Frisian Food – adventures in Northern Holland

The Dutch have a particular fondness for sour tasting foods. I base this sweeping generalisation, not on thorough statistical research, but on my own husband’s tastes. And that of his family’s. And friends. Think sauerkraut, pickled gherkins, herring in vinegar. Extra vinegar (or balsamic at times), with everything.

Friesian cows, horses, butter and…

If The Netherlands were a football team, technically my husband would fall into the ‘reserve bench’ category. This is our little joke, anyway. Friesians, or Frisians comprise a minority (600 000 odd) population who maintain their own language. Friesland is the only province in Holland with it’s own language (Frisian has Germanic roots, is less guttural than Dutch and has a sing song quality about it. Unless my mother-in-law is speaking it. Then it’s the accelerated, high pitched, up tempo version.  And I clutch desperately onto hand signals and facial expressions just to keep up!)

Typical Dutch and Frisian Foods

(l-r clockwise)12 Uurtje- 3 open sandwiches, Snack house, Croquettes, Apple turnover

The main squad

So, what do these folk eat? Naturally, many widely enjoyed Dutch specialities are eaten in Friesland too, such as:

  •  Kroket [croquettes, a roux with veal, beef, shrimp and now modern versions with spicy meat called the ‘goulash’ and cheese varieties are available, coated in a crisp crumb, often a reddish-orange hue and deep fried],
  • gehaktbal [a pork or beef meatball, smooth in texture, and the size of a large round doughnut. I kid not!],
  • hutspot [hotpot, made up of  a mixture of mashed potato, carrots and onion often served with a brown gravy],
  • stamppot [mashed potato with either sauerkraut (zuurkool stampot), kale (boerenkool stampot],
  • snert [a thick pea soup, more a broth served with pork, bacon or smoked sausage]
  • slavink [meatballs covered in bacon, usually baked]
  • rolmops [herring, in a vinaigrette, rolled up and sold in glass jars]
  • kaas [Gouda, Edam (visited this town a while back), the Amsterdammer varieties etc]
  • pannekoeken[ pancakes. Usually thick and served with icing sugar and suiker stroop (a dark, rich molassesy golden syrup) or filled. I ate the most amazing apple and cinnamon filled pannekoek in the town of Marken, a few years ago],
  • appeltaart [apple tart, sometimes with a pastry lattice top and raisins, sometimes with a crumble topping. Popular the world over],
  • stroopwafels [thin, pliable spicy biscuit rounds sandwiched together with caramel. I used these to make fun Valentine’s ice cream sandwiches]

Over the years, I’ve gone from turning my nose up (sauerkraut that ever popular sour, pungent pickled cabbage, loved by the Germans too), to eyes wide in amazement (the rolmops take me to my days in the the anatomy dissection halls and brains soaking in formaldehyde. Sensitive readers, apologies for the lack forewarning!).

I’ve also been taken to the place known as delight – so many biscuits made with ginger, anise and other spices, such as speculaas, and my husband’s festive season favourite, pepernoten, tiny rounds of ginger biscuit made with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper.


The reserve bench

‘Bûter, brea en griene tsiis; wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries’

(Butter, rye bread and green cheese, whoever can’t say that isn’t a genuine Frisian)

Friesland is known for it’s gorgeous Friesian horses and Friesian cows- those lazy, black and white numbers sitting in green pastures doing what cows do best. Friesian butter, as you will know, is popular the world over. It also makes sense that fresh cream is served with most desserts and cakes here. Cream is also used in or to top many soups as well.

apple turnover with slagroom (whipped cream)

Some Friesian delights we’ve enjoyed on this trip and over the years, include:

  • rookworst [a smoked sausage, widely available and often found in supermarkets.] There’s a soft, fresh variety that my brother-in-law orders from his butcher- sublime!]
  • hache [ pronounced hush-shay, I can’t verify for certain if this dish is confined to Friesland, but I haven’t seen it elsewhere and it’s one of my mother-in-law’s specialities- a slow cooked beef dish made with a ton (almost) of onions in a brown gravy. Enjoyed by my husband and his father, with a glug of vinegar. I can not begin to describe my expression, the first time I witnessed this!]
  • Fryske Dumkes – a hard, spiced cookie

Fast food

Friethuis or Chip shop

Fried foods are very popular and ‘snack bars’ often serve friet/patat (French fries) with mayonnaise or ketchup and kroketten, bitterballen(similar concept to croquettes, just small and round), and various Indo- Chinese inspired creations such as mee goreng and nasi goreng flavoured roux, covered in crumbs or pastry and deep fried.

You’d be hard pressed to find fresh sandwiches of the variety we’re accustomed to in Cape Town (no chilli pulled pork, I can tell you) and the bread option is often white or white baguette. Which is odd, because a traditional Friesian food is brea, a dense rich rye bread.  Not every snack shop sells toasted sandwiches, either.

Lettuce used is often iceberg. Now, I’m no lettuce snob; my twitter bio reads ‘Life’s too short for lettuce’ afterall. Just an observation of what’s happening on the food scene here.

I’m not terribly thrilled to admit that my nephews and niece are all extremely fond of these snack foods and would turn their noses up at sushi. A far cry from kids in similar income earning families in South Africa, whom I often see eating and even demanding sushi for dinner.


It’s also true that the Dutch are renowned for their variety of salted and flavoured liquorice or drop, as they call them. Not a particular favourite of mine, I’ve brought bags of these for friends over the years. I do like the home-made caramels and my husband likes the lemon (of course) fruit drops.

Treat the outside too

Rituals. – Holland’s pride and joy when it comes to body and beauty products. Over the years they’ve expanded the range to cover North African and Eastern influences, predominantly. They do a mean array of teas too. I’ve used the white tea with rose to make ice teas all summer long. Luxurious formulations at affordable prices. I visit the Rituals store even before we step out of Schiphol.

What’s next?

In addition to these, we’ve eaten some very, very special meals too. If you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen a glimpse. Codfish tongue, the sweetest oysters, Zwart zee lamb. But that, for another time.

Tomorrow we’re off to Barcelona. We arrive at the same time as the Barcelona F.C victory parade. I pray the traffic and road closures are kind to us. I’d much rather spend the time exploring the tapas bars. But you know that already!

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