I know you’re all dying to know about the food…since, well, that’s what this blog is about. But, even though I can’t stop thinking about the Dutch cheese and the amazingness of their bread, food was really secondary to the overall awesomeness of Amsterdam. Well, actually… overall awesomeness was number one, BEER was number two (at least in terms of amount consumed), and then food. Don’t worry though, I do have a lot of delicious things to share with you, and will surely be adding a lot of Dutch-inspired recipes to my repertoire.
So…overall awesomeness, beer, and food… where to begin!? For starters, Amsterdam is amazing. Did I say that already? Well, I’ll say it again… and again and again. I love it. A lot. Can you tell that I’m deeply and madly in love with it!? Amidst incredibly old and beautiful architecture, A’dam is a modern, bustling city full of a great mix of energy and at the same time, patience. Riding bicycles throughout the city, cars don’t honk and run you off the road… everyone takes their time, goes with the flow, and eventually gets where they need to go. Even with all the movement of cyclists, trams, tiny little cars, and foot traffic, no one seemed to be in the big race that we are in the states. Even at restaurants, things seemed to slow down a bit. You order a beer (typically a Heineken… or several Heinekens in our case), and then you sit and relax and drink your beer and enjoy your company, without concern about when the food will arrive, or after that, when the check will arrive. I liked that. There was also a friendly cat nuzzling against my leg in one restaurant, and I liked that, too.
We did a million touristy things, many of which our good friend, host, and Amsterdam-native Vincent hadn’t even done. We experienced the Heineken Brewery (complete with several beers), visited the Van Gogh Museum, toured the Anne Frank House, wandered through the Red Light District, popped into a coffeeshop (ahem), and biked all over the city and through the beautiful Vondelpark. And while touring the city as picture-taking, map-wielding, fanny-pack wearing (ok, not really that, haha) Americans was fantastic, my favorite part was hanging out with Vincent, meeting his friends, going to his regular Monday-night bar, and getting a glimpse of how 20-somethings in Amsterdam live.
Which brings me… to the food. For as excited as I was to get to Amsterdam and go out to eat Dutch specialties, it turns out that like any big, culturally diverse city, Amsterdam cuisine is a melting pot of international flavors: Chinese, Greek, Thai, Italian, Spanish, and at the forefront of it all, Indonesian. On our first day, we ordered the “Dutch Specialty” for lunch…it was chicken sate (or satay as we call it here) in peanut sauce. While the restaurants didn’t knock my socks off, we did get to try some fun traditional Dutch pub and street food.
At the pub: Bitterballen, i.e. Bitter Balls. The breaded, fried, meat and gravy filled croquettes (kroketten) dipped in mustard and served in pubs aren’t actually bitter, but according to my research, were traditionally served alongside alcoholic bitters, hence the name. While I loved trying them, I can’t say that having a bitter ball with my beer is the perfect way to end the day. I mean, they tasted alright… like fried meaty grease and mustard… but the texture, I guess it’s something I’d have to get used to.
On the street: Vlaamse! Vlaamse are Dutch potato fries, and they are amazing (and cheap!). I know this sounds a little crazy… but I actually thought that the Dutch vlaamse blew the Belgian frites we had out of the water. Thick and golden, crunchy on the outside and hot & tender inside, dolloped with sweet, tangy mayo and rolled up in a paper cone… vlaamse put greasy, limp American fries to shame. And, street corners and ally-ways in Amsterdam are filled with vlaamse stands and frituurs (fry-carts).
The best food in Amsterdam, however, was the stuff we bought at the grocery store, and the food Vincent and his friends prepared for us. I was actually pretty impressed with the kitchen-savvy of Vincent and his 20-something guy friends. Let’s just say they knew their way around the kitchen a little better than most of the 20-something guys I’m friends with here in Seattle. On our first night in Amsterdam, Vincent’s BFF Michael invited us over for appeltaart (the most delicious apple pie ever) on his rooftop terrace, overlooking the city, complete with coffee, beer, and even fireworks… no big deal. Vincent made us a fabulous open-face egg sandwich for breakfast, his famous pasta salad, and a super delicious Indonesian meal of noodles, stir-fried vegetables, chicken, speck, and Indonesian sauces, called Bahmi. He also told me about some Dutch home-cooked meals that I’ll be experimenting with this winter.
Even after all the vlaamse, bitterballen, and homecooked meals, my very favorite thing in Amsterdam was… the plain ol’ store-bought sandwich bread smeared with butter and topped with chocolate sprinkles. I know it sounds a little wacky, and at first when Vincent prepared it I thought he was crazy. However, my friends… crazy he is not. He might actually be a genius…it was delicious. The grocery store has shelves of really good chocolate sprinkles in different flavors and sizes, made for the sole purpose of topping bread….chewy, soft, amazing Dutch bread, studded with dried corn. I’ve been dreaming about that bread. I brought back three boxes (a little excessive?) of sprinkles….they’re that good. And even though I’ve been drowning my post-vacation sorrows in sprinkles, our American bread just doesn’t cut it. Sigh. But I guess it will have to suffice, along with my other souvenirs: stroopwafels (sweet, syrup filled waffle cookies), salty black-licorice, Speculaas (crunchy gingerbread-like cookies), and of course, cheese.
Those crazy Dutch will eat anything on buttered bread...sprinkles, cheese with mustard, and even...cookies!
My vacation ended too soon, but I know I’ll make it back there sooner rather than later. You just can’t turn your back on that kind of love… the intense, butterflies in your stomach, swooning, head and heart pounding kind that I now have for Amsterdam. In the meantime, I’ll be doing everything I can to whip up tasty Dutch-inspired treats and share some of the amazingness with all of you.
By the way… we also went to Belgium! Coming soon to a blog near you: Europe part 2-Brugge!