I’m half-Dutch and I was raised on several Dutch dishes made by my grandparents. Thus, I made it a point to find the best restaurants in Rotterdam when I visited.
The first dish to make the list is hutspot, my childhood favorite. It’s a simple dish made with potatoes, carrots and onions, and optional meat on the side. The simple recipe is to boil half a dozen potatoes for 25 minutes, while boiling 6 carrots and 4 onions in a separate pot for 20 minutes (you can use the same pot after the potatoes). Then mash them all together, flavor with a bit of salt and pepper…and that’s it. My granny used to serve it with hot dogs and ketchup on the side.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any restaurants in Rotterdam serving this dish. It’s not to say there aren’t any; I just didn’t find them. I did ask a few locals if they liked the dish. Some didn’t, saying it was “poor people’s food.” Others said they loved it. Either way, I got to make it a few times while living in the Netherlands, not to mention other places around the world. It certainly is a cheap dish to make.
Bitterballen, Kroketten and Frikkandel
The next three items are snacks more than dishes. Bitterballen consists of a thick stew that is refrigerated, rolled into balls, breaded and deep-fried. Similarly, kroketten (or croquettes as they’re also known), have a variety of fillings (potatoes, meat or vegetables) which are also breaded and deep-fried. Two or three bitterballen are the size of one kroketten, and I could easily eat half a dozen bitterballen at a time.
Most European countries have their own sausages – bratwurst and currywurst in Germany, kabanos and kielbasa in Poland, lorne and black pudding in Scotland, etc. In the Netherlands, it’s frikandel. These are very similar to an American hot dog, but without the skin and, you guessed it, they’re deep-fried.
The most traditional way to get these is from an automat like Snackbarcorner near the Beurs Metro Station. An automat is connected to a kitchen that puts individual items like krotetten, bitterballen or a kipburger (chicken sandwich) in large vending machines. I’m sure there are plenty of good restaurants in Rotterdam serving better bitterballen and kroketten, but I’m sure you’ll find them as good as I did at the automat.
A word of advice: if you do get bitterballen from a restaurant, wait a few minutes after they’re served before you bite in. Otherwise, you’ll have a mouthful of boiling hot, deep-fried stew. Believe me, it’s not pleasant. The first time I tried them was at the Hudson Bar and Kitchen, I scalded my mouth on the first one, and the second one too! Worth it!
Kapsalon – HAS Doner
This next one isn’t deep-fried…entirely. It’s worse! Coming in at as much as 1,800 calories, it’s certainly the most gluttonous item on this list.
There’s an interesting history to the kapsalon dish. The word actually means barbershop in Dutch. In 2003, a barber got tired of the menu at the El Aviva Kebab next to his barbershop and asked them to make something unique with all the ingredients he liked. The result was a layer of fries, a layer of melted cheese, a layer of shawarma, a layer of salad, and topped with kebab sauce. When others saw his meal, they wanted it. He sent them to the kebab and told them to get the “kapsalon,” and thus the meal was born.
Since then, the kapsalon has spread globally. I found street food stalls in the night markets of Thailand selling them, and they were just as good! While El Aviva was the first kebab in Rotterdam (and I agree theirs is quite good), I preferred the HAS Doner Kebab chain throughout Rotterdam. Their meat tasted much better than the other kebabs in town, and they were also a bit cheaper.
If you don’t eat meat, they have a vegetarian version. There are also several sizes, so you don’t have to get the large, 1,800-calorie monstrosity.
Frites – Frites Unique
Legend has it that frites, or fries, originated in Belgium. The misconception of them being French stems from World War I when American and British soldiers landed on the coast of Belgium where they were served the fries. Since the Belgian Army spoke French, the association was made and the dish was called french fries.
Whether that’s true or not, Belgians certainly do make the best fries in the world, but the Dutch make them just as good (served in the Belgian style). The reason Belgian fries are so good is that they’re double-fried. The first time makes them tender, and the second time makes them perfectly crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The most usual topping is mayonnaise (which I would never have put on my fries in the States, and now it’s my dipping sauce of choice). Other sauces include ketchup, andalouse (mayo, tomato paste and peppers), Joppiesaus (onion and garlic), peanut sauce (delicious!), and many more.
There are food trucks and cafes all around the city serving Belgian fries, and they’re all pretty comparable. My favorite (possibly because it was next to the hostel I was working in) was Frites Unique. A large portion only set me back $5, and their truffle mayonnaise was amazing! Safe to say, I was a regular customer of theirs.
Kibbling – Blaak Markt
Now for my favorite Dutch dish. Think of kibbeling as deep-fried chicken nuggets, but made with fish, flavored with curry and served with a generous portion of aioli or tartar sauce. There’s hardly a town or village in the Netherlands that doesn’t have a fishmonger or street food cart selling these to a long line of customers each day. It’s also one of the cheaper meals in the country – sometimes for as little as $3 per serving (although I often went for a double).
There are a few restaurants in Rotterdam that have kibbeling on their menu, but I found the best to be at Blaak Markt, the farmer’s market that sets up every Tuesday and Saturday in Blaak Square in front of the epic Markthal. There’s also a good food truck at the entrance of Kinderdijk if you happen to visit there (as you should).
Herring – Markthal
No list of Dutch dishes would be complete without mentioning herring. This one can be a snack or a meal in itself, and is often served at the same fishmongers selling kibbeling, or from its own street food cart. The herring is usually served with a thick sour cream sauce and onions, just the way my grandparents would buy it when I was a child. In fact, writing about herring made me crave it so much that I went out to purchase some today for my lunch!
If you’re not in Rotterdam on Tuesday or Saturday for the Blaak Markt, there’s a really good vendor in the Markthal (in the back) serving portions of herring. You can also order it plain (which I believe is how most of the locals eat it), but I like the sour cream and onions.
Surinamese Food – Wong’s Place
When Rotterdam was bombed in World War II, they called back their colonists from around the world to help rebuild the city, and many of those brought their new cultures and cuisines back with them. One of these was Suriname, a country on the northern coast of South America which used to be a Dutch colony. Surinamese cuisine had been influenced by countries around the world, including India, Indonesia, China and, of course, the Netherlands.
There aren’t a huge amount of Surinamese restaurants in Rotterdam, and some are better than others. On my first day in the city, my Couchsurfing host brought me to Wong’s Place. They happen to be one of the highest-rated Surinamese restaurants in the city, and I quickly found out why.
Sharida, who had Suriname ancestry, helped me order the mixed meat platter. It was massive! The stirfry noodles and vegetables were topped with generous portions of chicken, beef and pork, and different styles of each. I’m a big fan of Asian food, but this was better!
Sushi – Sumo
This one isn’t Dutch, but it’s my favorite food. Long before I made it to Rotterdam, a local said I needed to try the Sumo Sushi restaurant. I wasn’t going to say no.
Within a few days of arriving, I took myself out to the Sumo Sushi on Mauritzweg street near the Central Train Station. My first impression was that it was overpriced. Now, I should probably mention that so far, I’ve listed some fairly cheap options in this list. Unfortunately, the Netherlands is a rather expensive country when it comes to restaurants, and sushi is almost always an expensive meal. Sumo offers both a la carte, and an all-you-can-eat menu where you get five courses, each allowing you to choose five different items within 90 minutes. Lunch is about $22, and dinner is about $33.
At the time, I didn’t want to fork out $33 for my dinner, so I went a la carte, picking a couple of my favorite items. Sadly, the waiter was horribly rude, and when the food was brought, they haphazardly threw it onto the far side of the table. The fish was no better than the service, and I left quite disappointed.
Later on, I decided to give them a second chance, this time choosing the store in the Markthal. I went for dinner again and this time got the all-you-can-eat menu. There are nearly a hundred different options to choose from, all of which are quite small (a single piece of nigiri, two pieces of maki, a jumbo deep-fried prawn, a mini poke bowl, a small piece of grilled salmon, etc). It might seem that 25 items might not be that much, but I rarely make it into the fourth course.
Thankfully, both the service and the quality of the food were fantastic this time. I had all of my favorites and also tried some new things, and by the end of the meal, I was happily satiated. I would certainly recommend them, but beware of ordering too much. I didn’t at Sumo, but later on at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in Amsterdam, I accidentally doubled up the third course and had a rather hard time finishing everything on the table, even with another person accompanying me at the time. They will charge $1 for every uneaten item, and there are some stories of that really adding up.
Ijs – De IJssalon
Now it’s time for the desserts. Ijs is Dutch for ice and ice cream, and Rotterdam has some incredible ice cream parlors. As with many countries in Europe, the lines outside the parlors can fill up with dozens of people at a time in the summer months.
