By the time we met up with Willie and Brenda, it was after nine thirty, and we were all starving. Megan, Brenda’s friend who lives in Amsterdam, suggested we just wander a bit to find a place for a bite. In the end, we selected an Indonesian restaurant on a plaza near my hostel. There are a huge number of Thai and Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam due to a diverse population. It is as common to find these restaurants as it is to find any serving traditional Dutch cuisine. I leaped at the opportunity – as much as I’d loved the rich foods of Eastern Europe, they felt very heavy, especially in summer, and I longed for some spiciness, some acidity, and I had been craving Asian food.
The smells greeted us the moment we entered. It was a tiny restaurant, with room for just a few tables, 2 of which were outside. We took an empty table (9:30 is quite late to be eating by Dutch time – even in Amsterdam, shops and restaurants close quite early). Looking over the menu, I was immediately taken by bapao – steamed buns filled with spicy meat mixture. I love steamed buns, and have developed my own recipe at The Apartment Kitchen, but restaurants use the deliciously light and airy Hong Kong flour, which is sometimes hard to get ahold of commercially. The bun was delicious – amazingly light, you feel as though you have to push your teeth through air to get to the filling – it was delicious.
Willie chose loempia, or Indonesian spring rolls. This is a simple, classic roll that also makes its way into Dutch street food. Dipped in a tangy sweet chili sauce, it’s the perfect snack. Crisp, warm, chewy, and satisfying.
Brenda chose another kind of loempia, which is fried using a dough rather than the flaky spring roll wrappers, which gives it a softer texture, though it’s still delightfully crisp from the fryer. Our first loempia had been filled only with vegetables, this second had a heaping amount of a deliciously seasoned meat mixture. After the wonderful crispness of the loempia, I appreciated the tenderness of this appetizer.
The last appetizer we shared was Indonesian chicken soup. It was good – powerfully flavorful broth with thin noodles, green onions, cilantro, and fried shallots. But Willie said it wasn’t nearly as good as they’ve had from other restaurants, where the soup is swimming in fresh herbs and is delightfully fragrant.
Entrees are a bit of a blur, so I’ll just tell you what I know. Willie chose one of the house specials – pork in a thick sauce made with coconut milk, and a saucy chicken satay over Indonesian fried rice. Willie pointed out that they make the fried rice with long grain rice, but smash the cooked grains when stir-frying them, making the grains seem short and the mixture have a unique texture. It was really good – not very many ingredients like Chinese fried rice, just simple, highly flavored grains. All meals were also served with the airy shrimp crackers that everyone loves.
I picked pork belly that was cooked in an array of spices, and served with a thick sweet chili sauce. My dish seemed very Asian fusion rather than pure Indonesian – I picked up flavors and tastes from China and Thailand as well. The pork was unbelievably rich – even with the lightly acidic sauce balancing the fattiness, I couldn’t finish even half of the dish.
Two other dishes were ordered – but they were all specials of the restaurant as well, and therefore made up of similar components to Willie’s coconut pork and saucy satay.
The next day I was on the prowl for something warm for breakfast. One of the things I love about Europe is the foods they eat for breakfast. Sure they have the regular cereal and milk, and even eggs. But at the hotels we’ve stayed at there has been very little hot food – primarily thin slices of cheese, ham, and salami served with crusty bread and vegetables. I love this breakfast, but after awhile, it does get dull – and I’m too excited about food to be bored by breakfast. What’s interesting is what replaced it wasn’t too far off – a crispy, toasted bagel topped with smoked chicken, avocado, tomato and arugula. It was so wonderfully good – the warm, toasty bagel was just what I needed and tasted perfect in the cool Amsterdam morning. I love anything with avocado – but it’s wonderful for breakfast. As smooth and creamy and cream cheese with healthier fats, as well as vitamins and lots of energy.
While waiting to meet up with Brenda and Willie, we found a tiny chocolates shop near our hotel. Wanting to sit in their outdoor café area, we popped in and ordered a few. The cognac caramel was my favorite – oozing and gooey, it flooded my mouth when I tried to eat the chocolate in two bites. Our other choices were filled with honeycomb, and a creamy ganache flavored of ginger.
That night for dinner, we chose an unassuming, though very beautiful restaurant about halfway between where Willie and Brenda’s apartment and my hostel. It was a Mediterranean style restaurant with a three course prie fixe menu at a good price. The following dishes were chosen:
Spinach ravioli in a parmesan cream sauce and toasted breadcrumbs. This sauce was heavenly – it tasted of good paremsan cheese and lots of butter. It was an excellent complement to the fresh spinach inside the ravioli, and we sopped up every last bit of sauce with warm, crusty bread.
Beef carpaccio with flaked parmesan, toasted pine nuts, arugula, and pesto. I love carpaccio – and this one was quite well done. More elaborate than I might have expected (at other restaurants it is often the meat with a healthy drizzling of olive oil and a few large, thin slices of cheese), but the flavors were clean and classic.
Dutch croquettes got a modern makeover with this simple, creamy mixture with salty parmesan and spicy arugula.
Entrees included a wonderfully rare steak with roasted potatoes and endive in a creamy tarragon sauce. The meat was juicy and (though it didn’t really need a topping) tasted wonderfully decadent with the cream sauce.
Risotto Caprese was simple but full of tomato flavor. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything with massive chunks of fresh mozzarella. The cheese melted perfectly under the heat of the risotto – swirling through the finished dish. It was as tasty as it was pretty – bright, fresh summer colors and flavors.
Sauteed halibut in caper sauce with braised endive and boiled potatoes. Willie compared this to the standard meals he often had in Germany. The caper sauce was just what the dish needed – vinegar and lemony, it complemented the fish and tied in the side dishes.
Desserts were a strachiatella parfait with honey and fresh berries (smooth and creamy with those delightful stacchiatella chocolate chunks)…
and white chocolate cheese cake, with layers of fruit coulis and and cookie crust (rich and fruity without being overly sweet).
Though I love the food I had been eating in Eastern Europe, Amsterdam was a lovely change of pace. The food I loved most in Germany, Poland, Hungary, etc was heavy. It felt extra heavy in the summer heat. Bright, bolder tastes fill the streets of Amsterdam, and the smells make it impossible not to give in to something new. After just a few bites, it was easy to say that Amsterdam was more than just it’s nightlife.