Exotic Foods of the Netherlands

One of the most intriguing parts of living in another culture is experiencing that culture’s culinary habits! What follows is a look at bread and chocolate ... in the Dutch paradigm.


The word “boterham,” when translated literally, means “butter-ham.” Perhaps a more accurate translation is “sandwich” – however, a boterham is quite distinctive from the classic American sandwich (two pieces of bread with numerous layers of foodstuffs in between, eaten with one’s hands, no plate required). Rather, a boterham is a single piece of bread with something on top, often (but not always) eaten on a plate with a knife and fork. Boterhammen (the plural of boterham) can be topped with cheese, or meat, or peanut butter, or jam, or chocolate spread, or vegetables, or any other manner of topping. (See hagelslaag, below.)

It is the habit of many Dutch people whom I have met to eat boterhammen for both breakfast and lunch, and then to eat something “warm” for the evening meal. (I have begun to adopt this custom as well, though I still like to have a box of cereal around for days when I wake up feeling hungry for something a little more American!) In earlier years, when more Dutch people were farmers, it is my understanding that the noon meal was traditionally the “warm meal,” often featuring potatoes as one of the main courses. But as the number of people working on farms lessened, and the number of people who had to travel longer distances to work increased, it became gradually more common for the evening meal to be the larger one.

In my opinion, what makes boterhammen so delicious is the high quality of European breads and cheeses. Delicious!


One of most unusual toppings for boterhammen is something called hagelslaag. Hagelslaag looks similar to the chocolate sprinkles we are accustomed to putting on cakes in America, but their flavor is distinctive and not to be found in America. From the first moment I tasted hagelslaag, I was a fan. Indeed, bread sprinkled with little bits of chocolate makes for quite a tasty dessert! (For those less fond of chocolate than I am, fruit-flavored Hagelslaag is also popular here.)