Fish, fish, and more fish. The staggering wealth of the 17th- century Dutch Golden Age was based in large part on herrings.The Dutch eat them raw and pickled in a variety of ways. Try them at one of the dozens of herring stands (herringhuis) scattered around town. Other Atlantic and North Sea fish are on many menus, and they’re generally fresh and delicious. Among snack foods, ossenworst is a delicious smoked beef sausage eaten cold, like salami. The beef or shrimp croquette (krokette) is a local obsession. At their worst, these large, gooey dumplings rolled in diamond-hard crumbs, then deep fried, taste like instant gravy mix. They’re always served scorching hot; Amsterdammers split them open, place them on a slice of white bread, then add mustard and/or fried parsley. Small, round vegetable-paste croquettes are called bitterballen and are a favorite hors d’oeuvre.
Locally you can find dozens of cheeses, including the ubiquitous Edam and Gouda. You can also find delicious aged varieties, and others made with raw milk (boerenkaas), hidden treasures that aren’t available abroad. These cheeses, plus various cold cuts, go into the standard Dutch lunch, which consists of small, often round sandwiches—broodjes—that would be considered a mere snack or finger food in most other countries.
The most celebrated dish hereabouts is stamppot, a vast mound of mashed potatoes and gravy, usually served with endive, sauerkraut, or kale, plus pork ribs and sausages. Don’t forget erwtensoep, pea soup, that perennial winter favorite; it should be thick enough to hold a spoon upright. A lighter favorite in May and June is white Limburg asparagus, eaten with local boiled ham (and sometimes sprinkled with cinnamon or nutmeg).
Dutch pancakes are the sort of comestible brick that has given Dutch food a bad name. Called pannekoeken when pizza- sized and poffertjes when smaller, they are often gooey and only half-cooked. Toppings include everything under the sun, from curried turkey to pineapple to sweet corn. The less said, the better. Indonesian food from the Netherlands’ former colony, the Dutch East Indies, has been thoroughly adopted by Amsterdammers, who consider it their own. You find chicken sate (also spelled sateh and satay) with peanut sauce everywhere, from ethnic eateries to Dutch steakhouses and sidewalk fry shops.
The celebrated Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) is a colonial invention, designed to regale Dutch potentates with a mind- boggling parade of 20 or 30 dishes. Indonesia is a vast country, comprising Java, Borneo, and Sulawesi, with dozens of regional cuisines; what you get in Amsterdam is a pan-Indonesian mix of star dishes, most of them Javanese. Try spicy babi ketjap (pork in soya sauce) or mild gado-gado (vegetables and bean sprouts in peanut sauce). The true test of an Indonesian chef, however, is rendang padang—beef with chile and coconut sauce; it should be very spicy and of a creamy but firm consistency.
Local beers include those inexplicably world-famous brews Heineken and Amstel. There are two good microbreweries in town, Bierbrouwerij ’t IJ and Brouwhuis Maximiliaan. Dutch Riesling wine, grown near Maastricht, is good but difficult to find. There is only one local producer of jenever (Dutch gin), Cees van Wees; his products are available at De Admiraal (a bar/ tasting house).