Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photography by Manos Angelakis
the new foodie capital of Europe.
From hand-held street food to Michelin-stared, white glove-reveal service, Amsterdam is rapidly becoming the new “foodie” capital of Europe. Once it was known as the Venice of the North and visited for tulips and windmills, wooden shoes and cheese; Amsterdam has been inching its way up the “food” chain as a gastronomic destination to attract a new breed of travelers not so much interested in feeding their hunger for ancient ruins and antiquities, as filling their bellies with great food.
Of course Amsterdam is still the Queen of Museums with the world-class Rijksmuseum filled with classical art the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Rubens; and the Van Gogh Museum in honor of its much beloved native son; or the Stedelijk Museum of modern art nicknamed the “bathtub” for obvious architectural reasons. And Amsterdam still holds a “most charming city” award for the 17th century Begemeester (merchant’s mansions) fronting the canals and it has definitely replaced China for the most bicycles and if you value your life beware... for bicycles have the right of way.
The country is officially the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Nether means low, so low lands) which gave rise to the fictional story by American writer Mary Mapes Dodge about the patriotic Dutch Boy who stuck his thumb in a hole in the dyke to hold back the sea. There is North Holland and there is South Holland, two of the twelve provinces that make up the Netherlands, but often the name Holland is used to refer to the entire country due to the fact that this region -- incorporating the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague -- was in good part responsible for the enormous prosperity and growth of the entire country. Amsterdam is the capital, Rotterdam is home to Europe’s largest port, and The Hague is the seat of government and home of the King and Royal Family (The House of Orange).
No more should one travel to Amsterdam simply to see the fields of tulips of all colors and shapes which delight the senses and leave one breathless with pleasure. No longer does one travel to Amsterdam simply to walk the red light district or freely smoke a marijuana joint whilst casually walking down the street. Today’s traveler seeks out Amsterdam to eat… make sure you bring a wardrobe one size larger than normal and just give in – you can lose it when you return home sated and with memories to last longer hopefully than the extra pounds.
Dodge the bicycles and nibble as you walk along the streets sightseeing or visit one of the Michelin-starred restaurants for a chefs tasting menu. Amsterdam is challenging some of the well-known European capitals of gastronomic excellence for memorable cuisine that is as creative, tasty, and pretty as a picture presentation as you can find. Go high or go low, its all good.
Our eating odyssey began with a chef tasting menu at the two Michelin star Ciel Bleu (Blue Sky) in the Hotel Okura. The restaurant occupies the top floor of the hotel with an outstanding view of the city. This warm inviting space was recently refashioned in soft elegant grey with the wait staff outfitted in stylish grey suits coordinating with the décor. The food delivery was white glove with silver-domes covering the tasty and beautifully presented dishes with synchronized multiple-reveal for full dramatic effect. The food and service were divine. (for further details see Ciel Bleu in Restaurants)
Contrasting the exquisite experience at Ciel Bleu was our fun and funky Eating Amsterdam food lovers’ tour in the trendy Jordaan section of the city. We began at Café De Prins with their famous poffertjes (tiny pancakes doused with powdered sugar and syrup). While poffertjes are served all over the city, they were especially light and tasty here. We moved on to another sweet treat at Patisserie Anesta for French patisserie splendid in all colors of the rainbow.
My personal favorite stop was at Vis Plaza, a fish monger par excellence for the national specialty of raw herring fillet dipped in chopped onion and dressed with a pickle slice… it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Fried battered cod was another staple on this top of the line shop. On our own peregrinations we stopped for this herring treat at Volendammer Haringhandel, a fish stand located in Centro. This stand has been passed down to Jonk, the current owner, by his father and his grandfather before him which is the only way this business can exist now. Years ago when we traveled to Amsterdam and discovered smoked eel sandwiches and raw herring tid-bits sold at street stands, they were as numerous as hot dog vendors are in New York City, but nowadays Amsterdam has cut back on issuing leases and you must seek your herring elsewhere in a more formal setting.
Time for local beer and bitterballen (snack to go with drinks) and at Café De Blaffende Vis it was a local delicacy of smooth gravy encased in deep friend batter… crispy on the outside, creamy and savory on the inside. We next visited Butcher Louman for a taste of his great sausages – cold-smoked and grilled – plus ham. After the meat course, cheese of course, at Jwo Lekkernijen where the smells were as satisfying as the many different fresh and aged cheeses they specialize in.
Our next stop was at Swieti Sranang, a tiny shop featuring food from Surinam and Indonesia. This food was an acquired taste that my buds were not yet ready for.
Our final stop was Café Papeneiland, one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam and known for its amazing apple pie. This is not your Mother’s or Aunt Sadie’s apple pie, this was a whole other species and well deserved the title of amazing.
Our guide for this foodie trek was the chatty and charming Aileen who entertained us with stories and tidbits of information that added immeasurably to the long walks between stops. Aileen had so many delightful stories such as the beef shop in the butcher street with a pig design prominently displayed outside the store. Before the population could read, signs designated the purpose of each shop and became an art form, with designers vying for the most charming or descriptive logos. Years ago the pig store was sold to a beef purveyor but he liked the pig art so much that he kept the sign, mooing in the face of good business acumen. Foodie or not this is a must-do tour. For information on all their tours visit www.eatingamsterdamtours.com
We split our hotel stay between Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal which was once a royal residence, the site of the Admiralty and eventually Amsterdam’s City Hall. Now it is a hotel in the highest tradition of luxury; and the cool, new, modern Radisson Blu around the corner… a bridge away and stylistically centuries apart.
The One Michelin-star Restaurant Bridges located on the ground floor of The Grand Hotel serves both an outstanding breakfast and dinner par excellence. Bridges is a rather trendy restaurant featuring seafood and fish and their motto is based on the English writer Jonathan Swift’s quote: Fish should swim three times: first in the sea, then in butter, and finally in good wine. (see also Bridges review in Restaurants)
Our wonderful meals there are a fitting ending to a tasty sojourn but hopefully the herring and eels will still be running, on our next visit to delectable Amsterdam.
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