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What to Eat in Amsterdam

A typical Dutch meal is often derided for its boldly honest approach to the food groups: meat, vegetable, potato. But all you need is one restaurant meal that seems home cooked by a particularly savvy mother to see that Dutch cuisine is filled with unexpected nuances and can be positively skeee-rumptious.

There are usually many different meals on offer, including very traditional winter fare such as zuurkool met spek en worst (sauerkraut with bacon and sausage); hutspot (a hotchpotch of potato and carrots served with sausage); stamspot (a hotchpotch of potato and sauerkraut served with sausage); and erwetensoup, also called snert, which is a thick pea soup that comes fortified with a variety of meats.

More-summery options are the famed asperges, the white and tender local asparagus that comes into season in May, and mossellen, or mussels, that are matured by mid-August in the pristine waters of Oosterschelde in Zeeland. Fancier summer starters may be a seasonal salad with smoked salmon or eel, or a carpaccio made with sole.

And although it may be handy to learn that kip means "chicken" and biefstuk means "beefsteak," a much easier and common shortcut to understanding a Dutch menu is to ask for an English menu (or a quick translation of "recommendations").

Keep in mind one local menu quirk: an entrée is, in fact, a starter and not a main course. Those are called hoofdgerechten. For snack and sandwich best bests, see the Close-Up box "Refuel Around Town."

No matter if it's jong (young), belegen (aged), or oud (ancient)—the Dutch live for their cheese. A young Gouda has a creamy flavor and soft consistency; as it matures it acquires a more robust flavor and firmer texture. Edam's red cover means a cheese marked for export; locally, the Edam (as well as Gouda) usually wears a yellow or, if aged, a black coat. Edam is very mild, with slightly salty or nutty flavors.

Other popular Dutch cheeses include Leidse kaas (often supplemented with cumin seeds); Frisian Clove, a firm-textured cheese spiced with cloves; and the hole-ridden Maasdammer, which is similar to Swiss Emmentaler but much creamier.

For a sweet finale, desserts invariably include homemade custards and some version of profiterole, which is a liquor-soaked thin pancake usually filled with ice cream and drowned in dark chocolate. Everyone's home-made favorite is the appeltaart, which now comes in many delightful variations.

Updated: 2013-11-20

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