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

Dutch Junk Food

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 it made out 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. Honest.

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 just terrible enough to work. 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 sadly misunderstood, uh, “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, “meat goop,” you guys), but it turns out they’re kind of an acquired taste. And they go great with a beer or seven.

Kroket

Similar to a bitterbal, 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.)

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.

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. (Make sure you have some floss handy; it will get stuck between your teeth.)

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

As a sidenote, don’t go thinking the Dutch only eat junk. The fuckers basically invented kale.

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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.

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