a good understanding of Indonesian cuisine and prefer to order an individual dish rather than the mixed hash of a rijsttafel. However, rijsttafels remain popular, and many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants have copied the idea.

The basic concept of a rijsttafel is to eat a bit of this and a bit of that, blending flavors and textures. A simple, unadorned bed of rice is the base and mediator between spicy meats and bland vegetables or fruits, between sweet-and-sour tastes and soft-and-crunchy textures. Although a rijsttafel for one is possible, it's better shared by two or more people. In the case of a solitary diner or a couple, a 17-dish rijsttafel will be enough; with four or more, order a 24- or 30-dish rijsttafel and experience the total taste treat.

Before you begin to imagine 30 dinner-size plates of food, it's important to note that the dishes are small and the portions served are gauged by the number of people expected to share them. Remember, the idea is to taste many things rather than hunker down with any single item. Also, an Indonesian rijsttafel has no separate courses. Once your table has been set with a row of low plate warmers, all 17, 24, or 30 dishes arrive all at once, like a culinary avalanche. The sweets come alongside the sours and the spicy, so you're left to plot your own course through the extravaganza.

Among the customary dishes and ingredients of a rijsttafel are loempia (Chinese-style egg rolls); satay, or sateh (small pork kebabs, grilled and served with spicy peanut sauce); perkedel (meatballs); gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce); daging smoor (beef in soy sauce); babi ketjap (pork in soy sauce); kroepoek (crunchy, puffy shrimp toast); serundeng (fried coconut); roedjak manis (fruit in sweet sauce); and pisang goreng (fried banana).

Caution: When something on the menu is described as pedis, meaning spicy, that's exactly what it is. Beware in particular of one very appealing-looking dish of sauce with small chunks of what looks to be bright-red onion -- that's sambal badjak, or just sambal, and it's hotter than hot. A fire extinguisher would be a useful table accessory; for an equally effective alternative, order a witbier (white beer).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.