Home Lifestyle Food & Drink A guide to ethnic food in the Netherlands
Last update on June 05, 2020

Tired of haring? Want more than stamppot? Check out our guide to Indonesian, Surinamese, Turkish, and other ethnic food in the Netherlands.

In 1949, nationals of the Dutch Indies were repatriated to the Netherlands, when Indonesia became independent. And from 1975, hundreds of thousands of Surinamese did the same. Turkish arrived in large numbers during the 60s and early 70s to fill gaps in the Dutch labor market. And all these nationalities brought their cooking culture with them, leading to more variety on Dutch dinner plates.


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Selamat makan – Indonesian cuisine

Flavour rules in Indonesian cuisine. Nutmeg, clove, and pepper traders from India, China, Africa and the Arab world were doing business with the Indonesian archipelago as early as the Eigth Century. Later on, European explorers and colonists from the Netherlands, Portugal and England sailed to the so-called Spice Islands to bring back delicacies from the region.

Cardamom, coriander, cumin, ginger and chillies are still important nowadays, but sambal oelek , a hot chilli relish made of ground red peppers (plus salt, sugar and vinegar) has become a trademark of Indonesian cuisine.

Contrary to its neighbours, Thailand and Malaysia, the majority of Indonesian dishes are not spicy at all. The subtle use of spices results in a mild but flavourful taste. Some people spice their Indonesian food with tablespoons of sambal oelek, but this is not advisable, since this will put your meal out of balance.

Indonesia consists of about 13,000 islands, so it’s not surprising that seafood is the staple of its cuisine. Fish, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, squid and scallops find their way to diners’ plates in soup, curries and stir-fries. As with most Asian cuisine, rice is served with almost every dish.

A traditional Indonesian meal will be a “rijsttafel”, Dutch for “rice table”. A rijsttafel consists of a soup, a beef or chicken sate with peanut sauce, steamed or fried rice with curried vegetables, fish or sea food curry, and beef or lamb “rending” (dry curry) and plenty of sambal oelek and “atjar tampur” (sour vegetables). Rijsttafel is served when at least two people are eating, and is great to enjoy with a group.

If you feel like trying the Indonesian restaurants beware of confusing “Chinees/Indisch” and “Indonesisch restaurant”. Many restaurants and particularly takeaways are called “Chinees/Indisch”. These places hardly ever serve genuine Chinese or Indonesian food but usually an unimaginative Dutch adaptation. For example, you can have a Dutch version of Peking Duck served with sambal oelek and regular cutlery.

If you want to try cooking Indonesian food, get your supplies at the “toko”, a special supermarket selling Indonesian and Surinamese food.

Indonesian cuisine dictionary

  • djahé = dried ginger
  • djintan = cumin seed
  • kemirie = type of nut
  • ketoembar = corinander
  • koenjit = turmeric
  • laos = dried galanga plant
  • oedang = shrimps
  • kroepoek = prawn crackers
  • padi = raw rice
  • santen = pressed coconut
  • sereh = lemon grass
  • tahoe = soya cheese
  • tempeh = baked soya with peanut
  • trassie = shrimp extract

Indonesian recipe

Spicy Coconut Beef Rendang (for two people)


  • 400 g beef , cut into approx 6 pieces
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 slice ginger
  • 1 tbs chopped shallots
  • 1 sliced garlic clove
  • salt
  • dash ground turmeric
  • 2-3 red hot chilli pepper
  • oil
  • lemon peel
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pieces of laos


Crush shallots, garlic, turmeric and chilli peppers into a paste. Place oil in a large wok and stir fry the paste until you can smell the fragrance. Add the beef pieces, and stir fry them for another three minutes. Then add the coconut milk, ginger, lemon peel, bay leaves and laos. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about one hour or more, or until the meat is tender and the liquid has almost completely evaporated, leaving a very thick sauce.

Best served hot with steamed rice.

Smakelijk eten – Surinamese cuisine

The cuisine of this tiny South American country is African-based but incorporates Creole, Hindu, Indian and Chinese influences brought in by immigrants. Most recipes are a mixture of various cuisines. Surinamese food is truly fusion cooking.

Earlier this century, many Indonesians, particularly from Java, moved to Surinam. The Javanese were introduced to a salted fish “bakkeljauw” and salted meat during the long trip on the boat. The salted fish was well liked but salted meat never caught on.

Upon arrival in Surinam, the Javanese used local plants first for their vegetables. They soon started making teri (small salted fish), iwah asin (salted fish) and ebi (salted dried shrimp). Smoked fish is now better known in Surinam than in Indonesia. The interaction between the Surinamese and Indonesian cuisine explains the influx of combined Surinamese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

Surinamese food is characterised by its spices and simplicity. Favourite are one-dish meals, often combining both meat and fish. “Stofoes”, casseroles of meat, fish and vegetables including spices such as laurel, pimento and nutmeg, stew for hours on low fire so that all flavours can mingle. Tasty vegetables such as “kouseband” a French bean type, “amsoy”, a sort of endive, “cassave”, a sweet potato and “spitskool”, an oxheart cabbage, are often included as side dishes.

Several peppers are used, including Madame Janet and ajoema. These highly popular and very spicy peppers are not chopped into pieces but used entirely for stewing. Fortunately, they are removed before serving, so you cannot mistake them for the similar-looking paprika.

