Thursday, October 31, 2013

Northern Food on tour: a weekend in Amsterdam

So I went to Amsterdam. On a stag weekend. Not the best recipe for a weekend of fine dining obviously, but that's not to say we didn't sample a few Dutch specialities, of both the good quality and the utter filth variety. I was in charge of the whole shebang, being in the honourable position of best man, so I'd managed to sneak some interesting food and drink options into the itinerary.

They're quite partial to a deep-fried beer snack, the Dutch. Virtually every pub and bar offers an assortment of goodies for soaking up the booze. Filo pastry type things stuffed with mince or cheese, spring rolls, and bitterballen, little round croquettes with an unidentifiable meaty filling.

This platter of delights was a fairly typical example. It may look like an Iceland party pack, but who doesn't like fried stuff and beer.


And where might you get your fill of fried stuff after the pub kitchen's have closed? Why from the legendary FEBO of course, automated vending machines for croquettes and burgers and god knows what else.

There are branches of FEBO all over Amsterdam, but it turns out the one up the street (FErdinand BOlstraat) from our hotel is the original. I couldn't tell you quite how rank the average vending machine takeaway is, because I only went near the place after a few (too many) ales. All I can say is that there's photographic evidence of me filling my face with one of their treats and looking like I'm really bloody enjoying it. My money's on the satekroket. De lekkerste!



Er right, I did say we ate some quality stuff too. There seemed to be a fairly good supply of eat-in bakeries and casual brunch type places dotted about the city. We ate breakfast at Omelegg two days in a row, so successful were they at easing our hangovers. Good coffee, freshly squeezed juice and damn fine omelettes with that lovely light, fluffy texture I always fail to recreate at home.


Interest on the booze front (not that lager and Jagermeister are uninteresting of course) took the form of a beer tasting at t'Arendsnest, a bar serving only Dutch beer. Did you know there are more than 50 breweries in the Netherlands? Me neither.

There's certainly a whole lot more to Dutch beer than mass market piss (yes Heineken and friends, I am talking about you), but I can't say I fell in love with any of the beers we tasted. The first, a crisp, dry lager in a blue bottle was a classy session drinking option, but after that there were a couple I wasn't keen on at all.

Things progressed with increasing strength, so my memory is a little sketchy, but I'm fairly confident the final beer, pictured below, was the best. It was a big beast, a Belgian tripel (or quadrupel?) in style, dark red in colour with a big hit of fruit and booze. 


The big meal of the trip was a visit to restaurant Djago for a rijsttafel, an Indonesian Dutch colonial meal basically comprising a set buffet of everything on the menu with your rice.


Giant prawn crackers to start, with two types of sambal. These were ace, like the sturdier Thai style prawn crackers but enormous.


And then the dishes started to arrive. Little pots of salads and relishes first; cucumber and onion; carrot and cabbage; roasted peanuts and roasted, shredded coconut. All probably designed with textural contrast in mind as much as taste.


There were stewed meat dishes, a beef rendang and something porky....


and chicken, curried beansprouts and curried eggs.


...and dense, clove spiked meatballs, and cold gado gado, and platters of chicken satay and some things I can't remember. There was a lot of food.

I enjoyed the experience more than the food if I'm honest. The meatballs aside (which I wasn't keen on anyway) everything else tasted a bit same-y, each dish a minor variation on the very sweet/salty/a little bit spicy/a lot of peanuts theme. After a while I was willing for a less sugary dish to appear.

I'm glad we went though, rijsttafel is a uniquely Dutch invention so not something you'll encounter much elsewhere, and it was good to try some Indonesian food for the first time I can remember. 

Anything else I should tell you about Amsterdam? 

The chips are good. Flemish style chip stands are plentiful and never less than satisfying. The pre-fried chips are always given their second dunk in the fat to order, before being served in cones with a choice from dozens of sauces ranging from classic mayo to satay or chilli cheese.

It's very flat. Attractive but flat. The complete absence of aspect, the lack of a view beyond the next street corner was giving me fen fever by day three. Or maybe my brain was just stag-do-frazzled by that point. Either way I like hills, but I'll certainly return for a more cultural visit as Amsterdam packs a hell of a lot in to what's actually quite a small place. A weekend of culture and chips beckons. 

It's a good place for a stag weekend. But you knew that already right? Happily we all made it home in one piece and now, a few weeks later the wedding has passed off with great success too!


The Info

http://www.arendsnest.nl/ Dutch beer bar on Herengracht. Very informative beer tasting sessions. 20 euros for six beers.

http://www.febodelekkerste.nl/ FEBO. All over the place. Don't do it. Unless you're very pissed. If this is the case 10/10. Cheap.

http://www.omelegg.com/ on Ferdinand Bolstraat in the De Pijp area. 8/10 for omelettes (about 6-7 euros), coffee and OJ, but avoid the shit English style breakfasts.

http://www.restaurantdjago.nl/ south of De Pijp. 6/10 for rijsttafel (24 euros for the option we had). Lovely service though.

www.mikesbiketoursamsterdam.com nothing to do with food, but these guys do good bike tours for a fair price.