I recently had the good fortune to revisit one of the countries that long ago stole my heart: The Netherlands. I spent a year living in Groningen, a small Dutch city near the German border, while studying for my masters degree. I have to admit, when I moved there I was very worried that I would hate a country that was so cold and rainy. But the fact is, if you own a good jacket and lots of waterproof gear, the weather actually doesn't really matter. But seriously folks, have lots. of. waterproof. gear. And when I say lots, I mean I pack less waterproof gear for my trips to the Amazon rainforest than I do for my trips to the Netherlands.
Going back after four long years away was amazing. It was wonderful to be able to reconnect with many of my old friends and see how much has changed in their lives in the past few years. It was also so amazing to be able to revisit my old city and get to explore a few incredible new ones. It was also - and hold on to your hats, folks, because here's something you won't hear about the Netherlands often - great to eat Dutch food again!
The Dutch excel at that wonderful class of food that we call: comfort food. Considering that the country is not exactly known for being warm and sunny, this should come as no shock to you. But actually major reasons for Dutch food to prominently feature bread, cheese and potatoes has a lot to do with the ecology and history of the nation. The land now known as The Netherlands was largely underwater when it was first colonized. When settlers drained the country by digging the canals the country is so famous for, it revealed nutrient rich silty soil that was better suited to growing grass than vegetables. Because of this, the Dutch raised cows... lots of cows. And a great way to preserve all that milk so it would last through the winter was of course: cheese. Hence, the heavy cheese diet. What does history have to do with the veggie and starch laden diets of the Dutch? While it did have a glorious golden age, that was defined by decadent and intricate foods, the country also went through many times of scarcity which imbued its citizens with a strong sense of frugality. This is one of the reasons culinary anthropologists use to explain the basic and largely vegetable based diets of the Dutch.
But whatever the reasons are, the fact is that there are lots of foods to try while you are there, and lots of foods to buy when you are not. My top recommendations for things to eat while you're there are simple: all the fried things, all the sweet things, all the cheese things and any combination of the three will lead you down the path to tasty town. Visit an open air market and try all the cheeses, buy freshmade stroopwafels or chow down on some regular waffles. Eat some poffertjes, which are tiny little fluffy baby pancakes and do wonders for growing out your thighs. Go to a local restaurant and eat mustard soup. Yes it's name sounds gross, yes it's concept seems gross but no it is not gross it is actually awesome! Especially when topped with bacon and/or apple bits. Try the croquettes and all that other fried wonderousness - bonus points if you buy it out of a FEBO type vending machine. There's more foods of course that you can try and explore. I'm a big fan of some classics like hutspot and stamppot. If you want to be truly legit, only eat the aforementioned foods for snacks and dinner and have nothing but bread and cheese for breakfast and lunch each day.
And of course, don't forget to buy these awesome foods to bring back home! Foodvenirs are vastly superior to souvenirs because they allow you to bring back a little bit of the culture with you to enjoy in your own home or to share with friends and family. Food is such an amazing way to learn about the culture and history of a country. Sure, you may not reiterate my whole schpeal on why the Dutch eat so much cheese when you give your grandma some tasty Gouda, but it's kinda cool to know the background just in case you want to wow grandma with history as well as flavor.
So without much further adieu, here are my favorite Dutch Foodvenirs to horde for yourself or to give away to friends:
The big one. The famous one. Obviously you have to bring back Stroopwafels. It's nearly impossible to find good stroopwafels that are also affordable in the US, so you know your friends will be wowwed by this one. Or, screw your friends, and eat all the stroopwafels yourself. The best way to do this, is to make a cup of coffee and let the stroopwafel rest over the mouth of your mug as your coffee cools. The steam will warm it and make it an extra delicious coffee companion.
Kaas Kaas and more KAAS
Buy all the cheeses! There are so many incredible Dutch cheeses in this world, you should bring home at least a few of them. Gouda is of course, the classic. But try a few at the market and get an idea of which ones you really enjoy. Are you more of an oude kaas (aged cheese) or a jonge kaas (young cheese) kinda person? The only way to find out is to obviously eat as much cheese as possible so you know exactly which ones to buy and bring home. My personal favorite is oude geitenkaas (aged goat cheese) but there's a lot of winners to pick
This genius Dutch culinary invention is so simply and yet so incredible. Sprinkles that you eat for breakfast on your bread. With butter. I mean, why didn't we here in the US think of this, it sounds so up our alley? Whatever the reason, now that you know it exists you have a moral imperative to find it and try it. Spend your entire time in the Netherlands learning how to pronounce this word. And while you're at it, eat lots and lots of Hagelslaag and then bring it home to introduce your friends to this madness.
There are plenty of other Dutch foods you could bring back. Speculaas cookies, chocolate covered kruidenoten cookies, drop (licorice) are all classic examples. I leave them out of this list because I hate licorice (sorry not sorry), you can get speculaas pretty easily in the US and kruidenoten are very Sinterklaas themed cookies so depending on the season they might not be as available.
If you want to get some Dutch culinary hardware, my go-to recommendations are:
The classic Dutch kitchen item. It cuts cheese, what more do you want in life?
This is a heavy bulky souvenir to bring back but if you really loved your poffertjes, then you're gonna want to grab one of these bad boys so you can try to make them at home to fatten up your friends and family.
That's my list! Do you have any other suggestions for foodvenirs to bring back from a trip to The Netherlands? Leave it in the comments!