Dutch delights: Eating Amsterdam
Amsterdam is changing rapidly—the landscape, the population, the standards, the tastes. Yet there are places where time stands still, like the artisan food stores in the once squalid ghetto of The Jordaan district. There is a sense of theater to the place, with every street corner showcasing its own production of traditional food. It’s as if food is woven into the fabric of the area.
A piece of pie
Inside Papeneiland, a rustic and cozy brown café on Prinsengracht, thick wedges of warm apple pie are consumed. I watch a fellow patron pour globules of double-thick cream over his 4-inch apple pie structure with its cake-like crust encasing thin, juicy slices of apple coated in cinnamon and lemon juice and a sprinkling of raisins—which is what makes this ultimate Dutch tea-time treat superior compared to other apple pies. The secret to Papeneiland’s apple pie recipe, which they’ve been baking on-site every day for +60 years, is the crust and the use of a few more perfectly browned apples, cooked in a little brown sugar. Bill Clinton visited twice; on one occasion he ordered an entire pizza-sized pie to take back to his hotel. Sitting jewel-like beside a canal, Café Papeneiland, the Dutch equivalent of an Irish pub, has been an Inn for more than 400 years. It proudly displays its floor-to-ceiling windows, a vaulted ceiling, ancient delft-blue tiles on either side of a turn-of-the-century wood-burning stove, antique wood-paneling, and framed newspaper clippings on the walls.
Louman on Goudsbloemstraat is an Amsterdam institution that’s been in business since 1895. It’s Holland’s best family-run butcher, renowned across Amsterdam for their Ossenworst—one of the sausages they produce according to traditional methods at their little sausage factory on the North Sea Canal. Ossenworst refers to the oxen from which this sausage was originally made back in the 16th century, according to kosher practice. Nowadays, it’s typically beef and spices—salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mace inside a beef casing—which is very lightly smoked. Like steak tartare, it’s soft and tender on the tongue and requires just a drop of mustard as a final touch. They also do their own take on the famed Austrian cheese sausage—Kasekrainer, a flavorsome sausage with melting cheese oozing inside with big tastes. You can taste the craftsmanship.
The spicy sauce-heavy flavors at Swieti Sranang, one of the best Surinamese/Indonesian small eateries in Amsterdam, goes back to the 1600s and the days of Dutch colonization. Despite its humble appearance on the exclusive Brouwersgracht, you’re guaranteed a taste sensation. The owners of this tiny hole-in-the-wall, Henk van de Weerd and his Indonesian wife, Juliet Chang, make everything themselves. One of the best bites of the day is Juliet’s spicy chicken Satay Ayam’s, basted in a rich peanut butter sauce (you’ll be forgiven for licking the plate). A firm favorite of her customers patiently waiting in line is bakabana—slices of plantain (or banana) coated in batter, deep-fried and served with satay sauce. Delicious!
Herring is Amsterdam’s best-known local delicacy. Preserved in brine, this addictive food is found at herring stands all over the city. Considered to be the very cradle of local and seasonal seafood in The Jordaan is local fishmonger Dirk Bos, whose shop, Urker Viswinkel on Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat, is stocked daily with hyper-fresh produce supplied by his brother, a fisherman from Urk. Dirk serves only the fattest herrings here in either a sandwich or sliced on a paper plate with onions and pickles spiked with a Dutch-flagged toothpick. Another local favorite is his mouth-watering kibbeling—bite-sized, battered cod, straight out of the fryer, served with dipping sauces. Undoubtedly, the best fried fish you’ll taste in Amsterdam.
Our daily bread
Walking into Sprenkels Bread & More, a bakery just a few paces from the fishmonger, you need to ensure that your hand and mouth agree not to involve your brain in decision making. Here your resistance will dissolve as quickly as their handmade chocolates on your tongue. Then there’s their Gevulde Speculaas which is a slightly sweet and creamy marzipan-like filling encased in a soft spicy crust, baked into a tube-shaped almond pastry. There’s a variety of Speculaas available in other bakeries around Holland, but this one is in a league of its own. Its crumbly casing is much softer than regular Speculaas, perfect for soaking up large quantities of coffee or tea. They also serve another Dutch delicacy—fresh stroopwafels, a waffle made of two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle. The trick is to place the stroopwafel on top of your steaming mug, leave it there for a minute or two, and eat it warm.
Tied up to the quay, outside the Pulitzer, a luxury 17th-century hotel is their traditional wooden salon boat, “The Tourist.” The salon cruiser is a time-capsule with original art nouveau details, polished teak and brass, marble, leather and beveled glass. To celebrate the end of WW2, Queen Wilhelmina of Holland invited Winston Churchill to tour Amsterdam in this very same piece of maritime art – all except the engine, which is now electric. While Captain Benno steers the boat, pointing out places of interest, a platter of geitenkaas (goat cheese) appears alongside locally brewed Texel beer. Like most goat cheeses, Dutch goat cheese is bright white in two varieties—the familiar soft version, and the harder type that can be sliced and put on a cracker. Captain Benno pauses alongside a quay long enough to take delivery of a consignment of Bitterballen from Patisserie Holtkamp. Bitterballen are a popular Dutch beer snack that are fried to a golden crispness on the outside with soft, juicy veal ragù (or cheese for veggies) on the inside and served with a drop of wholegrain mustard.
Onto Café de Prins on Prinsengracht. Passing the former Gestapo HQ and the sobering Anne Frank House, it’s time to pamper your palette with dessert which comes in the form of poffertjes—small spongy pancakes made with yeast and flour, dressed in butter and powdered sugar, with a shot of coffee on the side. Another venerable institution, Café de Prins serves the best poffertjes and pancakes in Amsterdam.
Love at first bite
Following a long day of sampling food, I head to my hotel. The street lights had already switched on, so the short walk to the other end of the now gentrified leafy suburb of The Jordaan is quite spectacular. The windows of crooked gabled houses cast warm pools of light which, from the street, give tantalizing glimpses of walls lined with books and sills of sprawling houseplants and decorative antiques. The district bustles with bijou boutiques, small galleries, independent shopkeepers and purveyors of fine food. Most visitors to Amsterdam are familiar with its notorious tourist attractions but seldom do you hear of them visiting for the food which is what I told the concierge at my hotel who immediately added another culinary must-do to my list—Van Stapele Koekmakerij. I like the concept of a shop gaining international notoriety for producing just one item—in this case a dark chocolate-chip cookie with a gooey white chocolate center. Here we’re talking love at first bite.
Text and photos: Cindy-Lou Dale