When you visit or think of the Netherlands, cuisine probably isn’t top of mind. Yet the country offers a number of specialties that both taste good and provide fuel for your canal, windmill, or tulip sightseeing. Several lists online highlight the must-try’s of Dutch food; here are five items that I sample on every visit.

Hagelslag / Sprinkles

When I lived in Leiden, the Netherlands, in 2002-2003, hagelslag quickly became a breakfast standby. Sprinkled on dark bread and butter, dark chocolate hagelslag sprinkles in particular put a smile on my face in the morning before braving the Dutch rain and the University’s bureaucracy.

Bitterballen herring

Milk chocolate hagelslag on my Leiden B&B breakfast toast.

Hollandse Nieuwe Haring / Dutch new herring

I admit I never tried herring while living in the Netherlands. Only on the bike trip to Leiden, a break from the family visit in Rotterdam, did I eat the headless raw herring for the first time. The raw onion bits stick to the slimy surface of the fish as you pick it up by the tail, tilt your head back, and bite. At the traditional Leiden market I sampled herring from two different stalls: the difference was in the salty solution used to preserve the fish.

Bitterballen herring

Herring from the Leiden Wednesday market.

Frit met pindasaus / French fries with peanut sauce

What started out as a New Year’s party hangover cure on a winter 2005 visit became a nostalgic snack Lindsay and I eat every time we return to the country that brought us together. You may have heard that Dutch people eat french fries with mayonnaise. Peanut sauce is the better, more palatable way: sweet and salty come together in a street cart food par excellence.

Bitterballen herring

Lindsay eyeing the friet at the Hillegersberg Jazz Festival.

Stroopwafel / Syrup waffle

Syrup filling between two layers of baked batter: what’s not to like? Place a stroopwafel over a cup of tea or coffee, wait a minute or two, and bite into the melted gooey goodness. While my sister who has lived in Rotterdam for 10 years can’t stand stroopwafels, I cannot get enough of them.

Stroopwafel is so good I forgot to take a picture! Photo by Kate Hopkins/Accidental Hedonist.

Bitterballen herring

Stroopwafel is so good I forgot to take a picture! Photo by Kate Hopkins/Accidental Hedonist.


Like herring, I only ate bitterballen for the first time on this trip (800 million bitterballen in the post’s title come from our B&B host’s ‘Globlish’ description of a voucher they offer for a free order of bitterballen in their restaurant, located 800m, or meters, away). Ragout-filled balls, deep fried in breadcrumbs, are served hot and dipped in mustard. They make an excellent beer snack and are best shared because you can’t eat too many. Similar to herring, bitterballen come with the qualifier ‘typical Dutch’ most often.

Bitterballen herring

Bitterballen at Cafe L’esperance, Leiden

Have you sampled any Dutch specialties? What’s your favorite?

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