If there is something called a “national character,” the Dutch people could best be described as friendly, warm, helpful, thoughtful and cheerful. Whether riding a tram or walking through the bustling streets of wondrous Amsterdam, the slightest look of confusion will bring instant help from a passerby who will patiently direct you towards your destination and might even escort you part of the way. There is much to write about in this special city, but for the purposes of this article, I will share some of my food experiences.
The first of many delicious meals was at the elegant, historic Sofitel The Grand Amsterdam which was a convent in the 15th century, a formal residence of royal guests in the 16th century, headquarters of the Dutch Admiralty in Holland’s Golden Age, City Hall until 1988 and ultimately restored and transformed into a five-star hotel in 1992.
Our meal began with luscious hors d’oeuvres and wine in the charming garden followed by dinner in the Café Roux, the hotel’s restaurant named after their famous resident French chef, Albert Roux. Oak floors and an art deco interior design work together to create a warm “brasserie” atmosphere.
The delicate French cuisine began with a spiced confit pork with apple and goat cheese galette followed by the entrée, a tender sole a la meuniere, spinach and pommes persil. The mouth-watering dessert, a hazelnut nougat parfait with raspberry coulis, along with a perfect cappuccino, put the finishing touches on a most exquisite dining experience. It should be noted that the menu changes daily according to the availability of fresh meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.
For a less expensive, but extremely satisfying, fun meal, we tried a famous Dutch pancake (pannenkoeken) at the popular The Pancake Bakery. You must put whatever ideas you have about pancakes out of your head, for these pancakes are thin, almost like crepes, and are complete meals or desserts. There are over 75 different pancakes on the menu with a variety of ingredients such as cheese, sausage, bacon, ham or eggs, which are mixed directly into the batter. The dessert pancake comes topped with vanilla and strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, honey and powdered sugar. Calories? Who cares. You’re on vacation.
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without experiencing the culinary delights of exotic Indonesian cuisine. Considered “peasant” food, the fresh, simple ingredients, combined with a subtle blend of spices such as coriander, garlic, cardamom, cassia and ginger, result in delicious, savory dishes. The crown jewel of Indonesian cuisine is called the traditional “Rijsttafel” (rice table), which offers you many different dishes. It is said that the Dutch plantation owners in Indonesia liked to sample native dishes and that’s how the Rijsttafel was created. Boiled or steamed rice is the centerpiece for such dishes as gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce,) perkedel (meat and potato patties) or sateh lilit (barbequed seafood) to name but a few, as there could be as many as 100 dishes in a Rijsttafel. For this gastronomical delight, head over to the friendly Selecta Indonesian Restaurant and be prepared for a feast.
So, whether you choose a four-star restaurant or a neighborhood café or a herring roll with a pickled gherkin from an outdoor market or a slice of one of the myriad Dutch cheeses, your palate will be pleased and because Amsterdam is a walking city, your waistline will probably stay intact.
Sofitel The Grand Amsterdam, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197, 1012 EX Amsterdam, The Netherlands, thegrand.nl
Pancake Bakery_Prinsengracht 191_1015 DS Amsterdam, The Netherlands, pancake.nl
Selecta Indonesian Restaurant, Vijzelstraat 26 – 1017 HK Amsterdam, (31) 20 624 8894