What: Much like the humble kroketten, bitterballen are deep-fried breadcrumb-covered balls with creamy meat-ragout fillings, traditionally made with beef, beef broth, flour, and seasonings. The main differences between the two are that bitterballen are always round in shape and traditionally served at bruin (brown) cafes, so called for their tendency to have brown walls, stained by decades of cigarette smoking. Legend says that the bitterbal’s history here stretches back to the 17th-century Spanish occupation of the Netherlands, if not earlier, but it’s safe to say its name came about more recently from its traditional pairing with bittertjes, or Dutch bitters. Nowadays Dutch or Belgian bier — and mustard, of course — is the preferred accompaniment. Some people are turned off by the bitterbal’s weird textural mix, but we found these crunchy, gooey meatballs rather appealing with a cold brew.
Where: We biked just out of town for these, to Café Loetje, about 12 km (7.5 miles) south of Amsterdam (the restaurant has a branch in the city too, at Johannes Vermeerstraat 52). The place is known for its Hollandse biefstuk, or Dutch-style steak, so it only follows that it would have good bitterballen.
When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Order: Bitterballen (€4.75/$6.35), off the borrelhapjes menu (which refers, helpfully, to snacks to pair with drinks). The crispy little balls are stuck with toothpick flags and served with a generous serving of spicy mustard. They were particularly satisfying after our bike ride! Besides the popular steak, you might also sample a shrimp kroket or gehaktbal (meatball) here as well.
Alternatively: Try any good brown cafe or eetcafé (eating cafe), like Daalder (Lindengracht 90) or Café de Tuin (Tweede Tuindwarsstraat 13), both in the Jordaan neighborhood, or Café Gent aan de Schinkel, just west of Vondelpark (bonus: it has a sweet terrace on a canal).