Food has always been my favorite part of traveling: its a fantastic chance to try new things, make new friends and really experience a culture. Unfortunately, not all restaurants and food establishments are as understanding about particular kinds of food restrictions.
Being vegetarian in Europe is not always easy, which makes the Netherlands a pleasant surprise. There are many options, and the discriminating vegetarian can easily sift out the mediocre from the great with a little bit of trial and error or inside knowledge. Here’s my look over a month of food in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the surrounding areas.
Grocery Stores and Bakeries
Grocery stores always carry good vegetarian food including salads, cheese, bread and other staples for cheap. They were my fall back plan for any meal, especially on the days I checked my bank account balance. However: Beware! They’re closed on Sundays, as in many European countries, and they don’t stay open as late as restaurants. Even as a seasoned European traveler, I still somehow forget and take American grocery store hours for granted. In general, grocery stores are smaller in Europe as well, and have a more limited selection. My best advice: diversify! Try all of the grocery stores in the area because they are sure to carry different kinds of things beyond the basics.
Bakeries were my other basic fail-safe, especially because they’re quite a bit cheaper than the usual American counterpart. I am always a fan of fresh bread, and they also have croissants, sweets and other delicious options. My bakery staples included cheese filled croissants, apple turnovers and fresh rolls. For me, Bakeries are the best quick lunch stop while on the go: they’re fast, filling and sure to be somewhere in any neighborhood.
Fast Food: Familiar, Frugal and/or Fantastic
Many of the familiar faces of fast food establishments from the US have made it across the pond. I have it on good authority that they even taste better because European food regulations are stricter than the US equivalent. McDonald’s and Burger King don’t have too much for veggies to eat, but Subway is one place you can count on in the Netherlands. The “make-your-own-sandwich” idea is pretty new to Europe, which has made Subway pretty successful and widespread.
The “make-your-own” theme does pop up elsewhere, and often quite deliciously. The Netherlands, especially Rotterdam, has a bunch of little wok shops that do made-to-order stir fry with a variety of veggies, meats, sauces and bases. I found one particular one called *Daily Wok which was my personal all-around winner for most-visited restaurant! Where most of the “make-your-own-wok” places had primarily meat stuff, the Daily Wok had all of that and a fantastic mix of seasonal fresh vegetables. While we were there this included cucumbers, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, carrots, zucchini leeks…and probably a few others I cant remember. They had four bases: udon noodles, thin noodles, rice and fried rice. They also had pineapple, cashews, egg, tofu and several meats and fish as extras. Finally, the peanut sauce was simply to die for! One wok order was about 5-6 Euros and was a lot of food. This place certainly gave the most bang for the buck.
Another favorite staple of fast food in the Netherlands is “Frites” or French Fries. Every place will have the European-standard of mayo sauce or curry-catchup, but usually there are other options. I’d suggest trying them all, and even in various combinations.
Finally, our second-most-visited, cheap-but-yummy food sort was Turkish food. Like Germany, the Netherlands has quite a few Turkish immigrants and with them come what Americans might know as “gyros.” I’ve never been able to get a handle on the English pronunciation, but the Germans and Netherlanders call it Doener. Doenner is basically cobbled together meat thats roasted and cut to add to sandwiches or into tortilla wraps. While that has never interested me, the places that sell the stuff also often have either falafel, feta cheese or both. Both of those make fantastic sandwiches and wraps. My personal favorite is the falafel, which is one of my favorite foods when made truly fresh.
Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for a place called “Maoz”, an affordable all-vegetarian chain that sells fantastic and fresh falafel. They also have a bar to which you get to add your own selection of veggies and sauces. Amsterdam has several, though I never saw one in Rotterdam.
The Netherlands is a land full of immigrants, and with immigrants comes a great variety of food. The Netherlands gives a huge range of possibilities, from Italian, to Turkish, to Mediterranean, to Asian, African, Dutch, French, International and so forth. Most if not all of these kinds of food have some sort of vegetarian options. Indeed, I only found one or two restaurants that actually didn’t have anything vegetarian. However, a good third of the restaurants I found had mostly meat dishes, and I learned the hard way that a restaurant which specializes in meat sometimes only does mediocre without it. Generally, I had much more reliable successes with restaurants that had many vegetarian options on the menu.
Big cities in the Netherlands, and often in the rest of Europe, sometimes have all-vegetarian restaurants. In Amsterdam the group found a restaurant called Bol Hoed which I never managed to get to but sounded fantastic. In Rotterdam, we found the Bla Bla which is some of the best food I have ever eaten. The Bla Bla was a little pricey, but absolutely worth it. All-Vegetarian restaurants are absolutely worth checking for!
Desert is not to be ignored! The Netherlands has some specialties of its own but also many imported from around the world.
First and foremost: the Stroopwafel. Stroopwafels are fantastic little thin waffles that are cut in half and then glued back together with honey. Needless to say, they’re delicious, and one should not leave the country without trying them!
Next up: Pannekoeken, or Dutch pancakes. These are thin and eggy, somewhat like crepes, and filled with a myriad of different things from cheese to bacon to sugar. Like crepes, these are only sometimes desert, but my personal bias shows through here: in my opinion they’re best covered in powdered sugar or chocolate…
The ever important Ice Cream section is almost exclusively Gelato as in Italy. Quite delicious, cheap and everywhere, but not the same as American ice cream. Technically, one can also buy Ben and Jerry’s through Subway but only at a high premium.
Also delicious and originally from another land: Bachlava. The flaky, honey filled desert is easy to find in some areas and very affordable.
Finally, restaurants have their own deserts too, from ice cream to fresh baked cakes to chocolate mousse — it all depends on where you are. The Netherlands is not lacking in fantastic deserts!
Looking back on my month, its been full of deliciousness. I’ve met many fantastic people over food, and I’ve really gotten a feel for the range of food available to a traveling student. Netherlands is one of the easiest countries to eat veggie in Europe, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite!