As my very last trip in Europe for this Swiss experience my BFF, the Thelma to my Louise, flew out to join me on a trip to Amsterdam. I’d only even been in Amsterdam as an entry point into Europe. I think almost every American has been to the Amsterdam airport.
Shaun hadn’t been to Europe for since October 2014, when we moved here and she and I went castle hopping with the boys. It was clear she had to come back before we moved and she and I had to go to a place we hadn’t ever been before. There was some debate between Spain and Italy along with Amsterdam, but in the end Holland won out.
I booked us in the most American hotel that Amsterdam had to offer – The Hampshire Hotel American. A hotel that was built in a classic 1920s Art Deco style and brags about having a “Gatsby Style” bar called Cafe Americain. When we got there at 10pm we just dropped our stuff into the hotel and headed down for a drink. Well, we got a drink and a show.
We sat down in the section of the bar that had a view of the lovely fountain out front and started chatting. Shaun’s eyes kept flicking over my shoulder. I thought she was looking at the bar waitress that was making rounds between us, a very drunk woman at the bar singing Katy Perry songs, and a couple in the far corner. But, no, she was looking at the couple who was making out in very spectacular ways.
It was so active that when they left the waitress said, “Awe! The porno has stopped!” We giggled about it and I make a joke about drunk tourists and she said, “They were only drinking Diet Coke!” So they did an entire tongue gymnastics routine for over an hour loaded with nothing but fizzy brown water. I bet it was caffeine free, too, which makes it sad fizzy brown water.
We smugly finished our fully alcoholic drinks and got a full night of sleep to be ready for our food tour of the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. Shaun had gotten a suggestion from some friends that we take this tour by the company Eating Amsterdam. They had done it and loved it. And, really, is there anything more perfect that getting a guided tour of an historic neighborhood that you can eat your way through? Let me tell you – No, there is not.
This particular tour focused on the Jordanns area of Amsterdam. Famous for gorgeous canals.
We met up at a cafe called Cafe du Prins across the canal from Anne Frank’s house. The proprietor, a sweaty and harried looking man, served us some typical cappuccinos as we waited for Rudolph our guide. Once Rudolph got us assembled and in order we sat down in the cafe and we were served some poffertjers. They are small (about 1.5 inches across) pancakes made from a yeast and buckwheat batter and served with syrup and powdered sugar. I could have eaten them all day long. Poffertjers are a quintessential dutch snack and are found at small cafes and pop-up stands in the winter.
Then we walked away from the canal and into the old part of Jordaan. Jordaan was a working class neighborhood that has now become trendy. There are lots of independent shops and artist galleries where people are trying to make their starts and show the world something different, like this Michelin starred pastry chef struck out on his own and opened up a pastry shop! And it happened to be our next stop!
We got these profiteroles filled with a brandy cream. The rest of the delicacies look a-mazing. Each one was perfect and work of art. The profiteroles were delicious. And if you haven’t ever made them before you should give it a try. They are easy to do and make you look like you really know your stuff when you serve them.
While we walked through the streets Rudolph told us about the architecture of Amsterdam. How the house front are built at a forward slant. How they all have pulley arms to help haul up things like couches and pianos; things that don’t have a hope of fitting up the narrow stairs inside the row houses. He also told us that there didn’t used to be house numbers. They used to have animal sculptures or other objects up on top of the buildings instead. You just told them you were in the House of the Deer or just 3 doors down from the Shop of the Pig.
We wandered and learned and then found ourselves on the doorstep of a fish shop. The Dutch love fish and in particular they love herring. In June there is a huge celebration called Flag Day and the new herring catch is brought into the harbor. It’s packed in salt to keep it fresh, but it doesn’t get that fishy-salty flavor until after it’s been stored for quite some time. It is best right off the boat. We tried some and even though it was May it wasn’t really salty at all and only had a hint of fish to it. Some brave souls went back for seconds. I was not one of those souls.
Before we could leave our fish seller brought out kibbling. Kibbling is basically a fish nugget. It is absolutely delicious and the batter has a somewhat flaky consistency and has hints of spices – clove, paprika, cardamon. Kibbling can be bought in the Dutch equivalent to the fish and chip shop or it can be found at one of the numerous little kibbling trucks stationed around the really touristy areas of Amsterdam. I highly recommend you get a plate of them.
We went into a cafe pub; a converted canal house that serves classic Dutch pub food. In this case we tried Bitterballen. Besides being slightly dirty to say, they are delicious to eat and perfect with a pale ale.
It is a mixture of beef or veal mixed with various other ingredients to make a sort of puree or paste which is then rolled into balls, frozen, then battered and fried. It’s kind of like a croquette. The herbs mixed into the meat are picked to go with the bitters in the beer, hence they are called a bitterbal.
You do have to be careful they aren’t too hot when you eat them. The veal paste turns into lava that will melt the inside of your mouth. Rudolph tells us that is why you have them with beer – to cool the fire.
Plus the beer was really good. Too good in fact.
Now, Shaun and I didn’t have breakfast. Paying 19 Euro for breakfast at the hotel when we knew we’d be eating all day seemed a little much. We figured we’d get coffee at a coffee shop somewhere around.
Yet, every coffee shop we came across was closed. And, oddly, all of them seemed to have an affiliation with Jamaica. “Don’t commuters need coffee?” we asked each other.
