The ultimate guide to snackbars in the Netherlands

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 attention. Written with bold letters is the snackbar, and you can now rest easy that you have found a safe space to fill that growling tummy. Find out below a brief history of the snackbars and what you can eat in them.

History of the snackbars

What kind of venue qualifies as a snackbar? Usually, snackbars are small venues, with an assortment of classic Dutch fast-food, deep-fried to oblivion.  Drinks are also served, from beer to 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, however these venues mostly sell french fries. Some snackbars contain automated machines, where the food is placed in rows, all warmed up, and are easily accessible for those who are rushing to catch the train.

A man demonstrates the utility of automated snackbars
Image: Sebastiaan ter Burg/ Wikimedia Commons

The first ever modern snackbar opened in Utrecht in the year 1915, with the first automatic one opening in the same city in 1932.

Snackbars then quickly spread through the country, with their peak reaching 6000 different venues. Ever since 1997, that number has decreased, reaching 4,800 in 2017. While there certainly must be a snackbar in your local area, if you want to go to a snackbar heaven, you can definitely find it in the province of Limburg. The region has the highest density of snackbars in the country, with 4.7 snackbars per 10.000 inhabitants, compared to 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 intangible heritage. However, as there has been a trend towards healthier eating, it has become harder to find authentic, old-fashioned snackbars, which could also be 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 deep-frying. It is not about a fancy dish, but snackbars are not about that, rather to provide costumers with a fast and accessible food on the go.

Arguably the most classic food to get in a snackbar are the french 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 (if you know the main difference between mayo and frietsauce, do let us know in the comments).

You can also try the sate sauce, which is originally from Indonesia, but nowadays can be used generously over the fries. Curry sauce is used as well, and in some snackbars, they might even have a combination of all of these different sauces in one.

Croquettes, bitterballen and everything in between

When in a snackbar, you might notice that in the shelves there is a large assortment of products on display. It may also be unclear, as an international, what exactly are those meaty-looking products, what are they precisely made off and so forth. In all honesty, we do not know what some of them are either. Yet some classics definitely need to be mentioned.

Croquettes, or kroketten in Dutch, are one of the more popular options. Its made out out of ragout with meat, which is then rolled in a cylinder-like shape, and afterwards, you guessed it, deep-fried. The meat that is in the croquettes is, however, a complete mystery.

A croquette from the train station.
Image: Tavallai/ Flickr

Another popular option is the bitterballen. If you think that it sounds like bitter ball, it’s because it is, except that it is not bitter. They are ball-shaped and contain the same meat mystery filling as the croquettes, and outside of snackbars, you will find them at social events such as parties, where they are eaten together with mustard. There’s even some deluxe versions of bitterballen, which are such because you know what meat is in them. They are filled with veal, known as kalfskroket and beef, known as rundvleeskroket.

Bowl of bitterballen with sauce.
Image: Marijke Blazer/ Flickr

Continuing the list of mystery meat is the frikandel. Part chicken and pig, part horse, this strange skinless sausage can appeal to your tastes, granted that you ignore the fact that all the meat mentioned above is waste meat. Of course, it is deep-fried. There’s two main variants, the frikandelbroodje, which is kind of like a hot-dog with sauce, and then there’s the frikandel speciaal, served with sauce and onions.

French fries with a serving of frikandel speciaal.
Image: Herman van de Molen/ Wikimedia Commons

One of the few vegetarian options in a snackbar is the Kaassoufflé, which is essentially a dough with cheese filling inside. If you’re lucky, you might have actual Gouda cheese in it, otherwise its made out of fake cheese. The principle is the same, deep-fry, and then be careful while eating, as the molten cheese might burn you.

There are many more other foods waiting to be deep-fried in a snackbar, ranging from chicken derived dishes, like nuggets, to fish in different forms. Their origin is probably just as mysterious as the meat in bitterballen, but if one day you feel curious, and you happen not to be vegetarian, feel free to order the unknown dishes on the menu! Otherwise, a safer option would be to order a kapsalon, for which you can read more about here.

What is your favorite food in a snackbar? Let us know in the comments.

Featured Image: Takeaway/ Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad was born and raised in Brasov, Romania and came to the Hague to study. When he isn't spending time missing mountains or complaining about the lack of urban exploration locations in the Netherlands, you can find him writing at Dutch Review.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The idea of a Febo-style snackbar can be traced back to the German vending-machine restaurant Quisisana, which opened in Berlin, Germany in 1895. As an American, I know of the Automat (in NYC) which originated there around 1902. Both seriously predate the “dutch” invention.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automat

  2. Thanks for the info! In the article I was referring strictly to their appearance in the Netherlands, not worldwide.

  3. The difference between mayonnaise and frietsaus comes down to the ingredients. Frietsaus is seen as the “healthier” variant of mayonnaise.
    Mayonnaise has to have a certain percentage of fat and egg yolks to be called mayonnaise.
    Frietsaus is free of ingredients and there for has way lower percentage of fat. But to replaced the taste of mayonnaise they add some other ingredients. Like more sugar.
    To find more I suggest that you google it. But the pages will be in Dutch.

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