From frites to fine dining: a food lover's trip to Rotterdam
Rotterdam, Europe's busiest port, is a gateway for a wealth of fresh produce from across the world. The city's location at the heart of the Netherlands' farmland and greenhouses, along with a wave of inspired chefs and artisans, are fuelling a flourishing eating and drinking scene.
With unique markets, sublime snacks and a profusion of exceptional restaurants, cafes and bars, this is a must-stop city for food lovers.
The Netherlands' first-ever covered market, the extraordinary horseshoe-shaped Markthal Rotterdam, with outsize, vividly coloured fruit and veggies splashed across its dramatic ceiling, is the ultimate place to start your exploration. It's home to scores of individual stalls selling everything from Dutch cheese and cured meats to forest-picked mushrooms, fresh fish, spices, oils and vinegars. You also have ready-to-eat snacks such as stroopwafels (caramel-syrup-filled waffles) on hand, as well as sit-down eateries serving specialities from around the country and the globe. Downstairs there's a huge branch of beloved Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn, which stocks some great own-brand products.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the sprawling Blaak street market, with produce-laden stalls, unfurls out the front.
One of Rotterdam's most imaginative markets is the market collective Fenix Food Factory in industrial Katendrecht – aka de Kaap (the Cape) – the city's one-time red-light district. A vast former warehouse brings together Rotterdam vendors including Booij Kaasmakers (cheese), Cider Cider, Jordy's Bakery, Stielman Koffiebranders (coffee roasters), Kaapse Brouwers (craft beer) and Rechtstreex (locally grown fruit and veggies). Rotating food trucks set up here every day Fenix is open (Wednesday to Sunday). Also keep an eye out for events like farmers markets.
Frites (fries) are the country's snack of choice. In the hip 'Soho Rotterdam' quarter on Pannekoekstraat, Tante Nel serves its organic, hand-cut fries (topped by nine different sauces) in a Dutch-design painted-brick interior and marquee-style canopied terrace. You can wash it all down with house-speciality milkshakes, wine, beer and 13 different gins.
On art- and bar-filled Witte de Withstraat, 'haute friture' specialist Fritez fries up hand-cut, organic-potato frites cooked in premium vegetable oil. They come served in recycled cardboard cones and with a selection of sauces, including truffle mayo, pickles and curry, or peanut.
Next door, butcher-shop-turned-burger-bar Ter Marsch & Co was recently awarded the coveted title of Best Burger in the Netherlands at the Horecava trade fair for its signature 'De Burgeresse' (truffle-glazed Scottish Angus and Wagyu beef with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, red onion, cottage cheese, pancetta and house-speciality sauce).
Nearby, Hopper has its own on-site bakery, which makes sourdoughs, pastries and cakes, and also roasts its own coffee using single-source beans.
At Station Hofplein – the former station of the defunct Hofpleinlijn railway, with cultural and creative spaces now occupying its arched viaducts – Lokaal brews Rotterdam-roasted espresso and filter blends from Giraffe Coffee Roasters, and utilises other locally-sourced products including bread, cheese, and beer.
Excellent, affordable restaurants abound in the city. Standouts include contemporary combinations at HMB in the country's largest building, the dazzling De Rotterdam; sizzling spit-roasted chicken in a variety of marinades at Alan & Pims; French bistro fare at charming, split-level Le Nord; Middle Eastern flavours like baked feta with mint and parsley in lantern-lit, souk-style Bazar; and four-course surprise menus (meat/fish or vegetarian) incorporating herbs and flowers from the restaurant's garden at De Jong, in Station Hofplein.
In the historic Delfshaven neighbourhood, canal-facing 't Ouwe Bruggetje is a winner for exquisite Modern European dishes matched with wines (it imports more than 100 barrels of wine every year from across Europe).
To date, Rotterdam has a total of nine Michelin stars, including one at the eponymous restaurant of the city's multicultural showcase, the Wereldmuseum(World Museum).
Three stars alone belong to the city's most celebrated chef, François Geurds. Station Hofplein is home to his one-Michelin-star molecular gastronomy lab, FG Food Labs, set beneath stunning timber and silvery pressed-tin ceilings. Also at Station Hofplein is Geurds' FG Noodle Bar, where you choose your ingredients and take them to the chef's station for them to be whipped up and handed back in a steaming, aromatic bowl.
Down on the waterfront, Geurds' two-Michelin-star flagship, FG serves gastronomic multicourse menus (no à la carte). And you can even take a culinary electric-bike tour around Rotterdam starting from FG Food Labs and including a three-course lunch at FG.
In Delfshaven, next to the Oude Kerk where the America-bound Pilgrims prayed for the last time before leaving the Netherlands, bubbling copper vats at vintage brewery Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim brew up seasonal and standard beers such as Rotterdams Stoombier and Mayflower Tripel (tasting flights available), which you can enjoy on the canal-side terrace, in the courtyard or in the cosy timber-lined interior.
Bokaal, in the epicentre of 'Soho Rotterdam', specialises in craft and Trappist beers, and serves sensational charcuterie and cheese platters. Spirits, including rare whisky, gin, rum and tequila, are the pick of tipples at retro-styled Café LaBru, while gin is also a favourite at hip cocktail bar, Hugh, centred on a shipping-container bar.