Meals and Mealtimes
Traditional Dutch cuisine is very simple and filling. A typical Dutch ontbijt (breakfast) consists of brood (bread), kaas (cheese), hard gekookte ei (hard-boiled eggs), ham, yogurt, jams, and fruit.
Lunch is usually a boterham (sandwich) or a broodje (soft roll or a baguette). Salads and warm dishes are also popular for lunch. One specialty is an uitsmijter: two pieces of bread with three fried eggs, ham, and cheese, garnished with pickles and onions. Pannenkoeken (pancakes) are a favorite lunch treat topped with ham and cheese or fruit and a thick stroop (syrup).
A popular afternoon snack is frites (french fries); try them with curry ketchup and onions, called frites speciaal, with a kroket (a fried, breaded meat roll) on the side. Another snack is whole haring (herring) served with raw onions. Stay away from frikandel, a long hot dog that can contain anything.
Diner (dinner) usually consists of three courses: an appetizer, main course, and dessert, and many restaurants have special prix-fixe deals. Beverages are always charged separately. Dutch specialties include erwtensoep (a thick pea soup with sausage), zalm (salmon), gerookte paling (smoked eel), hutspot (beef stew), aardappel au gratin (potato au gratin), and lamsvlees (lamb). Steamed North Sea mussels are almost as popular in Holland as they are in Belgium. In general, the standard of the once-dull Dutch cuisine is improving steadily. Chefs have in recent years become more adventurous, and you will find many other more exciting choices (usually French-influenced) on menus than were seen a decade ago.
An oft-seen dessert is Dame Blanche, meaning White Lady, made of vanilla ice cream with hot dark chocolate and whipped cream. Holland is famous for its cheeses, including Gouda, Edam, and Limburger. Indonesian cuisine is also very popular here, and a favorite lunch or dinner is rijsttafel, which literally means "rice table" and refers to a prix-fixe meal that includes a feast of 10-20 small spicy dishes.
Restaurants open for lunch starting at 11 am, while restaurants opening for dinner will accept guests as early as 5 or 6 pm, closing at 11. Most restaurants are closed Monday.
Major credit cards are accepted in most restaurants. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely used; smaller establishments may not accept American Express or Diners Club. Some bars and cafés won't accept credit cards, though most will. Don't rely on traveler's checks for paying restaurant bills.
Tipping 15% to 20% of the cost of a meal is not common practice in the Netherlands. Instead, it is customary to round off the total to a convenient figure, to reward good service. If paying with a credit card, pay the exact amount of the bill with your card, and leave a few euros in cash on the table for the waiting staff.
Reservations and Dress
Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. We only mention them specifically when reservations are essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.) We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
The Dutch favor relatively casual dress when dining out; men in open-neck shirts are far more common than a dining room full of suits. Jackets and ties are a rarity, except in the very top establishments. If in any doubt, check ahead with the restaurant in question.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
When you just ask for a "beer" in the Netherlands, you will get a small (200 milliliters) glass of draft lager beer with 5% alcohol content, known as pils. There are a number of national breweries that turn out similar fare—in Amsterdam it will usually be Heineken, but you may also encounter Amstel, Oranjeboom, Grolsch, Bavaria, or a number of smaller outfits. The argument for serving beer in small glasses is that you can drink it before it gets warm, and that you can also drink more of them. Many bars will also serve you a pint (500 milliliters) if you ask them. There are a number of smaller artisanal breweries that attempt different beer styles with ever-improving results—look out for the La Trappe, De Prael, Emelisee, De Molen, Jopen, and 't IJ names in particular. Many Dutch bars serve fine Belgian beers, including white (wheat) beer, Westmalle (a Trappist brew, which comes in brown and strong blond "triple" versions), kriek (a fruit-flavored beer), and Duvel, a very strong blond beer. All the major cities also have a few specialist beer cafés, for real connoisseurs, with beer lists stretching into the hundreds. In Amsterdam, the In De Wildeman café is one of the best places to head on that score. To discover Amsterdam's true beer culture in more depth, check out Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers (www.booksaboutbeer.com), by Fodor's expert Tim Skelton. Keep in mind that many Dutch and Belgian beers have a high alcohol content; 8%–9% alcohol per volume is not unusual.
Be sure to try locally produced genièvre or jenever, a strong, ginlike spirit taken neat. Sometimes its edge is taken off with sweeter fruit flavors like apple, lemon, and red currant. In some bars, bartenders fill the small glass to the brim, so that only surface tension keeps it from overflowing. Faced with such a delicate balance, you have to lean over and take the first sip from the bar, rather than pick up the glass.