If you ever find yourself craving a beer after a day of exploring Amsterdam, make sure to order some bittergarnituur, complete with bitterballen.
Roughly translated as “appetizers” in Dutch, this assortment of fried finger foods commonly served in bars throughout Amsterdam dominates the bar-snack scene. These delicious snacks encompass a whole range of fried, bite-sized snack foods. Find it on the “borrelhapjes” (or, “snacks to have with drinks”) menu. No one seems to know particularly when it became a staple of Amsterdam bar snacks. But astute guesses point to its introduction to Dutch cuisine during the Netherlands’ Spanish occupation in the 17th century. They are basically croquettes, after all.
And, of course, no conversation about eating in Amsterdam is complete without mentioning bitterballen, the real star of Amsterdam bar snacks.
What is bitterballen?
Essentially a deep-fried meatball, often made with gravy baked inside, bitterballen rules the cheap food options in Amsterdam, and reigns as the undisputed champion of Amsterdam bar snacks. Traditionally made from beef, veal or a mixture, some creative types nowadays experiment with chicken and fish. Minced or chopped, the meat filling is usually combined with gravy and beef broth. Butter and flour add some extra thickness to the snack. Furthermore, a dash of salt, pepper and parsley round out the savory flavor profile. If you want to make the most out of your choice, then pair your bitterballen with a good, strong beer. Or dine on bitterballen the traditional way: with a gin drink. In fact, the term “bitter” comes from the gin and bitters drinks they were typically served alongside back in the day.
Finding bitterballen in Amsterdam
Any place serving alcohol (and even some coffee shops) will likely have bitterballen on the menu. But, as with any place, eating in Amsterdam is better some places than others. If you’re looking for the best bar snacks Amsterdam has to offer, check out the aptly-named BallenBar (inside Foodhallen, Bellamyplein 51, Amsterdam). BallenBar’s bouillabaisse ballen uses a filling created by Peter Gast, acclaimed Michelin star chef.
Gewaeght Café (Nieuwmarkt 16, 1012 CR Amsterdam) in the popular Nieuwmarkt market square is another fabulous option. Offering the comfortable atmosphere of a traditional pub, complete with great music, the Gewaeght Café whips up an array of classic bittergarnituur.
Expect to pay around €5 for a typical plate of 5-6 snacks.