Amsterdam's authentic eats
From cheese to herring and pancakes to deliciously chewy stroopwafel, Amsterdam is a foodie's delight. Andrew Marshall tours the city's cuisine and kitchens
Amsterdam, a city that has more bicycles than people, has a strong connection to food. The abundance of nature, spectacular eateries, street names, paved roads and architecture are reminders of a vibrant past. Its location on the fertile North Sea river delta supports local fishing and farming, which in turn lends a strong influence to the country's cuisine. A tour of the eateries, therefore, is a discovery of the exciting culinary past of the city and colonial influences on its cuisine.
Heavenly pie: Situated canal-side in the Jordaan district, Café Papeneiland is a great example of a traditional bruin café (brown café), dating back to 1642. This is one of the best places in Amsterdam to sample appelgebak, or apple pie, lovingly made from a closely-guarded recipe handed down through generations. The Dutch have been making apple pie since the 1500s - and what separates Dutch apple pie from the others is the extra-thick crust and spicy filling of cinnamon, brown sugar and raisins that help soak up the juices from the apples as the pie cooks. A slice of this iconic dessert, served with a generous dollop of whipped cream and accompanied by a coffee, is pure heaven.
Fishy business: Customers of all ages return again and again to the fish shop, Urker Viswinkel, in the Jordaan district, for the quality of its maatjes haring (fresh raw herring cured in brine). The fish is sourced from small Dutch boats ensuring the best quality in terms of freshness and sustainability. To eat this Dutch favourite the traditional way, the usual practice is to take your herring by the tail and toss it whole down your throat, with your head held back. But the faint-hearted may prefer them in a roll, or on a plate with chopped onion or gherkin. If herring isn't your thing, then try the tasty, deep-fried cod bites, known as kibbeling.
All sorts of licorice: Jacob Hooy & Co is a marvellous store that began life as a pharmacy in 1743, and its beautiful antique interior of worn wooden floors and cabinets looks much as it did back then. Although it specialises in supplements, homeopathic remedies and herbs, the best reason to visit is the excellent selection of Dutch licorice, with salty and sweet versions available, both soft and firm and in a variety of shapes. The Dutch refer to salty licorice as zoute drop or dubbel zoute drop (double salted licorice). On the wooden counter are some scales where the confection is weighed out pick-and-mix style, then scooped into brown paper bags in an age-old manner.
Market fare: A not-to-be missed foodie stop in the trendy De Pijp neighbourhood is the Albert Cuyp Markt - the biggest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands since 1905. Lining a long street, over 250 stalls sell everything from fresh vegetables and flowers to a smorgasbord of Dutch specialities. Cheese stalls bulge with Gouda, Edam and Friese nagelkaas, a clove cheese that became popular when spices were first imported in the 17th century. Other stalls sell poffertjes, a traditional Dutch batter treat that resembles small, fluffy pancakes (typically eaten with butter and sugar), and the stroopwafel - a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel-like syrup in the centre.
Dutch spice: A short hop from De Pijp's Albert Cuyp Markt is the restaurant, Warung Spang Makandra, an authentic Surinamese/Javanese restaurant that's been serving typical dishes from the former Dutch colonies since 1978. Try the roti chicken, Javanese soup (saoto) or the house special of fried rice, stir-fried noodles, chicken fillet in soya sauce, chicken skewer with peanut-butter sauce, sliced Surinam long beans, fried egg, and deep-fried mashed potato ball with herbs.
Other quintessential eats include broodje pom, a traditional Surinamese oven dish which combines spicy chicken, citrus juice and pomtajer (an indigenous root) served in a bread roll, and baka bana, deep-fried plantain with peanut sauce. Delicious.
The greenhouse effect: Well worth a visit is the stunning greenhouse restaurant De Kas. The glass building was built in the 1920s when it was used as the city's municipal greenhouse, and it retains an old-fashioned charm despite its conversion into a super-stylish eatery. Locally-sourced meat and line-caught fish complement the organic vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers grown on site. The lunch and dinner menu consists of three to five different small dishes served as individual courses, which change with the seasons, depending on what's been picked from the garden each day. And you can't get much fresher than that.
A taste of tradition: Although restaurants and cafés serving traditional Dutch cuisine can be thin on the ground in Amsterdam, a fine example is Moeders or "Mothers", a quirky restaurant with a vintage vibe serving Dutch classics. Inside, photos of mothers brought in over the years by customers adorn most of the wall space - and none of the china, cutlery or glasses match. This represents the odd kitchenware one might find in their mum's cupboard. Some typical dishes on the menu include hachee (a Dutch stew based on diced meat and vegetables), erwtensoep (pea soup), gerookte paling (smoked eel served with white toast and a squeeze of lemon), and stamppot boerenkool (mashed potatoes and red cabbage flecked with bacon and smoked sausage).
Eat Like A Local
Make sure you don't leave Amsterdam without trying these other traditional Dutch specialities:
Bitterballen: Deep-fried crispy meatballs served with mustard for dipping - they're the ultimate Dutch pub snack.
Oliebollen: Literally means 'oil balls' - but don't let that put you off. They are deep-fried sweet dumplings, sometimes containing fruit pieces, dusted in powdered sugar, and so delicious they only come out around New Year's Eve.
Ontbijtkoek: This name translates as 'breakfast cake' and one slice of this solid ginger cake is usually enough. Spread some thick butter on it for extra yumminess.
Stamppot: Translated literally as 'mash pot', this traditional dish is similar to Bubble & Squeak. It involves potatoes, mashed with other vegetables, including various combinations of sauerkraut, carrot, onion or kale and is usually served with sausages.
Snert: The Netherland's version of pea soup is a thick green stew of split peas, pork, celery, onions and leeks.
Tompouce: This cream-filled rectangular pastry is characterised by a layer of smooth, pink icing on top. Tompouce is strictly regulated to ensure consistency in size, shape and colour.