I remember the day I moved to the Netherlands three years ago like it would have been yesterday. Freshly out of the warm nest of my parents, I had previously cooked and cleaned but my mother had always done the groceries for the family. First time grocery shopping in Enschede I was shocked how big of a difference there is. Now, 3 years later I still sometimes struggle with trying to find ingredients for my favourite dishes but it has gotten a lot easier thanks to trying to find alternatives. I wanted to tell you a few things that you should know about grocery shopping in the Netherlands to avoid my mistakes and fails in that area.
Stores might be a lot smaller than you’re used to and selection is different
Supermarkets and hypermarkets do not seem to be a thing here, at least inside of the city. One of the things I noticed right away was how small the stores really are. I discussed it with some of my dutch acquaintances and they seemed to be surprised that I thought the stores were small. They were convinced that these are regular size grocery stores. They advised me to go to Albert Heijn XXL in Enschede, that was what they called a huge store. Going there, that one seemed like a normal regular size grocery store. It was nice, but I could not stop thinking why are there so many small stores with little amounts of things instead of one big one with everything you need at one place. Thanks to the stores being small, very often you might have to visit a couple of different stores to get everything you want, because something is always missing. Going to Lidl for an example, half of the time they are out of all eggs except for the most expensive biological ones. Many times there’s no flour in Jumbo.
Not all cards work in all stores
One thing that you really need to get right after arrival is a Dutch bank account. As crazy as it sounds, many stores do not accept Mastercard and VISA and therefore they are making it impossible to get groceries from there. These stores that do not take previously mentioned bank cards: Albert Heijn, Lidl and Die Grenze. Luckily there are some alternatives, Jumbo accepts everything and lucky for us, Primark does too. Just remember, if you are not sure if your card will work, use self-checkout, that will save you a lot of embarrassment when your card gets declined.
Strange opening hours, closed on holidays
Dutch have a lot of holidays. Often us internationals do not even know about them. One day on a random Tuesday afternoon you discover that you have nothing to eat at home. You head to the store. When you reach the door, they do not open. Then you discover they are closed today and even worse, tomorrow too. Now what? Well, make sure you potentially have some backup food collected for emergency. If you do not, then all you can really do is go to McDonalds, because they are always open.
Bring your favorite spices from your home country because you won’t find them here
Cultures are different. So far it seems that Dutch love bread and salads and are not into strong tastes and spicy food. If you are planning to eat similar foods as at home, I highly advise you to bring your spices. Ones that are sold here in regular grocery stores are not the same, even if the label says it is. So remember if you're visiting you home country again, to collect some spices and take them back to the Netherlands with you.
Best thing about grocery shopping in the Netherlands is the amount of different international stores they have. For example, Enschede hosts Turkish, Polish and Asian grocery stores. First one, ADA, is my personal favourite. There are a lot of products that are popular at home and I have even found some products that are in fact made in Estonia. They are not only selling Turkey-made things but also more rare groceries made for an example in Ukraine, Latvia or Sweden that you can not find anywhere else. They have a lot bigger selection when it comes to meat and vegetables than other grocery stores and the best part is, they’re cheaper. Chicken fillet per kilo price in ADA is almost two times less than in Albert Heijn!
Another good thing about international stores is that you can really discover other food cultures. All of the products are original and you can find many things that you will start buying on a regular basis. Eating a Japanese Mochi right after a Turkish Baklava really makes you feel intercultural.
Best thing about grocery shopping in the Netherlands is the amount of different international stores they have.
On Saturdays and Tuesdays you can go to the market. Here in Enschede, the one on Saturday is very big and popular amongst Germans as well. There are a lot of things you can buy that are better or cheaper than in grocery stores. For example fresh fish and eggs. There is a lot big choice of fruits and vegetables and again, they’re cheaper than in Jumbo, Aldi, Albert Heijn or LIDL. Sometimes they have incredible deals, for example four avocados for 1 euro. If you love fresh products then market is where you should go every Saturday.
Interesting and useful places in the Netherlands are speciality stores. Even though regular grocery stores often lack diverse and interesting products, some speciality stores make up for it. Before coming here, I had never seen in my life a store only for cheese. Imagine my surprise when I entered one. Everyone has heard Dutch love cheese and other milk products, but that kind of store was really new for me. Why I like those stores so much is because they always have what you need if you’re searching for something really specific. Other than that, specialty stores are where eventually you start buying gifts for your family because that’s where all of the most interesting Dutch products really are.
Speciality stores are butcher stores as well. If you can’t find the meat product that you are searching for from ADA, you can go to the butcher and get it from him. Of course it takes a lot of time to go to different stores to get a variety of different things but that is something you probably have to get used to after getting settled in the Netherlands as an international.