Every region in The Netherlands is known for its own special sweets. Bernd Meier heads out to sample a selection.

Little Jan can't make up his mind. There he is, in the Snoepwinkeltje shop of Mariska Schaefer, his eyes on a mountain of sweets - more than 500 different kinds in all.

"I haven't counted the exact number," admits Schaefer, who has run the corner shop in Amsterdam's Jordaan district for 10 years now.

Snacks, sugar confections, candies and sweets of all kinds: the Dutch word for all these tasty seductions is simply 'snoep'. And so her little shop is called Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje, or the old Dutch candy store.

Youngsters from the Jordaan neighbourhood come to her street corner shop, day in and day out.


Every region in The Netherlands is known for its own special sweets. In 's-Hertogenbosch, capital of Nordbrabant province, Bossche Bollen are the favourite confection. The roughly 12-centimetre-thick balls of dough are filled with cream and covered in chocolate.

Even better-known than the Bossche Bollen are the pancakes. There is not a beach resort anywhere along the Dutch North Sea coast that does not have at least one pancake house.

In the capital Amsterdam, the hungry potential customers sometimes have to stand in line outside the bistro called Pancakes! in order to get one of its hotly-contested 28 seats.

"Many tourists come before noon in order to have their breakfast here, instead of in their hotel," says Ingird Petiet, who runs the bistro together with Nicolette Bosschieter in the Berenstraat street.

Whether it's something sweet, or something more stick-to-your-ribs, there's a pancake for every taste - 36 varieties are listed on the menu.

And patrons can order special creations depending on their whims - 'Extra keuzes', or extra varieties of pancakes featuring unusual combinations, be it with bacon, or bananas, or even red peppers. Equally out-of-the-ordinary are pancakes topped with Camembert cheese, chicory, ham and raspberry sauce.

What is likewise served up in Pancakes! is perhaps the most famous dessert of all in The Netherlands: poffertjes. The tiny pancakes are baked in wrought-iron forms and then primarily served up with a slab of butter, powdered sugar and "Stroop" - syrup. It is very sweet and very tasty.

Stroop smeared between two thin round waffles are called Stroopwaffel. According to the records, they were first baked in the famous cheese-making town of Gouda in the 18th century.

"Bakers also used as ingredients the leftover crumbs from bread and cakes," says Cees van den Berg of the traditional Gouda confectioners Siroopwafelbakkerij van Vliet.

In the beginning, Stroopwaffel were deemed to be poor peoples' food. Only in the 1950s did the specialty from Gouda start to become known everywhere.

The history of the sweet confections of The Netherlands can be experienced in a tour of the Dutch Bakery Museum in Hattem aan den IJssel (website in Dutch), about 70 kilometres east of Amsterdam. There, old bakery shops, baking equipment and a candy store awaits visitors.

Museum director Fred Voskuil notes that "in the 18th and 19th centuries we had the first sweets available for everyone. Up until then, sugar was very expensive and was used by druggists to sweeten their bitter medicines".

According to Voskuil, the first candy store opened for business in The Hague, to the joy of the nobility and the royal family. In the 19th century, all kinds of sweet confections were offered at the annual markets.

"The word 'snoep' is probably one of the first that Dutch kids learn," he says.