Typical Dutch food: bitterballen

What are bitterballen?
Some typical Dutch products are known for not being easy to get used to, for example: drop. Others are known for being the class favourite of Dutch sweetness: stroopwafels.

In this blog I’m going to talk about one Dutch food that some people love and some dislike: bitterballen.

First, what is a bitterbal?            

What is a bitterbal?

A bitterball is a small fried meat ragout ball of about 3 to 5 cm. You could say it’s a small, round version of the better known kroket. And the fact is, a bitterbal never comes alone. You always order a portie bitterballen or bittergarnituur (all different kinds of snacks).

So, it’s a fried meat ball. Why is it called a bitterbal? Let’s take a look at this word.

Why is a bitterbal called a bitterbal?

The name has nothing to do with a bitter taste. A bitterbal is called that because it used to be served with the drink ‘bitter’. A bitter here is genever (gin), or another strong alcoholic herbal drink.

How do I eat a bitterbal?

In recent years, the bitterbal is often served with moster (mustard) and is a popular snack when visiting a pub.

Bitterballen were always part of a bigger eating and drinking routine even going back to the 17th century. In a bar in Amsterdam where famous Dutch writers like Vondel and Bredero, hinted that while drinking gin they got hungry and therefore had to leave the establishment to go home to eat. The owner took advantage of this by offering them kaas (cheese), worst (sausage) and bitterballen. These are things the Dutch still love to eat while sitting in a pub.


Important note: bitterballen are filled with hot lava. Well, that’s what it feels like if you bite into one without being careful. So take care, and start with the outside, let the hot inside cool a little and then try to eat it. It may take a couple of bitterballen to learn this trick.

A friend of mine worked in a cafeteria. Sometimes he forgot to warn the tourists.

He saw a lot of burned tongues.

But as most students seem to like this Dutch snack, it’s not too big a problem!

How to order bitterballen in Dutch

Like I said, the most common place where you order bitterballen is in a bar or pub. Here you can use these sentences

  • Mag ik bitterballen, alsjeblieft?
  • Een portie bitterballen, alsjeblieft
  • Ik wil graag (een portie) bitterballen

What do you think?

If you want to learn more about the vocabulary of Dutch food, you can watch this video.

Do you think you are an expert on Dutch food? You can do a test here to see how well you know Dutch food

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School