It turns out “coffee shop” in Amsterdam is code for “place to buy and consume marijuana.” To get actual coffee we needed to go to a cafe that looked like an art gallery and be served by an aspiring photographer named Sven who was surrounded by naked artistic photos of a way too thin girl frolicking in some kind of watery environment.
Therefore, all we’d had to eat so far is what I’ve told you about so far. One of this, one of that. Tasting and sampling. And then you throw in a full pint of beer into the bloodstream … well …
Now, when I have a beer I tend to get chatty and things become very funny to me. And when things strike me as funny I tend to make comments. So, as poor Rudolph is trying to explain to us serious and soulful tones about the Alms Houses and the generosity of the city of Amsterdam and with pride about how The Netherlands is one of the first democracies in the world, Shaun and I are giggling and tossing off our own bon mots in the background.
We were politely shushed more than once.
The Alms Houses and courtyards were lovely. Widows and orphans with no means to support themselves were housed here by the city. It’s a hidden place. Quiet (except for us) and lovely.
And then we were on to more food!!
The butcher shop and cheese house are staples of Amsterdam. There was are respectable queue of people waiting to get their steaks and roasts for their Friday night and weekend meals. The butcher gave us sausages to try.
The first was a cold smoked sausage that vaguely had the taste and feed of steak tartar. I’d never had a sausage like it before. It felt like it was barely being held together by the curing agents and it was actually good! I’m not a huge fan of raw beef, but I would actually have this again.
The next sausage was a classic hot smoked affair with a hint of onion and garlic. This was much more what I’d been used to in America and Switzerland.
We all murmured yums and ooos and made some appreciative grunts in the butcher’s direction before we were waved on our way next door to the cheese shop.
It was cheese heaven. Cases and wheels and slices galore! And then shelves stacked with wines that paired with the cheese. And crisps and crackers and biscuits!
We stood around a tall round deli table and were served three different kinds of cheese. The first was a young Gouda. A year old or under. It was springy to the touch and had a light flavor. The second cheese was an aged Gouda. It was considerably more yellow and had more tooth to it. It was absolutely delicious. I thought the woman next to me – a 50-something from Seattle – was going to have an orgasm right then.
Our last cheese was a farmer’s cheese. It was almost white with a slightly creamy texture. It wasn’t pasteurized so you won’t be finding this on American supermarket shelves, but it is worth a taste. It was much more flavorful than the other cheeses even though it was just a few months old. That, Rudolph informed us, is because pasteurization kills off some of the flavor. It seems we have a choice between flavor and health&safety. Flavor is winning right now….
Until I get tuberculosis from eating unpasteurized cheese.
Anyway! Our next stop was an Indonesian place “just around the corner.” (read: 1 km away)
It’s easy to forget that the Dutch East India Company was Dutch. It’s totally separate from the East India Company, which is British. And the Dutch East India Company was FIRST. They started this whole sailing boats to get spices adventure. Plus they started the entire concept of buying and selling stockholder shares to help fund company ventures.
They made it all the way to Siam, Jakarta, Persia, Bengal, and Ceylon. They brought back cinnamon, cloves, boemboe, sambal, and ketjap along with Indonesian slaves. Eventually, free people from around East India, Indonesia, and Africa came to The Netherlands and they brought more of their foods and cultures with them.
We stopped at a deli-looking takeaway shop called Swieti Sranang and got sandwiches. The bread was made of a cassava root flour and called a pain de purdee. (I am spelling phonetically. There is no way that is the right spelling.) They topped it with a spicy curried chicken and pickles that lit my mouth on fire. I loved it and I finished Shaun’s, too. Then he gave us a fried plantain with a peanut satay sauce over the top. It was a classic sweet and salty combination and I can still taste it if I think hard enough. Yummo.
And just when I thought I could not eat another bite we went to a “brown” cafe for dessert.
Yes, we went to a bar specifically to eat pie.
This is Cafe Papeneiland. It is owned by a man named Tiel who looks to be about 80 years old. It was started by his great-grandfather named Tiel, who then passed it to his son named Tiel, to another Tiel, and then a Tiel, and it will go to Tiel’s son named …. Tiel.
There is a whole phenomena of brown cafes in Amsterdam. They are usually old and a well established part of the neighborhood. It’s like Cheers, everyone knows your name, there is local beer on tap, and at some point there will be singing. They are called brown cafes because usually the insides are wood paneled and things have gone even more brown with age and they have a lot of character.
It seems that brown cafes aren’t really happening places at 2 in the afternoon, but there was a goodly crowd outside smoking and having a pint and eating the famous Dutch apple pie. This cafe in particular is considered to have “the best” Dutch apple pie in the city. Then-President Bill Clinton visited here and took home a whole pie! It was considered quite a scandal. Who needs a whole pie?
And it was delicious. A thick and crumbly bottom crust piled with 4 inches of apples and topped with another thinner layer of crust. We drank it with a wheat beer, which I think complemented the wheaty crust of the pie.
We sat around a huge table that was wedged into a window space and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I didn’t even finish the entire pie, I was so full! (Don’t worry, I only left an inch-wide margin of the edge crust.)
Rudolph left us to wallow in our gluttony and went off, a spring in his step, to guide his next tour – a group of Germans curious about architecture and food. Shaun and I sauntered out of Tiel’s establishment and made our way along the canals and into the heart of Amsterdam.
Where I will pick up next time….