In 2000, Robin Alting opened the first IJssalon ice cream shop. Since then, the shop has gone on to win numerous awards and opened four more locations, including one in the Markthal. All of their ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality. I saw more unique flavors there than anywhere else I’ve been to in my travels. Some of my favorites were osmanli tulumba (a Turkish dessert), popcorn, and eggnog. If you want to get something traditional, order the stroopwafel flavor – made with the Netherlands’ signature caramel waffles. Suffice to say, I had many, many scoops at IJssalon in the weeks I spent in Rotterdam.
Dutch Chocolate – Chocolate Company Cafe
I once wrote that Belgian chocolate was the best. Now I’m conflicted, as Dutch chocolate is pretty dang good too. One of my very first experiences in Rotterdam was a chocolate tasting at the Chocolate Company in the Markthal. Mario has spent years pushing the boundaries of perfection in his chocolate creations. His hot chocolate spoons (chocolate blocks at the end of a wooden spoon you can stir into hot milk) are available in dozens and dozens of flavors. The Chocolate Company also offers iced chocolates, numerous flavors of chocolate fondue, and the most decadent chocolate brownie you’ve ever tried.
If you’re looking for a good place to get some work done, I can’t recommend enough the Chocolate Company Cafe on the Oude Binnenweg walking street. Aside from chocolate products, they also have smoothies, salads and sandwiches available. The internet is quite fast (a luxury in Rotterdam), the ambiance is nice, and the chairs are comfortable. I spent more time working there than anywhere else during my stay in Rotterdam.
Poffertjes – Poffertjessalon Seth
While Belgium is known for its waffles, the Netherlands have their pancakes. No, not Dutch baby pancakes – those originated in the USA. Dutch pancakes are known as poffertjes and are like American silver dollar pancakes, but much more delicious. At Poffertjessalon, you can order a small, regular or large, depending on whether you want to eat one, two or three dozen pancakes! The toppings range from whipped cream and strawberries to warm cherries or malibu liqueur.
If you’re like me and don’t have a massive sweet tooth, a small portion will be more than enough. Otherwise, take a big group of friends and split a large. If you happen to be visiting the Efteling amusement park, you’ll find a good stand there serving poffertjes as well.
Bagels and Beans
While I loved the Chocolate Company, I also spent quite a bit of time at the two Bagels and Beans locations near the hostel I was working at. Their mission statement is all about healthy and organic products from small, fairtrade farms and companies. Their list of bagels makes my mouth water just writing about them – wild salmon, BLT, avocado and cream cheese, tuna melt, and many more. Several of their choices are vegetarian or vegan friendly.
Their drinks are just as good as their bagels. As their name implies – Beans – they serve some amazing third-wave coffee. Even better were their cold drinks – fresh-pressed juices, ginger lemonade and, my personal favorite, chai tea. This was the other cafe where I found great WiFi, although they didn’t stay open as late as the Chocolate Company.
Finally, I have to mention Bazar. Rotterdam is one of the top multi-cultural cities in the world. In the late 90s, an immigrant dishwasher realized there weren’t any great Mediterranean restaurants in town. He opened the restaurant Bazar on the then undeveloped Witte de With street, which has since become the top hip street in town.
The menu is a mix of Greek, Moroccan, Turkish and other cuisines – basically Mediterranean. In the half-dozen times I went, I tried numerous dishes on their menu. Not one of them wasn’t superb. If you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, this is the best restaurant in Rotterdam you could end up at.
A Note About Dutch Deep-fried Dishes
One thing you might have noticed from this list is how much the Dutch like deep-fried food. I do too, but too often I feel really bad from all the grease. Somehow, I never felt that way with the above Dutch snacks and dishes. I honestly don’t know if it’s the type of oil they use or how it’s prepared, but I think it’s safe to say that their deep-fried food is healthier. They certainly don’t have as many overweight people walking around, as you do in other countries that love deep-frying (looking at you, America and Scotland).
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In case you missed them, here are all the links to my other articles concerning Rotterdam.
- Bringing Out My Inner Child At the Efteling Amusement Park
- Is Dutch Chocolate Better Than Belgian Chocolate?
- Getting Back to My Family Roots in Rotterdam, Netherlands
- Exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk
- Hostel ROOM: The Best Place to Stay in Rotterdam for a Weekend Break
- 12 of My Favorite Activities in Rotterdam – A Better City Than Amsterdam
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.