When you visit a country for the first time, you always want to try the signature dishes. When in Spain, you want to sample the paella, in Japan sushi, in India you want to taste different curries. But what kind of food is traditionally Dutch?
The answer is a lot, and not many. The Dutch have an interesting culture, and much of what you find there isn’t actually Dutch. Much like Americans, over time they’ve absorbed many cultures into their own. So while you can find some traditional Dutch foods (like the wonderful Dutch pancake, a huge crepe-like pancake with your choice of either savory or sweet fillings), most of the restaurants you’ll find in Amsterdam serve international foods.
The most famous – and uniquely Dutch – international food in Amsterdam is the Rijsttafel. Rijsttafel means ‘rice table’ in Dutch, and consists of tiny servings of about a million Indonesian dishes. The concept of this kind of Indonesian feast was brought back to the Netherlands by Dutch colonists in Indonesia, who loved sampling small servings of the spicy and flavorful local dishes.
A traditional Rijsttafel consists of anywhere from 6 to 60 small servings – the more the better – and is generally enjoyed over two to three hours. Similar in concept to Spanish tapas, each dish is just a small sampling –maybe just a bite or two each plate–, and is kept warm on the table for as long as you want it. The dishes range from curried goat, to traditional Indonesian ground coconut, to yellow saffron rice. If you like exotic flavors, you’ll love Rijsttafel. It’s probably the most fun you’ll have eating dinner in a long time.
Depending on where you go, a Rijsttafel meal can range from a relatively inexpensive 12 Euros up to the high 50’s. It’s worth spending a little more – perhaps 25 Euros or so per person – for a high quality Rijsttafel.