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Dutch Food Customs and Culinary Traditions

Holland may not necessarily enjoy the same culinary reputation as say, France or Italy, however, the Dutch are rightly proud of their utterly unique and diverse cuisine. Both traditional and contemporary Dutch food play a pivotal role in Dutch society and are an important feature of family celebrations and social events.


Breakfast in Holland tends to be a simple repast and one that is normally eaten at home. Standard Dutch breakfast items include bread or toast (usually a nutritious whole meal or multigrain variety) butter, jam and of course, the ubiquitous chocolate sprinkles known as ‘hagelslag’. This humble meal will sometimes be supplemented with a boiled egg or perhaps a few slices of Dutch cheese. It is a modest start to the day, which might not seem enough, but don’t forget that the Dutch will often enjoy a slice of fresh ‘appeltaart’ (apple pie) around 11.00 am, to see them through to lunch!


At 12.00 noon the Dutch collectively down tools and head for the canteen or enthusiastically rip open their packed lunch. Like breakfast, a Dutch lunch is never an elaborate affair and usually consists of a meagre ‘boterham met kaas’ (a sandwich with Dutch cheese), washed down with a glass of Chocomel or ‘karnemilk’ which although translates as ‘butter milk’ actually contains no butter! Dairy products feature heavily on the Dutch lunch menu, which helps explain why there are so many cows in the country. In fact, it is claimed that there are as many cows as people in Friesland!

On special occasions the Dutch may pay a visit to a local café for lunch, where traditional Dutch favourites such as ‘uitsmijters’ (toast with ham, eggs and melted Dutch cheese) are regularly served.

The Dutch are a health conscious bunch and may round off their midday meal with a solitary apple or orange.


The Dutch evening meal is eaten early and it is not unusual for it to be over by 6.00 pm. Holland has an extensive colonial past and boasts a vibrant community of immigrants, who have influenced dinner perhaps more than any other meal. These days a Dutch family are as likely to sit down to an Indonesian ‘Rijsttafel’ (a selection of fragrant Indonesian dishes), as they are a typical Dutch meal. Conventional fare will routinely involve meat and potatoes, such as ‘Boernkoolstampot’ which is an intensely satisfying combination of mashed potatoes, cabbage and smoked sausage or ‘rookworst’. Dinner tends to be followed by a preferred Dutch pudding such as ‘vla’. This rich and creamy, cold dessert, which comes in a variety of flavours and is not dissimilar to custard, is readily available from most Dutch supermarkets.

Unlike breakfast and lunch, dinner is frequently eaten at a restaurant with friends or family and in most large Dutch towns and cities there are eateries specialising in every cuisine imaginable, from Argentinean steakhouses to Japanese sushi bars.

Dutch Confectionary

The Dutch have a definite sweet tooth and can often be found snacking on ‘dropjes’ (Dutch liquorice) or ‘koekjes’ (Dutch biscuits). Children grow up on Hagelslag for breakfast and look forward to ‘pannenkoeken’ (Dutch pancakes) and ‘poffertjes’ (mini Dutch pancakes) as a lunch or dinner time treat. It is quite remarkable that Holland isn’t facing the same obesity crisis plaguing many other western nations. It would appear that moderation is as much a part of the Dutch genetic makeup as the propensity for all that vigorous cycling!

Fast Food

Takeaways were common in the Netherlands long before most other countries and Dutch fast food is an exciting world of culinary delights well worth exploring! The most popular type of Dutch takeaway can be found in the FEBO style, fast-food outlets. These feature coin operated hatches that dispense a number of interesting dishes including ‘kroketten’ (deep fried meat coated in breadcrumbs), ‘Frikadel’ (a deep fried sausage) and ‘Vlaamse Friet’. Almost a meal in itself, Vlaamse Vriet are hand-cut, freshly made French fries, served with generous amounts of mayonnaise, ketchup, saté or curry sauce and plenty of raw onion.

Indonesian and Surinam immigrants have also influenced fast food eating habits in Holland. A much loved lunchtime snack is the exotic ‘Surinamse broodje’, a bread roll filled with fiery curry and sweet and sour pickles. Shoarma (Turkish or Moroccan kebabs) are also a favourite, especially after a good night out.

Naturally, there are some less calorie laden takeaway options available in the Netherlands and ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ is perhaps the best known. Consisting of raw herring, onions and gherkins, this revered dish is sold from small stalls and kiosks and eaten rather theatrically by holding the herring high in the air and biting upwards. This is a somewhat acquired taste, but just like the fish, once bitten, you’re forever hooked!


Like many countries, Dutch food and celebrations go hand in hand – at no time is this more apparent than at ‘Sinterklaas’, the most important event in the Dutch social calendar. Throughout the entire Sinterklaas period, Dutch children devour copious amounts of ‘pepernoten’ (small ginger biscuits) and eagerly await their ‘Chocoladeletter’ (a generous sized, solid chocolate letter in the shape of their first initial). They finally get their hands on this prized piece of confectionary on the 5th December, along with several other presents.

It is also towards the end of the year that the beloved ‘oliebollen’ vans begin to make an appearance. Oliebollen are similar to doughnuts and commonly crammed with raisins or other tasty fillings. These are traditionally eaten warm on New Years Eve in a half-hearted attempt to soak up all that Heineken!

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