Amsterdam holds steady as one of my favorite cities in the world.
Yes, there may be hedonistic undertones of the city of canals, but I want to highlight the food and express that Amsterdam is so more than coffee shops and the Red Light District. Personally, I was here strictly for the cuisine. And I ate a damn lot of it.
There are many delectables to dip your fork in. Let’s start with the absolute necessary.
Please not visit Amsterdam without trying the herring. It is a national treasure and a unique snack to eat. If you’re adept to sushi, then just consider it a Dutch version. The Dutch absolutely love their herring.
The Dutch have been eating herring for over 600 years. Prior to consuming, the herring is been frozen and then laid in salt for a couple days to ripen and slightly cure the fish, so technically it isn’t raw. You can eat it on a bun (broodje haring) or as a snack with chopped onions and dill pickles. I suggest to order with the works. The traditional way is to hold it by the tail and eat it, dipping in onions between each bite. However, it is almost always served sliced for you to eat at your ease and leisure.
So, what does it actually taste like? A good raw herring must have soft texture with a nice bite. It tastes and smells fresh and mildly salty and oily. The combination of sweet, umami, and slightly bitter is intriguing. The texture reminds me of fatty tuna or a plump yellowtail. And if you’ve overindulged in too many Heinekens or Dutch gins the previous evening, herring is known for being a remedy for hangovers.
Herring season starts annually in June with the famous Vlaggetjesdag or 'flag day'. There are many stands along the streets, similar to food trucks, that offer herring. But if you are in the city center, you may as well visit one of my favorite stalls, Herring Stall Jonk, which is conveniently located in the city center. It may not be for everyone, but for a few euros, it is worth trying what the Dutch and tourists crave alike.
The stroopwaffel is essentially a wafer made of two thin layers of dough. Caramel gets spread in between and then it is pressed into a warm and crisp waffle. Some call it a cookie, others will protest it is a waffle. Just know it is good AF. I highly recommend eating them fresh. I had a great time watching mine be made knowing that it will melt in my mouth upon the first bite.
This delicacy dates back to the 1700s, when a baker from the town of Gouda baked a waffle using old crumbs and spices, and filled it with syrup. Due to made with leftovers, the stroopwafel was a popular pastry among the poor in Gouda. Now, they are ubiquitous throughout Holland.
Stroll along Leidseplein and you'll find many confectionary shops that will make stroopwaffel right in front of you. It’s already a sweet treat, but many add syrup or whipped cream on top. The caramel gives it a rich nuttiness and I try to keep the flavors as simple and authentic as I can.
I do prefer fresh and warm stroopwaffel, but many shops sell them packaged. They are also often served alongside coffee or espresso.
Now this is something that can make my knees weak when I think about it. Imagine warm and fluffy mini clouds of pancakes dusted with cinnamon sugar and glazed with syrup. Darn, these Dutch know what time it is! Before I’d tried these, I was certain my mother made the best pancake, but taking a bite of these right after they pop off the hot griddle is a pure form food ecstasy. Sorry, mom.
As a treat for yourself after strolling the canals, I suggest heading to Luciën's Pancakes. It is popular amongst tourists, and after one bite it was obvious why. They do offer a plethora of toppings for the proffetjes, but I like to keep things simple and classic with a touch of powdered sugar and syrup. The apples and cinnamon version is also highly rated.
For something savory, I highly recommend bitterballen! They‘re probably the most popular bar treat you’ll find. Bitterballen are like bite sized croquets — small and perfectly golden brown balls that come with 6-8 per serving. They are truly a Dutch delicacy and a must have when visiting the country.
The outside is verycrisp and they are oozing with a rich meat and gravy filling. The contrast itself is addicting, but the spiced flavors of soft center will have you popping them back to back. Don’t forget to dip them in the mustard that is served alongside!
Overall, the recipe is fairly standard, but once and a while, you will find a variations on the classic, like I did at De Brabantse Aap. I selected the “Italiano,” which was filled with risotto and truffle. This was one of my the best decisions I’d made on the trip.
Amsterdam is my favorite city for a plethora of reasons. I love the liberal nature, the beauty of the canals, and the friendly locals. The cuisine is neverlets me down and it seems each trip I discover a new favorite.
If you miss out on any of Holland’s culinary treasures while strolling the cities, you can find everything and more at the airports to take home as souvenirs (or devour on the plane). Even better, many are sold in classic Dutch delft blue tins, so it is a win-win situation!