This is a tour of little heroes; little food heroes enjoyed while exploring one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful and historic districts. Over four hours we followed local host Anna Maria, wandering through the Jordaan discovering tasty tidbits and interesting characters that revealed far more about Amsterdam and the Dutch than I have learned in all my many previous visits put together.
AndI have been to Amsterdam many times before. Mr Wandering Kiwi is half Dutch and although we always love visiting I have to be honest and say that he has always been fairly unenthusiastic about Dutch food. Apart from my ongoing obsession with poffertjes (those tiny light heroes of the pancake world that come smothered with butter and powdered sugar) I have not been able to defend the cuisine of the Netherlands. Until now.
Why a food tour in the Jordaan?
The Jordaan was built as working class accommodation in the early 15th century and the name comes from the Dutch word for garden. So, you will find many streets named for flowers – a sop I suppose to keep the workers happy.
Similarly to the Gracia neighbourhood I explored last month in Barcelona, the Jordaan is these days more trend-setting than blue-collar. However, this neighbourhood has retained a unique character with its own architectural style, its own music scene and even dialect – Jordaanese. Perhaps what really sets the Jordaan apart is attitude. There is a particular sense of humour in this little village. You can see that even in the decoration of the many cute boutiques and independent galleries.
Whatever you do in Amsterdam, make time for coffee and cake at Papeneiland Café overlooking the Prinsengracht canal. This is one of the city’s classic ‘brown cafes’, so-called because of their dark wooden interior, and it is one of the oldest in Amsterdam. The café dates from 1641 and the same family have been running it for the past 100 years.
Café Papielland is famous for its friendly hospitality and for its apple pie. Dutch apple pie is a bit different from the usual. It uses special apples that are thinly sliced and retain their shape. The crust is firm and just a little crunchy, more like cake than pastry. As our guide Anna Maria declared: “There is never a bad time to have apple pie”. With coffee at mid-morning is certainly a perfect time.
The name is a combination of the Dutch slang word for catholics – papen – and the word for island because during the Reformation the Calvanists drove the catholic church underground and it is said there is a secret tunnel from the café, under the canal, to what was once a secret church.
You would probably discover Papeilland Café for yourself with a bit of internet trip research but I doubt very much whether you would ever stumble across our next stop on the tour. Our next food hero was a piece of ripe plantain, battered and deep friend then drizzled with a divine peanut sauce. Perhaps not typically Dutch food? Juliet, an Indonesian/Surinamese/Chinese, long-time-Amsterdam-dweller, lines up a buffet of fresh, spice-laden dishes at Swieti Sranang.
A canal cruise in Amsterdam
Part of the tour had us take to the water, as you must do in Amsterdam. The elegant ‘Touristen’ is over 100 years old and has hosted some famous visitors over the years, including Winston Churchill at the celebration of the liberation of Amsterdam after the Second World War. This canal boat is 85% original but it has been converted to electric power so it glides through the waterways and offers a very different experience from the noisy tourist boats in Amsterdam.
On board we tried a few types of cheeses that certainly lived up to the reputation of the Dutch as great cheesemakers. Did you know that they have found cheese making equipment in Holland dating back to 200 years before Christ?
Then came one of my favourite moments of the tour. Anne Marie poured out some locally-made, 8% triple-brewed Dutch beer but in Holland it is not right to enjoy a beer without a savoury, deep-fried snack of some description. So the boat pulled into the side of a canal for a moment and a long hooked pole descended from the bank.
The large paper bag offered by the lady from the Patisserie Holtkamp was full of my new favourite Dutch treat. Bitte bollen are crumbed balls filled with a creamy veal ragout. Once upon a time the Batavians would have made them out of leftover stewed ox. Nowadays they are simply a savoury taste sensation that I can’t wait to re-acquaint myself with the next time I visit Amsterdam.
Delicious Dutch food
And so it went on, little hero after tasty hero. Meats and seafood, sweets, and of course my adored poffertjes. All the best examples of Dutch food, each with a story behind it and a laugh enjoyed as it was devoured. History is never far away in Amsterdam and many of the building facades in the Jordaan sport a sign that indicates the trade that was once plied there. Above a halal butcher is a 17th-century sign that says “the fat pig” so the new proprietors have made sure to call their shop “the fat calf”. It’s that Jordaan attitude again.
One last thing. Much as I adored the history and atmosphere of Papielland Café, I have to break the news that in fact it does not serve the best apple pie in Amsterdam. The following day I went cycling around the city, as you do, and of course cruised around the charming streets of the Jordaan again. In the course of this wandering I discovered that just around the corner from Papielland is another Jordaan café – Winkel (which is the word for shop in Dutch) – that had an even more incredible apple pie.
Although this place had nothing like the history or ambiance of Papeneilland, the pie was straight out of the oven fresh and is the best apple pie in the world. Really. Sorry darling Anna Maria but you heard it here.
By Natasha von Geldern
What is your favourite Dutch food?
Many thanks to Eating Europe for hosting me on the Jordaan Food and Canal Tour in Amsterdam. The Wandering Kiwi family travelled by ferry to Holland with Stena Line, from Harwich to the Hook of Holland ready to enjoy our road trip around Holland and Belgium. As always my opinions and obsessions remain entirely my own.
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