So after months of waiting, whiling the days away saving my pennies and lusting over quaint airbnb apartments on cobblestoned European squares, Ollie and I have finally set off on our nine week adventure through Eastern and Central Europe. Even though nine weeks seems like an eternity at first thought, when it comes to exploring the world you come to realise it’s not such a long time after all and it becomes hard to fit all those dream destinations while leaving enough time to spend long afternoons in parks, cafes and charming town squares. First world problems for sure though, and I’m not complaining about the time we do have as I write this post from my windowsill seat looking out over the Moyka River in St Petersburg reflecting on the week that was (and the food that was eaten) in The Netherlands.
We arrived in Amsterdam at 7am local time, after 20 hours in transit, the last 3 with a particularly cranky toddler in the aisle next to us. I felt sorrier for the nervous looking parents of the child than us though – travelling with kids seems like a huge chore and at least we got some quiet once off the plane! Happy to arrive safe and sound, we took a walk through the city with our backpacks, checked into our airbnb apartment in the Jordaan, and set out for some food straight after a well needed shower. Our first port of call was a recommendation from Stefania, our airbnb host, a place called Brandstof on the corner of Rozengracht and Marnixstraat. It had exactly what I wanted on the menu for our first meal – traditional Dutch bitterballen and croquettes on broodjes (bread).
If you don’t know what bitterballen are, Wikipedia describes them pretty aptly as a savoury Dutch meat-based snack, typically containing a mixture of beef or veal, beef broth, butter, flour for thickening, parsley, salt and pepper, resulting in a thick roux. Basically, crumbed, deep fried gravy balls. Now who couldn’t like that? Later that day, before falling into a deep 12 hour sleep, we also snuck in a piece of traditional applie pie at Brasserie Baton near the Anne Frank House, and a few sneaky beers at the Jordaan institution Cafe Tuin (and maybe some more bitterballen and cheese – but who’s counting!).
Day 2 in Amsterdam brought with it the long awaited Eating Amsterdam food tour that Ollie had booked as a part of my birthday present (the kid did well!). And what a day of eating it was! Our tour guide was super knowledgable about the city and was able to tell us all about the people running the places we visited, which was great. In four hours, we got through:
- Poffertjes (a small Dutch pancake made with buckwheat) at a cafe I can’t remember the name of but these are available almost everywhere
- The creamiest ossenworst (raw, smoked beef sausage) and grillworst (grilled sausage) at a butcher called Loumans that has been around since 1860 – definitely doing something right!
- A traditional Surinamese (Surinam was a Dutch colony and has a big food presence in Holland) sandwich at Swieti Sranang plus some Baka bana (fried plantain with homemade peanut sauce)
- More apple pie at the cutest traditional brown cafe (so named for the colour of the wood) called Cafe Papeneiland – this place also had the most kitschy beer taps (which were actually ex-vases) I have had the pleasure of coming across
- Raw herring and fried cod at a fish monger Meer Dan Vis – to my surprise I was actually able to stomach both of these, though my mental gag reflex kicked in pretty strongly as I went to swallow the herring
- A few different types of liquorice from a quickly lady named Mariska at speciality shop Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkleetje – apparently the Dutch are crazy for it, who knew!
- We then visited a cheese shop where I bought more cheese than is reasonable for a 6 day stay along with the most amazing truffle salami
- And then we finished with a beer and (you guessed it) more bitterballen
That night we went a red light district tour, and partied on the street there till the wee hours in honour of the gay pride parade that was happening the next day – now that was a crazy event if I have ever seen one. And then ate more croquettes at FEBO, the fabulous fast food chain in Holland which is basically a vending machine disguised as a fast food shop – there are columns of food sitting behind little doors and you just put your change in above the food you want and a little door pops open and you grab your food!
After a bit of a sleep in the next day, it was off to the De Pijp area in search of the Albert Cyup Market and the Heinekin Experience. The markets weren’t as great as I might have hoped, but we still managed to come across some cool stuff, namely some impossibly flaky cheese sticks and a craft beer shop owned by a guy from Perth, that stocked loads of tasty local beer (I tried a few stouts and can vouch for the quality) and also Little Creatures Pale Ale! Ollie also had some more herring, while I indulged my sweet tooth with some more poffertjes and got to talk to a stall owner about the iron griddle they are made in.
After that, and the fairly bland Heinekin Experience, we made our way over to Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a small brewery located inside a windmill just out of the city centre. It was a cool scene, with many a local and tourist soaking up some sunshine outside, enjoying the beers brewed in site and the tasty Hungarian hotdogs with smoked cheese on offer.
We spent the entire next day on rental bikes, first making the 20km return journey to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel then partaking in a city bike tour. After this massive day of this thigh cramp inducing exercise, we jumped on a bus over to the North side of Amsterdam to Cafe de Ceuvel, one of the food highlights of our stay. Cafe de Ceuvel is located on De Ceuvel, a former shipyard that has been transformed into a self-sustaining office park, with old houseboats moved onto the land and equipped with the most sustainable technologies. Plants grow between the houseboats to clean the contaminated soil. The cafe is vegetarian and possibly one of the hippest places in Amsterdam, with hordes of locals motoring in on their boats to enjoy a beer or two on their expansive deck. We tried some mushroom bitterballen which were comparable to, if not better than the original, a pizza and a salad (I think our stomachs went into shock at that point). We also had a fierce couple of games of trionimos, with me winning the first game and Ollie reclaiming his pride in the second.
And before we knew it, it was our last day in The Netherlands. To see more than just Amsterdam, we took a train trip out to Delft to check out the Royal Delft museum, and had a tasty lunch at a cafe there called Locus Publicus with a great beer menu. The afternoon was spent in Rotterdam, where we had dinner at a really great cafe called NRC on the super trendy street Witte de Withstraat. The black Angus burger we ordered came on a bagel with prosciutto, asparagus and glorious cheese. We also had one last serve of bitterballen there (when in Rotterdam, right?).
And that is the end of our Amsterdam adventures. Next up, Russia – bring on the borscht and dumplings!