Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Meals, Customs and Foods Commonly Used


The average day in the Netherlands begins with an ample breakfast of many breads, unsalted butter and jams, sliced cheeses, and occasionally a fried or boiled egg. Young children often eat a breakfast cereal called pap. Adults drink tea with milk and sugar, while the youngsters have milk or buttermilk.

Lunch, called koffietafel, is principally a cold meal consisting of breads, cheeses plus sliced meats and sausages, and the addition of one small hot dish (a baked casserole, soufflĂ©, or omelet), perhaps a dessert of fruit or rice, or farina pudding. One thing is certain: lunch will be concluded with “endless cups of coffee taken with milk and sugar. Note that both breakfast and lunch are “sandwich meals” and these are accompanied by either tea or coffee.

Six o’clock in the evening is time for a quick aperitif of Dutch Genever gin (strongly juniper-flavored preceding the usual dinner time of 6:30 p.m. The often damp and chilly weather makes hot soup  popular first course, followed by fish or meat plus gravy and one of the many hot potato or vegetable dishes. A simple dessert pudding or flensjes (small crepes) finish the meal. Accompanying dinner is water or mineral water and sometimes wine but never tea or coffee. Juices or soft drinks also have no place at the dinner table. Occasionally men have beer at dinner.

The legendary Dutch appetite could hardly be appeased with a mere three meals a day. So at about 10:30 a.m. everyone stops for coffee and hot milk served with koekjes (cookies). At 4:00 p.m. there is a universal break for tea and cookies. But in between, if even the suggestion of a hunger pang strikes, all is in readiness: pannekoekenhuisje (pancake houses) dish up huge pancakes a-shimmer with butter and preserves; broodjeswinkel (delicatessens) stand by to serve sandwiches, especially the famed uitsmijter, a Dutch “snack” of bread and butter topped with sliced meat, fried eggs, and pickles. Then there are always vendors with herring and eel snacks.

Dutch cooks seldom experiment: simple and hearty traditional dishes are well loved. The most popular dining-out meal is the rijstafel or Indonesian “rice table.” This is a traditional feast centering on mounded rice flanked by platters of shrimp or pork or beef ready to be accented with an array of hot, sweet, spicy, crunchy, or cool condiments. What a contrast to the daily Dutch fare!

Such exotic tastes were brought to the Netherlands by colonists living for a time in previously Dutch-owned Indonesia. Three hundred years of Dutch occupation was long enough to bring home some Oriental food tastes. Many quick-lunch counters also feature a few of these specialties. The fact that most western Dutch import shops feature a section of specialty foods for the rijstafel is proof that adventurous Dutch will occasionally attempt this cookery at home.


The Dutch eat traditional hearty fare at home, but prefer international dishes when they dine out. Cheese is one of their most important dairy products and is usually eaten for breakfast. Fruits and vegetables are well cooked and enjoyed in season, although preserves are also popular. Potatoes prepared in endless variations and breads of every type stand apart as the most important staples. Meats are used more sparingly and pork and beef are favorites. Of fish, herring is used most widely and in many ways. Seasonings are limited because the Dutch prefer the natural tastes of fresh ingredients. Tea, coffee, beer, and gin are the usual adult drinks, while children enjoy milk. It is customary that all cooked foods are well cooked.

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