The Glories of Dutch Junk Food (Featuring My Favorite Dutch Snacks)

Metal basket of bitterballen, a deep-fried Dutch bar snack, with an empty glass of beer and a person out of focus in the background

I am aware there are many, many things that people Do Not Understand about my home country, the United States. Some of them I can explain (tax rates are different everywhere! that’s why we add the tax at point of sale and don’t include it in listed prices!); some of them I can’t (but that’s a post for another time).

Somewhere in the middle, there are things that I “get,” myself, but can’t seem to articulate to people from other countries — such as the distinctly US art of terrible, terrible junk food.

Story time: when I was living in a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand, my mother told me she was sending a package and asked me what I wanted from the US.

I was stumped. I mean, it’s not like you can ship Pizza Luce — what’s the point?

Luckily Meesh, my English roommate, came to the rescue. “Ooh! Can your mom send us Twinkies? Ever since I saw Zomebieland I’ve wanted to try one.”

I passed the request along, and several weeks later (New Zealand is basically another planet), the Twinkies arrived. (Extra story time: my mother claimed she didn’t even know where to find Twinkies, an anecdote I considered a bit overblown until this recipe for a twinkie bundt from Smitten Kitchen backed her up. Sorry, Mom.) I’d never tried one before, either, so we broke open the box excitedly, passed them around to various other hostel-dwellers, and dug in.

The consensus was not good.

Like, really not good. You’ll rarely hear backpackers complain about free food, so they didn’t riot or anything, but everyone was basically like, “What is this made of? Is it food? I don’t get it.” (Honestly, I think the entire experience probably put Meesh off Zombieland.)

Now, I didn’t particularly care for the Twinkies, either — but I understood them. It didn’t matter that they tasted like styrofoam; that was kind of the point.

I’m not trying to say Dutch junk food tastes like styrofoam. Um, necessarily.

But it doesn’t always look pretty or sound very enticing to newcomers; and it rarely gets the kind of recognition it deserves for being terrible in the exact way you wanted, even if you won’t admit it to anyone (yourself included). I’d say there’s a kind of spirit that we can all get behind — whether we’re from the Netherlands, the United States, or anyone else with a underrated “cuisine.”

With that, I’d like to tell you about a few of my favorite Dutch snacks — the good, the so-bad-it’s-good, and the ugly.

Bitterballen

Literally, “bitter balls” — a very common snack served in pubs and cafes across the Netherlands. Bitterballen are breaded, deep-fried balls of meat goop, usually accompanied by mustard. I actually really disliked them at first (I mean, “bitter balls”? “Meat goop”? What do you want from me here), but it turns out they’re kind of an acquired taste. If you don’t remember your first bitterballen too fondly, you might want to give them another go sometime.

Kroket

Similar to a bitterballen, but in a different (rather phallic) shape. Also occasionally eaten with a slice of bread, like a sandwich. (The Dutch are firm believers that anything can be a sandwich if you try hard enough. And by “try hard,” I mean stick a piece of bread on it.)

Dutch kroketten with bread and a glass of beer on a cafe table
Kroketten on bread – Photo by Raul via Flickr

Kaassoufflé

More deep-fried breading, but with melted cheese inside. The kaassoufflé is basically the US mozzerella stick’s second cousin a few times removed. It is nothing like a soufflé (unless you count how it deflates when you poke it).

Stroopwafels

Stroopwafels are thin waffle-y cookies with caramel filling. Warning: these crumbly bastards are as messy as they are delicious. The next seven people you speak with will know that you’ve eaten one because it will be in your hair, all over your shirt, and probably in your eyebrows. (You will find no shame from me, my friend.)

You can buy fresh ones from street kiosks, or packaged ones at any supermarket. If you go for the latter, try heating it up over a cup of tea (see below) for a minute before eating. This will goo-ify the filling and minimize the crumbliness. Somewhat.

Two teacups, each with a stroopwafel on top, sitting on a table
The best way to eat a stroopwafel – Photo by Barbara W via Flickr

Droge worst

Literally, “dry sausage.” There are several varieties, though to be honest, I can’t offer strong opinions about any one in particular versus the others. Droge worst looks like and feels like a hard, wrinkled rope of plastic, and it can be kind of hard to chew; but if you can get passed all that, it’s got a nice, spicy flavor. Just make sure you have some floss handy, because it will get stuck between your teeth.


As a sidenote, don’t go thinking the Dutch only eat junk. They were into kale before it was even trendy. Even if they do eat it out of a jar (we can talk about that some other time).

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Any photos not attributed otherwise are my own.

A list of ugly or weird (but delicious) snack foods to try when you visit the Netherlands.