Snackbars are the ultimate Dutch fast-food venues, catering to your needs through the long Dutch nights.
One late night, fueled by alcohol, you’re wandering through the streets, when suddenly, a neon light catches your eye. Written with bold letters is the word “snackbar”. Now, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’ve found a safe space to fill that growling tummy. Below, a brief history of the snackbars and what you can eat in them. 👇
What is a snackbar?
What kind of venue qualifies as a snackbar? Usually, snackbars are small eateries, with an assortment of classic Dutch fast food, deep-fried to oblivion. Drinks are also served, including beer and soft drinks.
Some snackbars with more seating available and higher prices are also referred to as cafeterias, however, this term is also interchangeable for venues where employees can have food during their lunch break.
Another term used is frietkot which mostly sell fries. Some snackbars contain automated machines (think FEBO), where the food is placed in rows, all warmed up, and are easily accessible for those rushing to catch the train.
History of the snackbars
The first-ever modern snackbar opened in Utrecht in the year 1915. The same city welcomed the first snackbar with automatic machines in 1932.
Snackbars then quickly spread through the country, at their peak reaching 6,000 across the Netherlands. Ever since 1997, that number has decreased, falling to 4,800 snackbars in 2017. While there will certainly be a snackbar in your local area, you can pay homage to the province of Limburg to have the ultimate snackbar experience. The region has the highest density of these eateries in the country, with 4.7 snackbars per 10,000 inhabitants — that beats the national average of 2.9 per 10,000 inhabitants.
Some claim that snackbars are an integral part of Dutch culture. The Dutch Frying Center has even made an application for the snackbar culture to be included in the list of things that count as intangible heritage. However, since there has been a trend towards healthier eating, it has become harder to find authentic, old-fashioned snackbars. This is a potential explanation for their decrease in numbers.
Dutch people will know this
A deep-fried menu
So what kind of exquisite delicacies can one expect from a snackbar? Well, expect a lot of deep-fried food. It’s not about Haute Cuisine, but rather providing consumers with fast and accessible food on the go.
Arguably, the most classic food to get in a snackbar is fries — also known as patat in Dutch. They are eaten with an assortment of sauces, the go-to option being mayonnaise. There is also the frietsauce, which is a different version of mayonnaise.
You can also try the saté sauce, which is originally from Indonesia, but nowadays can be used generously over the fries. Curry sauce is popular as well, and in some snackbars they might even have a combination of all of these different sauces in one. 😜
All the meaty snacks
When in a snackbar, you might notice a large assortment of products displayed on the shelves. It may also be unclear, as an international, what exactly these meat-like products are, and what exactly is in them. In all honesty, we don’t know what some of them are either. Yet some classics definitely need to be mentioned.
Croquettes, or kroketten, are one of the more popular options. It contains a kind of meat purée, which is then rolled in a cylinder-like shape, covered in breadcrumbs, and (you guessed it) deep-fried. The meat that is in the croquettes is, however, a complete mystery.
Another popular option is bitterballen. They are ball-shaped and contain the same mystery meat filling as the croquettes. Outside of snackbars, you will find them at social events such as parties, where they are eaten with mustard. There are even some fancy versions of bitterballen, where you can actually tell what kind of meat is in them. They are filled with veal, known as kalfskroket, and beef, known as rundvleeskroket.
Frikandel: with or without pastry
Continuing the list of mystery meat is the frikandel. Part chicken, pig, and horse, this strange skinless sausage is delicious enough to make you ignore the fact that all the meat mentioned above is waste meat. Of course, it’s deep-fried. There are two main variants, the frikandelbroodje, which is kind of like a sausage roll with curry sauce, and the frikandel speciaal, which is served with sauce and onions.
What about the vegetarians?
One of the few vegetarian options in a snackbar is the Kaassoufflé, which is essentially dough with cheese filling inside. If you’re lucky, you might have actual Gouda in it, otherwise, it’s made out of fake cheese. The principle is the same — deep-fry and eat carefully as the molten cheese can cause burns.
There are many other foods waiting to be deep-fried in a snackbar — ranging from chicken nuggets to fish in various forms. Their origin is probably just as mysterious as the meat in bitterballen. But if one day you feel curious (and brave), and you’re not vegetarian, feel free to order the unknown dishes on the menu! Otherwise, a safer option would be to order a kapsalon.
What is your favourite snackbar? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2020, and was fully updated in December 2021 for your reading pleasure.