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Eating habits of Dutch have switched to dining out on foreign fare

National dishes on steep decline

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

AMSTERDAM - A continuing trend since the 1950s has made the Netherlands a country of gourmands, who like to eat out or take out and dine on dishes from foreign shores, the more exotic the better. Gone are the days when the Dutch in general ate at home, enjoying typically Dutch dishes.

The eating habits of the Dutch, as with many other peoples in the world, has changed in fifty years, in large part due to the ongoing globalization, the new travel trends, the graying of the population, new work habits and the influence of ethnic immigrants on Dutch society at large. Almost every national cuisine is represented in the Netherlands, from Belgian fries and Nepalese sukuti (beef jerky), to Argentinian beef and Vietnamese spring rolls.

In the 1950s, Dutch dishes were the main items on the menu of most restaurants, with a sprinkling of Chinese-Indonesian chop houses entering the market. Dining out often meant a ‘biefstuk’ with pan-fried potatoes and apple sauce. It wasn’t until the early 1970s, that McDonald’s made its first foray into the country, a turn of events lamented by many, since it signalled an invasion of fast-food outlets. The Dutch food tradition of serving some kind of vegetables-potatoes-meat dish suffered greatly.

In 1957, there were just over 31,000 food and beverage establishments in the Netherlands, employing 45,000 people and having annual sales of $545 million. By the end of 2004, the number of restaurants, bars, snackbars and such outlets has not increased dramatically – there are 42,000 - but their revenues and staff have ballooned. Currently, some 420,000 people find employment in the food-and-beverage sector, which has gross sales of $15.4 billion, of which $6.7 billion in food only.


The current trend to offer dishes that are consumer-friendly also applies to take-out and freshly prepared foods, the latter increasingly available at supermarket deli counters. This trend caters to the changing demand with people having less leisure time, couples often each having a job, and the number of people over 55 is growing rapidly. These groups of consumers seem to have accepted take-out or dining out as a norm.

While in the 1950s and 1960, take-out food almost exclusively was the realm of the Chinese-Indonesian restaurants, the cafetaria and the snackbar, the habit changes also had their influence on this segment of the industry, in particular on the snackbars. Their number has decreased by ten percent in the last five years to just over 5,100. Most of the void is taken up by the so-called lunchrooms, the more cozy and extravagant versions of the cafetaria, with specialized, home-made, fast food items. Their number has grown from a mere 1,250 in 1995 to well over 2,000 currently.

One of the more remarkable changes in the restaurant landscape is the ‘return’ of the ice cream parlor. Very popular in the 1960s, the number of these specialty outlets declined in the decades since, but the parlors are making a definite comeback. Also increasing in numbers since the 1960s are roadside cafes and restaurants, alongside or sometimes over highways and off major intersections. At the other end of the scale, the number of small guesthouses - call them ‘bed-and-board’ (in Dutch pension) – has declined as are the typical village pubs.

Although interest in the traditional Dutch cuisine has reduced significantly, some restaurants are attempting to promote slightly adjusted versions of what could be called ‘heritage dishes.’ Home decor giant Ikea, which for tax reasons has its corporation established in the Netherlands, has joined the promotion. It recently published a richly illustrated cookbook on traditional Dutch dishes, with subtle varieties and additional ingredients to make the dishes - such as huzarensla - ‘new’ again. How far before full circle?