You’ll find lots of tasty food in Amsterdam, from simple, hearty Dutch dishes to exotic specialties from its former colonies of Indonesia and Caribbean-influenced Suriname. Here are 10 must-try treats and where you can find them.
Bitterballens are probably the favorite Dutch snack: Yummy deep-fried meatballs rolled in breadcrumbs whose hot molten filling is meat and gravy. Most pubs sell them, and we dare you to try just one without going back for more. One of the best spots to get them is De BallenBar in Foodhallen Amsterdam, a food hall within the converted tram depot of the De Hallen cultural complex in Oud-West, the other side of Vondelpark from the Rijksmuseum. Another is MOES, a restaurant and craft brewery at De 7 Deugden in Centrum, the old city center. Traditional pubs are called “brown cafes” (bruin cafes) due to their wooden furnishings and tobacco-stained ceilings.
As the world’s biggest cheese exporter, the Netherlands is famous for mostly hard and semi-hard cheeses named after its cities, like Gouda, Edam, Old Amsterdam and Maasdammer. The Dutch happily eat cheese for breakfast, on a sandwich for lunch or as a snack cubed with mustard. Buy it at Cheese & More by Henri Willig, which sells top-quality cow, sheep and goat cheeses made at its own dairies, plus cheese sandwiches (its two shops on Nieuwendijk, a busy shopping street, are in Centrum near Centraal Station).
Try a cheese tasting: For a wonderful introduction, do a one-hour tasting of six Dutch cheeses, with wine pairings or non-alcoholic beverages, at Reypenaer Tasting Room. It’s in a century-old warehouse in Centrum, a one-minute walk from Dam Square and a three-minute walk from the Anne Frank House.
Dutch pancakes are more like pizza, thinner and larger than American pancakes and often with savory toppings like bacon or cheese, as well as apples or raisins. The Dutch love to eat their pancakes for dinner, but anytime will do. The Pancake Bakery offers more than 75 choices, even Indonesian- and Caprese-style versions. It is located in the delightful Jordaan district, a block from the Anne Frank House. If you like watching the city float by while you eat, the Pancake Boat offers day and night cruises, 75 minutes or 2.5 hours, and children are welcome to design and draw their own pancakes with edible decorations.
A don’t-miss is rijsttafel (“ris-ta-fell”), an Indonesian-style “rice table,” consisting of 15 to 20 small plates of meat, seafood and vegetables, often cooked in coconut milk or steamed in banana leaves. It is served with spicy sambal chili paste, peanut sauce and soy sauce. Try it at Kantjil, a big restaurant that serves four different rijsttafel menus for lunch and dinner in Centrum; Tempo Doeloe, smaller and fancier, is a block from the Amstel River in the Eastern Canal Ring (southeast of Centraal Station). There’s also Restaurant Blauw, believed by many to serve the best rijsttafel in Amsterdam, on the other side of Vondelpark from the Rijksmuseum. Only dinner is served at the last two, so make sure to check your cruise ship departure time; reservations are needed for all three.
Fried thickly-cut potatoes (also called patat or frites) are generally served hot in a paper cone or box and liberally covered with a sauce. If you want peanut sauce, mayonnaise and raw chopped onions, ask for patatje oorlong, which literally means, “fries at war.” For a more peaceable topping of curry ketchup, mayonnaise and onions, request patat speciaal. Manneken Pis, between Centraal Station and Dam Square, serves terrific fries.
These fluffy mini pancakes made from buckwheat flour and topped with powdered sugar and butter may remind you of New Orleans beignets. You can find poffertjes at pancake houses like De Pannenkoekenhoek or at restaurants and street vendors such as the Albert Cuypmarkt, an open-air food, clothing and flower market that’s one of Europe’s biggest. It’s located in De Pijp, a bohemian district with many immigrants and ethnic eateries, across the Singelgracht canal from the Eastern Canal Ring.
Raw salt-preserved herring (type of fish), typically served with chopped raw onions and pickles, is sold by street carts (haringhandels) like Vishandel Molenaar in the Albert Cuypmarkt. “New herring” (Hollandse Nieuwe), caught from May to July, is especially prized. If you don’t want to eat it Dutch-style (lifting it by the tail, then biting up), ask for a herring sandwich, or broodje haring.
If you prefer your fish cooked, deep-fried battered morsels of cod or whiting called kibbeling (usually served with a garlic or mayonnaise-based remoulade sauce) is a popular snack or dinner. You can find it at most street markets or sold by food trucks. Since Amsterdam is so close to the North Sea, seafood is popular, from shrimp, mussels and mackerel to smoked eel.
Heineken, the world’s third-biggest brewer, and Amstel (owned by Heineken) are world-famous Dutch beer brands, and good pubs abound in Amsterdam. One of the best craft-beer bars is Gollem. One of its four locations is Gollem’s Proeflokaal, a cozy spot with about 20 beers on tap and 50 bottled choices, on the other side of Vondelpark from the Rijksmuseum in the hip Oud-West district. BRET, a striking red structure built from shipping containers, tree trunks and reclaimed materials, even serves a beer-pairing menu. You’ll find it in a park in Sloterdijk, a high-rise-filled office district in Oud-West.
A cookie composed of two waffles with sweet syrup in the middle, stroopwafel is best served piping hot. Find them at street markets like Albert Cuypmarkt or bakeries, though supermarkets also sell them.