Amsterdam isn't the first name that springs to mind when you think about culinary excellence. However, the Dutch capital attracts crowds of food lovers with the unique quality of local cuisine and the fact that portions are larger and cheaper than anywhere else in northern Europe. Regardless of whether you're on holiday or a business trip, Amsterdam's restaurants are certain to become your favourite places to enjoy the genuine flavour of the city.
Contemporary Dutch cuisine has been shaped by the Netherlands' cultural and agricultural history. Interestingly, it's based primarily on vegetables, with various types of meat serving only as an occasional addition. The Dutch cooking tradition might not be diverse and sophisticated, but it's certainly healthy. The exclusive use of organic products and a wide range of exotic spices makes the final result worth trying.
Dutch classics include hutspot, which is a vegetable and potato mash garnished with fried chops or sausage and served with gravy. Local restaurants usually serve brawn, made from pork liver, meat, raisins, buckwheat and cinnamon, as well as a kind of thick puree soup made from dried split peas, ham hock and smoked sausage. Excellent Dutch cheese and fresh fish from the North Sea also make up the core of the country's cuisine.
There are as many options for eating out in Amsterdam as there are restaurants. International, fusion, exotic, vegetarian and local dishes all clearly mark their presence on the culinary scene of the city, which boasts over 1,000 venues. Exclusive restaurants sit next door to small cafés with comfortable sofas where you can chat the afternoon away with your friends over a cup of delicious coffee.
One interesting kind of cuisine can be found at the numerous ethnic venues scattered around the city. Authentic Indian food is prepared at Taj Mahal, and North Indian 'Swadish' specialities can be tasted at Vijaya Amsterdam and Mayur. Me Naam Naan serves extraordinary Thai food, and marvellous Chinese and Japanese dishes can be enjoyed at a number of restaurants around the city centre.
For a great sampling of local delights, stop by Haesje Claes. Enthusiasts of international cuisine will be impressed with the creative menu at Blue Pepper. For an interesting restaurant experience, ask around for the so-called 'squat restaurants'. These unconventional eateries are usually situated in abandoned buildings and need to be notified of the time of your arrival in advance. Keep in mind that there's no established menu, and customers can only order from a list of specialities of the day.
In the Netherlands, the words 'café' and 'bar' can be used interchangeably in most cases. Traditional Dutch pubs are called 'brown cafés.' The capital offers a multitude of venues to suit every taste and mood. Everyone from couples in search of a small, cosy bar to loud football fans looking for a place to watch a game will find their perfect spot. Café Toussaint, with its bright atmosphere and creative snacks, is a perfect choice for vegetarians. The Satellite Sports Café offers a full English breakfast, fish and chips, pancakes and an opportunity to watch sports events live on a big screen. At Eetcafé De Groene Olifant, you can enjoy a high-quality fusion of Japanese, French and Indian cuisine. Eetcafé De Toog is another great venue for international food. All bars and restaurants usually stay open late on Friday and Saturday nights.
Dutch pancakes, or pannekoeken, are larger and thinner than standard pancakes and are best ordered at a pannekoekenhuis, which is the local term for a pancake house. Many restaurants offer pancakes as a dessert option, but pancake houses remain the most authentic place to taste them. The delicious smell of this fresh-made treat attracts crowds of both locals and tourists. Pancakes can be served sweet or salty, and with a variety of fillings including ham, cheese, sugar syrup, jellied fruit, chocolate, etc. At Meneer Pannekoek, they’re prepared with smoked salmon, crunchy chicken or mixed-flavour cream. The Satellite Sports Café offers you the chance to create your own pancakes. Children are usually delighted with these places, as most of them include special sections with colourful tables and little chairs. Pancake houses usually remain open until at least 9 pm.
Travellers looking for cheap eateries should visit the area around Amsterdam's old university. A self-service student restaurant called Atrium offers cheap but tasty meals. Located in a glass-covered courtyard of a university hall, it becomes fairly crowded at lunchtime. The menu includes mixed Dutch salads, soups, noodles and Indonesian rice croquettes. Delicious dishes at affordable prices are also served at the Bojo Eatery near Leidseplein. The place remains open until the early morning hours, so drop by on your way home from a night out in order to try their boiled rice served with great rice cakes.