It’s hard to summarize a place after traveling. There are so many moving parts – its history, its people, timing, and the mindset through which we digest it all.
And when it’s a city with a reputation like Amsterdam, it’s a little intimidating to sit here and write like I have any special authority. I can only offer my experiences and observations, conversations with friends and locals, and a little bit of research.
Most of the travel guides that I read while planning our trip were list-based. There were lists of all the Dutch foods I should try, lists of the top 10 restaurants, lists of the must-see attractions, etc. So when I set out to write about eating in Amsterdam, the last thing I wanted to do was to reduce the experience to a bunch of lists. Approach this article as more of snapshot.
Amsterdam is a genuinely beautiful city. The wealth and status the city earned during its Golden Age are still very apparent today, hundreds of years later. And yet, amidst all of the old world opulence, the city exudes a laid-back casualness that I loved. I, like so many other tourists before me, quickly became enamored with the canals.
And while it may be a city of indulgence for some, it doesn’t feel like a city of excess. Evidence of a thriving secondhand economy was everywhere. It didn’t seem to me that anyone was particularly concerned about newness or fashion or sleek perfection. And above all else, I had the distinct impression that the people of Amsterdam truly valued their outdoor spaces, no matter how small.
I found their food to have a similar ethos. It was usually unfussy, delicious and nourishing.
Even though we were in the land of pancakes, there wasn’t a huge going-out-for-breakfast culture in Amsterdam. Coming from a city that brunches like it’s a second job, my boyfriend and I were surprisingly grateful for our hotel breakfasts and started most days that way.
My favorite pancakes were the small, puffy poffertjes (pronounced sort of like pufferfish, but with a ‘j,’ as one local tried to teach me). I think I ate some everyday we were there. You can find them as a snack at one of the many open air markets, usually loaded with toppings, but I preferred them just as they were.
We ate top-notch American style pancakes at a place called Moak, mostly because we had just landed and were desperate for some caffeine and food to fuel our first day of exploring.
And on our last day, we tried traditional Dutch pancakes with friends at Pancakes Amsterdam, just before heading to the train station. As a local recommended, I ordered mine with bacon and cheese, drizzled with a healthy amount of syrup on top. It did not disappoint!
If you’re a coffee lover, be warned. Stay away from any iced coffee you may come across, unless you want a lukewarm, diluted latte. I was duped a couple of times.
Lunches we tried to keep simple most days.
Our very first lunch in Amsterdam also ended up being our dinner. That’s about as long as we could make it after being awake for roughly 22 hours. Luckily, we were in good hands when we stumbled into a little cafe called Van Kerkwijk.
The service was exceptional (that’s definitely NOT the norm otherwise). It was around 3pm when we walked in, and they hadn’t yet switched the kitchen over from lunch to dinner. There were no printed menus. The server simply sat down and talked us through what the lunch options were. We ordered soup and sandwiches, and the sandwich I had was probably one of the best I’ve EVER had. And the most surprising part is that it’s nestled in the thick of it all, not far from the red light district, where we hadn’t expected to find great food.
The one exception we made to our simple lunches plan was a very special lunch at a restaurant named De Kas. A friend recommended that we make reservations in advance, and we were lucky that we did.
De Kas is a restaurant in a greenhouse, nestled in a park just south east of central Amsterdam. It was a little out of our way to get there, especially in the afternoon, but it was well worth the walk. It was as charming and picturesque as it sounds.
They serve a fixed menu each day for lunch and dinner because they grow the majority of what they serve either in the greenhouse or on their farmland just outside of the city. For lunch, we had a couple of amuse-bouches, three courses, plus coffee and dessert. You could taste the earthy freshness of their food, it was so nourishing. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the taste of fig leaf ice cream. I would definitely go back, and I cannot recommend them enough.
There is a very large Indonesian community in Amsterdam. It’s a complicated history, given that Indonesia was the largest and wealthiest Dutch colony way back when. Experiencing lots of different cultures and cuisines is what I absolutely love about living in New York, and I often look for similar experiences when I travel.
So, one night for dinner we set out to experience rijsttafel, or rice table, at Ron Gastropub. It’s not something I often come across in New York City, and I really think we need more of it.
Rijsttafel is a genuine feast. Ours included no less than 17 small plates – a dazzling collection of flavors and textures. It was almost too much for the two of us to finish, but we powered through like champs. And then we had dessert.
The ambiance of the place felt a bit like an oasis – we really weren’t expecting the luxe interior that appeared as the elevator doors opened. I think we spent a solid 3 hours there, luxuriating in the experience. Definitely make reservations, especially if you’re trying to get in on a weekend.
Bitterballen were a bit more polarizing. Initially described to me as deep fried meatballs, bitterballen are a popular finger food usually meant to accompany beer. Beer and fried meatballs, doesn’t that sound yummy? But when I bit into my very first bitterballen, it became immediately clear that there had been a mix-up during translation. They are actually deep fried gravy balls! I don’t know that I ever fully recovered.
My favorite bitterballen were the vegetarian versions served at the FoodHallen in De Hallen, a giant cultural complex of sorts. We stumbled upon it by accident, and I wish we could have spent more time there.
And lastly, one of the sweetest highlights of eating in Amsterdam was a cookie from Von Stapele. It is a teeny-tiny little shop, tucked away on a side street, and it is a gem. They only make one kind of cookie – a dark chocolate cookie with a molten white chocolate center, and milk chocolate chunks throughout.
We purchased two cookies, found a nearby cafe with street-side seating, and thoroughly enjoyed them with two cappuccinos and a healthy side of people watching.
If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, have a wonderful time! I hope you’ll seek out some of our favorites. Also be sure to read Lance and Laura’s posts about Amsterdam on their blog Travel Addicts. We used a number of their itineraries when planning our own trip, and owe them a special thanks!