I think I’m in love with food tours. I have often said that walking tours are a great way to get a ‘lay of the land’ when we first arrive in a city; food tours take it up a notch by taking us into the cafes and restaurants, hidden treasures and hole-in-the-walls that make a place. Do I want to take a jaunt around a culturally significant neighbourhood with new friends while tasting the best that a place has to offer? Yes, please!
My favourite part about these tours – well, besides the amazing food, of course – is the work that has obviously gone into researching the neighbourhood and finding the best that it has to offer. In fact Annamaria confided that she had gained 5 kilos in her pursuit of the tastiest apple pie, the freshest herring, the best bitterballen, and the most amazing broodje pom in the area. A sacrifice to be sure but one I am most definitely appreciative of. :)
The Amsterdam tour takes place in the historic Jordaan neighbourhood; an old working class section of the city with narrow streets and alleyways filled with cafes, butchers, shops and markets. Though working class no more (it is now one of the more hip, and expensive, areas of the city) it retains old world charm that hints at its past.
We started in one of the oldest ‘brown cafes’ in Amsterdam. With dark walls and smoke stained ceiling it’s easy to see why it’s called a ‘brown cafe’ – it takes years and years to gain character like this and Café Papeneiland has the pedigree having been around since about 1642! They make a mean Dutch Apple Pie here…of course here it’s just called ‘Apple Pie’ ;) Part cake, part sweet apple goodness, and part crumbly topping, it was the perfect start to our day together.
The Netherlands may be a small country but they have historically spread themselves across the world. It is inevitable that they would return with some of the best culinary secrets of the places they ‘visit’. Pom is one of the tastiest imports; chicken and malanga (a starchy taro-like veggie) are baked together for quite some time and then served on the freshest of bread alongside a pickly mixture with a spicy kick. Completely unexpected but absolutely delicious. This is a dish that I would have never discovered on my own but am so glad to have tried.
Another chance to try something we would not have otherwise – I mean, who walks into a butcher and just starts trying meat? We did! Louman’s has been around since 1860 and they know their meat! We tried the ossenwurst (a raw, smoked beef sausage) and the grillworst (a more traditional grilled sausage) – guess which won out? The raw, smoked sausage had a smooth texture and a sweet, soft, smoky flavour that was the favourite of everyone on the tour!
We were lucky enough to be in the Netherlands during the time of the Neuwe Haring (or New Herring) season – a chance to try the freshest fish the North Sea has to offer. Here they eat it raw with onions and pickles – being a huge sushi fan it’s no surprise that I loved this although others in the group were not quite so keen. It’s worth a try though – a fresh, oceany flavour that, for locals, heralds the arrival of spring.
Have you tried Dutch liquorice? They like it salty. Very salty. At Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje we tried a range – from the sweeter version saved for children to the salty versions (although not the locally favoured double-salted) and the flavoured treats also. I’m not ashamed to admit that the kiddy version was enough for me!
There are many ways to discover the secrets of Amsterdam but seeing it from the water is very special. Seeing it from one of the oldest salon boats on the canals is beyond special. We had noticed The Tourist from afar a few days prior; with its gleaming wood and stately presence it was hard not to notice as it docked next to one of the most prestigious hotels in the area. We had chatted about taking a canal cruise while in town and joked about how it most likely wouldn’t be on such a beautiful vessel. Imagine our surprise when Captain Bruné welcomed us aboard for a floating tour of the city!
While being treated to some of the best views and stories of the marine history of the area we enjoyed bubbly wine, Dutch Gouda cheese, beer from the local Brouwerij ‘t IJ, and other treats delivered to the boat from the canal side as we sailed along. What a treat!
The only other food related item on my to-do list in Amsterdam was the pannekoek, or pancake. Luckily Annamaria came through at our final stop where we were able to fill up on poffertjes with an excellent cup of coffee. These ‘little ones’ are dense and sweet – a full meal in themselves!!
This was the end of the official food tour but, as is our tradition, we ended our afternoon at a local watering hole. Wynand Fockink is more than a funny name; it’s one of the oldest jenever bars in the city. As the lady behind the counter will tell you, jenever is NOT gin – the English tried to replicate jenever but used too much juniper and ruined it – THAT’S what gin is. Regardless, I have become quite a fan of having a glass of the clear, bitter, liquor along with a nice glass of pilsner. Now that’s how to end the afternoon!
Interested in taking a tour while in Amsterdam? (and you should be!) Check out the Eating Amsterdam Food Tours website or the EatingAmsterdam Facebook Page for more info. I can’t think of a better way to get under the skin of a place than through its food – definitely worth it.