I first got acquainted with the Dutch winter tradition back in 1996. I remember that it was a very cold December (-15 Celsius) and the last year that the Dutch held the eleven cities skating tour (elfstedentocht). 1996 was also the year that I got introduced to Dutch pea soup (ewrtensoep), the cinnamon-spiced traditional Dutch apple-pie, French-fries with mayonnaise (instead of ketchup) and the Dutch version of sushi: fresh raw herrings with onions and pickles (yes, I am adventurous!). On top of that, I also had plenty of hot cocoa with whipped cream, coffee and teas. Now, all these goodies still make the top of my list of Dutch comfort food, including my husband’s culinary specialty: mashed potatoes mixed with endive leaves (stampot andijvie), served with pan fried beef sausages, marinated in hot mustard. I am still looking for other restaurants in Utrecht, which serve such traditional meals. If you know a place, please do let me know and I will update our list.
If you are visiting the Netherlands – and Utrecht – for the first time, here are some of the best places in Utrecht where you can try some of the abovementioned Dutch treats, at their best!
Dutch Apple pie at Bond & Smolders
This patisserie, and tea-room, is a ‘must-visit’ in Utrecht. They make the most amazing pastries, tarts, cakes, macaroons, éclairs… you name it! You gotta try their delicious Dutch Apple-pie or the Appelbol, which is a whole apple, baked with almond spice, cinnamon and raisins, wrapped in crispy sugar-sprinkled puff pastry. Divine! Bond & Smolders is also known for their delicious breads and beautiful wedding cakes. Do you need another reason to drop by?
Bond & Smolders | Lijnmarkt 9
Traditional Dutch meal at Graaf Floris
This charming restaurant is housed in an eleventh century historical building on the Vismarkt. I used to drop by every now and then for a cup of coffee and cake. Step in and marvel at the antique wooden interior. You could either join the crowd at the large dining table for a cup of coffee and their famous Appelbol or sit in one of their booths for a delicious Dutch traditional meals, with some French influence, such as beef stew, venison steaks, steamed mussels from the coasts of Zealand, and the old-fashioned stampot.
Graaf Floris |Vismarkt 13
Chocolate and coffee at Hop & Stork
The Dutchies take their chocolate and coffee seriously. This was affirmed by a Dutch newspaper, which mentioned that Dutch people – in average – eat around 4,7 kg of chocolate per year! If you are also a chocolate lover… man, have I found the perfect place for you: Hop & Stork at the corner of the Zadelstraat and the Lijnmarkt. This shop prides itself for its high-quality chocolate and coffee. Each cup of coffee they serve is complemented with a piece of chocolate praline and a small serving of chocolate mousse – how fabulous is that? And when you are at it, why not try their specialties, such as white chocolate with freeze dried raspberry or milk chocolate with crisp pearls. Another one that should not be missed: the intense, dark chocolate milk made from cocoa harvested in Tanzania (75%) and Saint-Dominque (70%).
Hop & Stork | Lijnmarkt 1
Special teas and coffees at Simon Lévelt
A few years ago, I vowed that I will drink less, but really good coffee. I used to live near the Simon Lévelt shop on the Vismarkt, so I decided to get my daily staple of ground coffee from this shop and I still do. Founded in 1823, Simon Lévelt is a coffee and tea specialist chain. They sell many types of high-quality coffee and tea from all over the world. At their store, select your favorite coffee type and they will ground the bean for you according to how you make your coffee at home (filter, espresso, French press, etc). My favorite is the Yellow Bourbon, a Rainforest Alliance certified blend from Brazil. It’s such a bliss to be able to get a smooth, full-bodied and well-balanced brew, using my humble filter machine. Besides great coffee, Simon Lévelt also sells special items for the holiday season, such as the Sinterklaas tea blend and Chocolate liquorette (made in Utrecht!) to complement your after-dinner coffee.
Simon Lévelt | Vismarkt 21A
Also located in the Vismarkt, is De Pepernotenfabriek. This small shop sells the typical Dutch crunchy spiced cookies (de pepernoten), which can also be found in supermarkets and stores by end of September, approaching the St Nicholas celebration (5 December). De Pepernotenfabriek sells all kinds of pepernoten, from the traditional version, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and cloves, to chocolate covered ones. Now, who can say no to those?
De Pepernotenfabriek | Vismarkt 22
Pancakes at De Oude Munt Kelder
I know, I know…pancakes are not necessarily a typical winter food. But unlike in some countries, the Dutch don’t eat pancakes for breakfast, but more for lunch or dinner. Topped with apples, raisins, or even bacon (!), the Dutch pancake always makes a great treat, and not only for children. De Oude Munt Kelder, housed in one of the Oudegracht wharf cellars, serves around 80 varieties of sweet and savory pancakes, that will warm you up and satisfy your cravings.
De Oude Munt Kelder | Oudegracht 112
As you wander around Utrecht, you probably find many shops and snack bars that sell French fries. Some of you may also remember that scene in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, when John Travolta told Samuel L. Jackson that the Dutch eat French fries with mayonnaise instead of ketchup (he’s right!). However, at the Frites Atelier on the Steenweg, you will get acquainted with the so-called ‘designer fries’, served with the fancier kind of sauces, such as béarnaise, basil, truffle and pepper. This trendy haute frites chain was founded by a former Dutch celebrity chef, Sergio Herman. If you’re really hungry then you should also try their beef stew. It’s delicious!
Frites Atelier | Steenweg 58
Fresh raw herring at Vishandel Vollendam
It is an acquired taste…but I do love eating fresh raw herring, served with diced onions and pickles. I usually get my herring fix at the Vishandel Vollendam in the Hoog Catherijne shopping mall. Their herrings are fresh and succulent – just thinking about it makes my mouth water! This fish store also sells high-quality seafood, including sashimi-grade tuna and salmon, fresh scallops, gambas and clams. I occasionally drop by eat their fried codfish (kibbeling) or calamari, which are also really delicious.
Vishandel Vollendam | Hoog Catharijne, Godebaldkwartier 80
header image: Toerisme Utrecht
pictures: Susanne Sterkenburg