Dutch Treat: My Delightful Experience With the Eating Amsterdam Food and Canals Tour

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new place — especially in Europe — is to sign up for a walking food tour.  I had a business trip to Amsterdam and didn’t plan ahead for any free time, but I was lucky enough to be a last minute addition to a tour group with Eating Europe.  It was fantastic!  And our guide, Rudolph Kempers, was the best.  I love learning some history along with the food, and he certainly delivered.

The Dutch don’t always get credit for their food, but their reputation is rapidly changing with 16 Michelin-starred restaurants in Amsterdam.  But that’s not what this food tour was really about.  We explored the historic Jordaan neighborhood that is full of old cafes and artisan food shops — visiting places that are not regular tourist stops. Originally a working class neighborhood, the Jordaan has become one of the most expensive and upscale areas in The Netherlands.

CAFE PAPENEILAND

We started our four-hour tour at Cafe Papeneiland, a traditional Dutch brown cafe – named for their dark, cozy wooden interiors and nicotine-stained walls and ceilings.  Luckily, smoking is no longer allowed in these cafes so we didn’t have to eat surrounded by cigarette smoke.  Brown cafes embody gezelligheid (coziness or feelings of friendly welcome) and are like the Dutch equivalent of an Irish pub where people gather to relax over beers and comfort food.  Cafe Papeneiland is one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam and is loved by locals and tourists alike. The cafe became famous for their Dutch apple pie that is made from scratch using the same family recipe for over 100 years.


Instead of the crumble topping that we tend to think of for “Dutch Apple Pie,” this version had a sweet, cakey crust with thinly sliced apples piled high in a spring-form pan.  The pies are baked on site and brought out on the bar fresh from the oven to cool down.  Our tour group sat a sunny table while enjoying our pie with fresh whipped cream and listened to the lore of this famous pie.  For instance, President Bill Clinton once paid a visit for a slice and ordered an entire apple pie to go.  His visit is proudly displayed on the cafe’s website. The cafe was like a cross between a neighborhood coffee shop and a local pub.  And you could tell that beyond the tourists who flock here, many locals simply hang out like it was an extension of their home — enjoying coffee in the morning while reading the newspaper and returning in the afternoon or evening to share a few cold beers on tap with friends.

JWO LEKKERNIJEN FOR GOUDA CHEESE

Our next stop on the tour was for cheese — and not just any cheese.  We tasted The Netherlands’ most famous cheese originating from a town called Gouda in the south.  We learned about the range of gouda cheese based on age — from jonge kaas, which means young cheese (lightly flavored and creamy) to the older or mature oude kaas, which has a strong complex taste and a grainy, almost crystallized texture.

Our cheese tasting included both the young and aged gouda, along with a gouda with cumin, fig bread and bowl of Indonesian-style ginger — which I would love for my next cheese plate!

SWIETI SRANANG SURINAMESE AND INDONESIAN CAFE

I especially loved learning more about the cuisine from Suriname and Indonesian, which were both former colonies of the Netherlands that brought their spicy specialties  to Europe.  We stopped at Swieti Sranang, a toko (takeaway counter) that specializes in Surinamese and Indonesian food.  We were served by the shop’s owner Juliet, who was born in Indonesia but grew up in Suriname.  She makes everything herself and was so proud to share the most amazing chicken satay smothered in a thick peanut sauce, which was served with pickled cabbage.

SPRENKELS FOR STROOPWAFELS

On our way to the  boat for the canal tour, we dove into a bag of stroopwafels, a sandwich of two thin waffles filled with a thick syrup, or stroop.  This is a Dutch favorite, and I spotted several people making fresh stroopwafels the next day when I visited the Albert Cuypmarket, the largest outdoor market in an area known as De Pijp. 

URKER FISH SHOP FOR HERRING AND COD

Perhaps the best known Amsterdam food tradition is raw herring, and I must admit I was a bit nervous to try it. We visited Urker Viswinkel, one of the best fish shops in the Jordaan neighborhood, for a sampling of the herring (which was brined and much milder than I expected). The herring was served on toothpicks with the Dutch flag, along with pickles and onions — a combination that is frequently served as a sandwich in stands throughout Amsterdam.

The Dutch are proud of their fish and chips, made with beer-battered deep-fried cod.  We tasted the kibbeling fresh out of the fryer and it was seriously the best fried fish I’ve tasted.  They brag that it’s better than what you can find in London, and I think they might be right.  We enjoyed our pieces of kibbeling dipped in remoulade while sipping tulip vodka.  Yes, tulip vodka! 

CANAL TOUR WITH BITTERBALLEN

Bitterballen was our treat on the boat, along with an iced cold local beer.  This is a favorite pub snack and you can hear our guide Rudolph describe these crunchy, fried balls as a “layer for the drinking.”  I rather enjoyed these popular beer snacks, which are like a fried bite of beef stew that you dip in mustard.

The canal boat ride is a must if you visit Amsterdam.  Loved the view of the city from the canal, and it was amazing to see all the boat houses, which are popular to rent for a week when visiting Amsterdam.

CAFE DE PRINS FOR POFFERTJES

After the boat ride, we visited Cafe de Prins, where we tried poffertjes — small puffy pancakes served with butter, syrup, and powdered sugar. Traditionally made with buckwheat flour and yeast to give them a light, fluffy texture, poffertjes are made with a special cast iron griddle that has small indentations across the surface. It requires this large iron for making these mini-pancakes (see below) so not everyone has the equipment at home.  That’s why poffertjes are often made outside in the open markets and fairs where they’re served up hot and fresh.  I loved watching them being made the next day when I visited the open market in De Pijp.

The Jordaan Food and Canals Tour was one of the highlights of my trip.  I would encourage you to reserve ahead of time if you’re interested in going.  Check out Eating Europe.

The group also conducts food tours in Rome, Florence, London, Prague and most recently Paris.

Amsterdam surprised me.  Charmed me.  Had me wanting more.  I can’t wait to go back.

Let me know about your experiences in Amsterdam.

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