In a city of such colour and character as Amsterdam, the only way to cut to the “real stuff” is to have a local take you around. And there’s a lot of real stuff to cut to; Viator’s Amsterdam Food Tour is packed with plenty of good eats, interesting information, and great conversation.
I met Davinia in Spui square, in central Amsterdam. And what a treat: today wasn’t a busy day and nobody else had booked. I had my own private guide!
We began our culinary adventure with a classic Dutch snack (borrowed from Belgium and adapted slightly) from a place equally classic: salty fries from Vleminckx Sausmeesters. With about as many sauces as Baskin Robbins has flavours, I had the standard favourite of mayonnaise (Dutch mayonnaise being a sweeter version of north American mayo). But there’s a huge variety of sauces; next time I’ll try the popular Patatje Oorlog (translating to “french fry war”), which is mayonnaise, peanut sauce, and chopped raw onions. While I munched on the takeaway fries, I learned the quirky history of this award-winning tiny establishment.
We moved along, the tour thankfully interspersing relaxed walking and conversation with what promised to be many food stops.
After strolling by flower market stalls galore, we went from salty to sweet with a variation on stroopwafels (thin waffle biscuits sandwiching a layer of chewy caramel syrup). We were after hopjeswafels, the popular specialty of a corner bakery, where the “wafels” are crispy thin cookies and the filling is more like honey.
There was no way I could finish mine, but Davinia urged me to take it with me, knowing I’d thank her for it at the day’s end when I wanted more (and I did).
The palate swung back to savoury (after some time to allow the sweet taste of the hopjeswafels to settle) with a stop for a classic snack favoured by the Scandinavians: raw herring, called nieuwe haring. It’s available at stands everywhere (look for the Dutch flag), and although the Dutch way to eat it is to grab it by the tail, throw your head back and eat it whole, it’s also served in pieces with chopped onion and sweet pickle – which is a perfect combination offsetting the salty herring and adding consistency. It’s not for everybody, but it was my favourite snack of the day.
After stopping in the quiet oasis of Amsterdam’s oldest inner courtyard (called Begijnhof), we poked our heads into a candy shop and I learned about the Dutch Christmas tradition – which starts on December 5th– of eating chocolate letters, and I tried my hand at some licorice.
No food tour of Amsterdam is complete without cheese, which is what we got at a large cheese shop, which illustrates the process of making it, and has samples of a dozen different kinds of cheese throughout the shop. I immediately understood the mischievous look in Davinia’s eye whenever she mentioned cheese throughout the tour, as I thoroughly enjoyed picking my favourites while roaming the store.
“You know cheese really is addictive?” Davinia asked, cheese-twinkle in her eye. Judging by my persistent craving for it now, I’m inclined to agree.
Walking over canals and through the narrow cobbled alleys of Amsterdam’s old quarter, our next mission was for bitterballen – or a version thereof. These ones in particular are croquettes and we got them from the large Dutch fast food chain FEBO, where food is served – or rather, accessed – from a rack of coin-operated vending machines! Again I tried the classic flavour of beef, but it was far from my favourite; I imagine I’d enjoy the version where the hard breadcrumb exterior hides a melted cheese interior instead.
I felt like we’d spent the whole day together as we covered an incredible amount of territory (and food), and just as my feet were starting to get tired, our last stop of the day was a distillery; a centuries old building practicing the equally old art of making brandiwine and jenever, the Dutch national drink, from which gin is derived. There’s something for everybody here with dozens of infusions and flavours.
Tradition has it that the tulip-shaped glasses are filled to almost overflowing, such that you must bend down and slurp the first sip of the drink straight from the glass before you pick it up.
Warm from the drink and the food, Davinia took her leave and we parted company after an excellent afternoon. I came away from the tour feeling like I better knew Amsterdam, and yet knowing even more so that I’d only just touched the surface.
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