One of my favorite things to do wherever I am is to eat (and drink) the local specialties - you probably also agree if you have found this article. This is a great way to live like a local. Amsterdam is a very multi-cultural destination with a huge variety of different ethnic cuisines as well as local specialties. Here are some of my favorites:
- Pancakes - Yes, pancakes. The Dutch pancake is more like an American crepe, served open-faced with all kinds of toppings. Being a vegetarian, I prefer Gouda cheese, or a Caprese style pancake (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella). You can also get them with just butter and/or sugar, with Nutella (of course!), with fruit and more. They are served more for lunch versus our usual breakfast pancake. And be sure to try the miniature sized “poffertjes” - they make great snacks!
- Rijsttafel - Dutch word that literally translates to "rice table" - this refers to an Indonesian-inspired meal consisting of many little dishes - sort of like tapas. If you know anything about Dutch history, you'll understand how this cuisine could have ended up in the Netherlands. Go hungry as you will receive a many little dishes such as Tempeh Blado (spicy and sweet tempeh), Saté (slightly spicy peanut sauce served with meat and veggies), and Sambal Goregn Telor (fried egg with Sambla sauce). However, don't worry about memorizing these names. You can just order the "rijsttafel" and they will just keep bringing out the dishes for you. Vegetarian friendly as well. Go hungry!
- Belgian Fries - OK, so I know that the Netherlands is not Belgium but you can still get Belgian-style french fries all over the Netherlands. Typically, the fries are served in a paper cone and you can get all types of toppings such as ketchup, curry (my favorite), peanut sauce or be like a local and order them with mayonnaise. The fry shops are usually counter service only but make a great pit-stop when walking around the city.
- Cheese - Gouda and Edam are probably already known to you as being types of cheese but you haven't really experienced them unless you've had the real Dutch versions. Gouda is more popular in day-to-day life versus Edam (the kind with the covered wax). You can get old Gouda (oude) or young Gouda (jonge) - so either aged or new. The aged is harder and is delicious when served with mustard (you'll see this as a bar food everywhere. Try it).
- Jenever - Dutch gin - this juniper-flavored liquor is the national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands (and Belgium if you don't count beer as a type of liquor!) There are two types of jenever (just like Gouda) - oude or jonge. This isn't due to aging but of distilling techniques. The jonge has a more neutral taste, like vodka. The oude jenever has a smoother, very aromatic taste. It is often aged in wooden barrels making it taste similar to whisky. Different grains used in the production process can produce different flavors. The drink is usually served in a shot sized tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim. Traditionally, you are supposed to keep it on the bar as you bend over and take a sip without touching the glass. There are still jenever bars in Amsterdam where you can do taste testing and drink it the traditional way.
- Beer - Amsterdam (and Europe in general) is quickly catching up to the U.S. in terms of craft beer popularity. There are several breweries within Amsterdam's city center. My favorite, and the most scenic, is Brouwerij 't Ij. This is located on the eastern side of the city not far from Artis zoo or the Tropenmuseum. What makes this brewery scenic is that it is located in the base of the windmill (easy landmark to spot when looking for the brewery!) There is a picnic area outside where you will be sure to meet locals and other travelers. Make sure to try some of their local specialty foods as well such as the cheese!