D is a tricky one. Danish? Nah. Dominican? Unlikely. Dutch – fine. But where? Lost for ideas (save My Old Dutch on High Holborn, of course – £5 Monday Madness means I eat big pancakes sometimes) I did what any other sensible, rational food lover would do – I booked a plane ticket to Amsterdam.
Now, when Harriet agreed to go on this excursion with me, she had no idea a) that I’d cry on the plane (I didn’t, but it was highly probable) b) that I had little to no interest in either the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt or all the other museum-y things that most regular tourist people are interested in and c) that we would arrive on a Saturday evening having no game plan otherwise. That’s not entirely true. I’d made a list of the foods that I wanted to eat, and the streets on which I could eat them. I did not bring a map.
There is a lot of excellent food in Amsterdam, and we spent a lot of time walking around looking for it. We didn’t do much in terms of sit-down meals – street food in Amsterdam is cheap, accessible and convenient – if you only have 36 hours in a new city, you might not want to spend a lot of it in a restaurant. Instead, you might want to visit the Kattenkabinet, explore the shops of De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets) or take a stroll through the Red-Light district.
The following is as brief as possible a summary of our weekend of Dutch food in the ‘dam.
On our first night in Amsterdam, we headed to the Leidseplein for a poke around and some beer. Cue Febo.
“Is that a sausage vending machine?” I asked Harriet.
“I don’t think so,” she answered, as we turned around. “But that is.”
FEBO, unique to Holland, is funny little fast food chain which sells snacks out of small lockers in the wall. This is a fantastic way to snack. On offer is a range of kroket, frikandellen (hot dog), and my personal favourite, the kaassouffle, which, translated, means cheese melted inside dough and then deep-fried.
2. Beer – not technically a food, I know.
But who goes to the Netherlands and does not drink beer? Not me. We settled down at Cafe Eijlders, a pub which started out as a hangout for artists and members of the Dutch resistance during the second World War. I’d forgotten that outside of London, table service actually exists; wanting to try something local, our waiter suggested we try a beer brewed at the Brouwerij de Prael, located right in Amsterdam’s city centre. It was a success.
I was really committed to this one. I’d actually penciled “find patates” into my mental weekend food schedule, and was well prepared to go to great lengths to find awesome fries.
Luckily we didn’t have to go far. At Cafe Eijlders, I just asked. “Where do I find awesome fries?” No need for much time spent.
There are many Vlaamse Frites shops around the city, and the impression that I get is that what makes one superior to another lies in the number of toppings on offer. We opted against “Chipsy Kings” – snappy name though – and hit up the outlet recommended by our waiter, which was aptly named “Vlaamse Frites”, to avoid any confusion. It had 14 toppings to choose from. I’d had a bunch of beer, which I thought entitled me to not one, but two toppings.
“I will have curry, and garlic,” I declared, with confidence.
“This is a bad idea,” the frites man said, also with confidence.
Instead, I decided on a satay sauce topping. This was a GOOD idea.
This was, without a doubt, the focal point of our weekend. As a testament to this, I spent more than £30 on cheese to bring home.
I am now a certified expert in cheese tasting. On a recommendation, we booked a cheese tasting at the Reypenaer cheese tasting rooms. A well established family business, the Wyngaard Kaas cheese group produces a rare, award-winning type of aged gouda that is unlike anything I have ever tasted before. Fact: the Dutch export 95% of the cheese they produce. Fact: the highest consumers of cheese in the EU are the Greek.
Gouda can be made anywhere, its distinguishing characteristic its wheel-like shape. Wyngaard Kaas makes all of its cheese by hand in a warehouse on the Old Rhine river – this both explains, and justifies, its relatively high price. The microclimate in the warehouse is adjusted by opening and closing the windows in accordance with the weather; Wyngaard is the last business in the Netherlands to use this type of ripening process.
We were guided through a tasting of 6 different cheeses, and encouraged to make notes concerning each one’s colour, smell, taste, and consistency, and then to give it an overall grade. “Everything is possible,” said the cheese instructor (I will call her this – she didn’t tell us her name, and what else do you call someone who teaches you about cheese?) “but if you don’t know what to say, say walnuts.”
My favourite was a 10 month old chèvre gris, which, according to my notes, is not actually grey, but has a sharp, woody taste and is not soft like regular goat’s cheese but closer in texture to parmesan. A close second was the VSOP, a superb 2 year old wedge of goodness with an aftertaste of caramel. Meant to be eaten in thin, carpaccio-like slices instead of giant hunks (tricky) this cheese is best enjoyed with port.
Needless to say, I bought them both.
5. HOUSE OF BOLS
Also not technically food – the House of Bols is a genever (dutch gin) museum run by the Bols distillery, the oldest distillery in the world. Bols has been making genever in Amsterdam since 1575; after the discovery of America, but before the establishment of the Dutch East India Company, before Pocahontas married John Rolfe, and before TV.
The tour of the premises include a variety of taste tests, confusing sniff tests and the “mirror bar,” where aspiring bartenders learn the tricks of the trade.
If I had one complaint, it would be that there I could not take part in the sniff test because holes they made for smelling were too high for me to reach.
Our ticket came with one cocktail, and two samples of flavoured Bols liqueur. Harriet chose the elderflower and, in the spirit of Valentine’s day, the “parfait amour,” a combination of rose and violet. I chose passionfruit and, in the spirit of trying new things, yogurt. As terrible as this sounds, it was actually our favourite of the four.
5. Indonesian food
After all of of this street food (we had another Febo on our way to the House of Bols – I confess), wine tasting at noon and cocktails in the afternoon, we were craving an actual meal. One that involved sitting. Because of the historic relationship between the Netherlands and the former Dutch East Indies, there are a large number of Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam. Perhaps this also explains the satay sauce on fries.
We happened upon Bojo Indonesian Restaurant, just off the Leidseplein – it was cold, and we were hungry. Despite there being two Indonesian restaurants on the same road, this one was full to the brim – but we were told it would only be ten minutes for a table. We waited five, tops – and were shown a generous table for six, even though there was a group of four squeezed in together at a small table by the door.
Apparently, there is a table hierarchy at Bojo. As we waited for our meal, we observed a massive game of musical chairs. The table of six behind us left; the table of four by the door moved to a different table of four. A group of six arrived, and were seated at the table for six directly behind ours. Then they moved to a different table for six, and we were confused.
“I think we are losing this game,” Harriet said.
But, we need not have worried, because as the waiter arrived with our Bintang beers, he offered us the empty table for six behind our table for six, which was left drafty, and seated another group of two at our old table for six. A group of five huddled together at the table for four by the door.
In any case, this meal was a close second to the cheese tasting of earlier that day. Harriet had a generous portion of nasi goreng with beef satay; I had a delicious gado-gado – a salad of boiled vegetables with an egg and cubes of Indonesian sticky rice. It was so good that I forgot to take a picture.
We couldn’t leave without popping into Henri Willig Cheese and buying – you guessed it – more cheese. I went for a large piece of red pesto flavored gouda, but not until I’d tasted every other variety in the store. We also bought some stroopwafels, or syrup waffles, to bring home.
Things we missed while too busy eating cheese: Hagelslag– better known as “chocolate sprinkles,” eaten by the Dutch for breakfast on toast. Pickled herring – but I’m basically relieved about that. And pancakes – we did spent a fair bit of time looking for awesome pancakes – but in Amsterdam on a Monday before noon, there are surprisingly few pancake shops open, or shops open generally. Nevermind, I have My Old Dutch for that…