One of the most popular dishes is pom, a casserole of chicken and vegetables covered with a puree of tajer. Another dish is roti, a mixture of vegetables and chicken or meat served with a hearty pancake. You eat this without cutlery by using pancake pieces to scoop up the food.

Rice and kidney beans are generally served along with the main course. Coconut milk and different varieties of coconut are used in most desserts, but, unlike Indonesian food, hardly ever with starters and main courses.

You won’t find many ingredients for Surinamese food in the average supermarket – you’ll have to go to the “took” Surinamese supermarket to buy tajer, pitjilsambal and santen. You can find several in Amsterdam’s De Pijp, particularly around the Ferdinand Bolstraat.

Surinamese cuisine dictionary

  • gember limonade = ginger lemonade
  • ketjap = Javanese soya sauce also used in Indonesian cuisine
  • kouseband = typical Surinamese vegetable, at least 40 cm long, related to French beans
  • Madame Janet = very hot yellow pepper, very flavourful
  • moksi meti = rice with green and black beans stewed with chicken and/or beef
  • pisang goreng / bakbanaan = fried banana
  • santen = pressed coconut
  • sieuw = Chinese soya sauce, to be used together with ketjap
  • sereh = lemon grass
  • spitskool = oxheart cabbage
  • zuurzak = green tropical fruit often in sour liquid

Surinamese recipe

Spicy chicken (for two people)


  • 300 g chicken cutlets
  • 1 large onion
  • Half cup of nassie koening
  • oil
  • dash of white pepper
  • sambal brandal
  • santen
  • sereh
  • sprig of ketjap manis
  • 300 g white rice
  • 100 kouseband
  • 100 g spitskool
  • pinch of pitjilsambal


Wash the chicken thoroughly, fry in oil, add ketjap, half a spoon of sambal brandal and a small cup of water. Put the lid on pan and stew for about one and half hours on a low flame. If the chicken is not darkened after one hour add a little ketjap.

Ten minutes before serving the chicken, put the onion in the pan. Boilthe rice in water and add nassie koening, santen and sereh while cooking.

Wash vegetables and cut into fine pieces. Cook kouseband and spitskool for 2 minutes in hot water. Dissolve pitjilsambal in hot water, add peanut butter if required.

Afiyet olsun – Turkish cuisine

Turkish food is becoming increasingly widespread and popular in the Netherlands. Carnivores will enjoy Turkish cuisine, with lamb as the staple of most main courses. Pieces of lamb threaded on a skewer and grilled over charcoal form the famous “sis kebab”, already known in many countries. “Doner kebab”, a roll of lamb on a vertical skewer turning parallel to a hot grill, is another famous Turkish dish.

Turkish food has developed over a long period, resulting in a cuisine of unique dishes and foreign influences. This can be easily explained by Turkish history, which included the Ottoman Empire and its power from the Balkans to North Africa, as well as foreign occupation. Greek influences in particular are still noticeable in the Turkish cooking.

A delicious speciality is “pilav”, a rice dish which is difficult for the inexperienced cook to prepare. “Borek” are pies of flaky pastry stuffed with meat or cheese. “Kofte”, grilled meat balls, have become popular as well.

“Dolma” is a name applied to vegetables such as vine leaves, cabbage leaves and green peppers stuffed with spiced rice. The aubergine is used in a wide variety of dishes from “karniyarik” and “hunkarbegendi”, to “patlican salatasi” and “patlican dolmasi”.It can be cooked with onions, garlic and tomatoes, and served cold as “imambayildi”. Other popular vegetables include cucumber, leak, spinach, onions and tomatoes.

The most well-known sweets associated with Turkish cuisine are Turkish Delight and the “baklava”. Even though many tourist restaurants serve these as desserts, baklava is usually eaten with coffee, as a snack or after a kebab dish. Turkish people eat seasonal fruits, and milk and grain-based desserts.

The national drink, coffee, comes thick and dark in a small cup and may be served without sugar, with a little sugar or with a lot of sugar. Apple tea is offered at almost every occasion.

Turkish cuisine dictionary

  • ayran = yoghurt drink served with main course
  • borek = thinly rolled pastry filled with cheese, minced meat and/or spinach
  • dolma = vine leaves, cabbage leaves or green peppers stuffed with spiced rice
  • doner kebab = roll of lamb on a vertical skewer turning parallel to a hot grill
  • humus = mashed chickpeas with sesame puree
  • kadayif = sweet pastry filled with pistachio nuts and walnuts
  • kofte = finely minced meat mixed with spices, onions with different names depending on cooking method
  • mezes = hors d’oeuvres such as fish croquettes, fried aubergines or lambs’ brains
  • muhallebi = milk pudding with ground rice
  • pilav = rice but also cracked wheat and vermicelli mixed with aubergines, meat, chicken, chick peas and beans
  • sis kebab = lamb threaded on a skewer and grilled over charcoal

Turkish recipe

Pilav (for 2 people)


  • 400 g chicken pieces
  • 2 paprika, 1 green, 1 red
  • 150 g mushrooms
  • small can peaches
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 tbs sambal oelek
  • dash ketjap manis
  • small can tomato puree


Dice the chicken, paprika, onion, mushrooms and peaches. Fry the chicken in a saucepan with butter, add sambal and ketjap. Take a large pan to stifle paprika’s, add onions several minutes later and mushrooms after that. Add a little peach juice, followed by the peaches and tomato puree.

When meat is cooked, mix it with vegetables. Serve with rice.