Monday, 28 May 2007
Don't go to Holland for the native cuisine
This is my last word on Amsterdam, like all travel writers (snort!), I can't leave without saying something about what and where to eat. The starting point on the subject is easy; start from the here: DON'T EAT DUTCH FOOD; that is unless you like herring, and potato, and sometimes cabbage, and pea soup. Our Rough Guide to Amsterdam had pointed out the paucity of Dutch cuisine so were a little anxious about what we might eat; and true to form the guide was right. There were about three reasonably priced Dutch restaurants in Amsterdam and, temptingly emblazoned on their blackboards outside was: herring, potato, cabbage and pea soup - no lie.
But be not downhearted. I have already mentioned that the Dutch are a practical nation and their pragmatism extends to their attitude to eating. Faced with a native menu that is about as exciting as day time television, they do what any pragmatic nation would do: have restaurants from every other culture under the sun. In the area of the city that extends from the top of Vondelpark to the Prinsengracht, there are dozens of excellent, reasonably priced restaurants ranging from Italian to Indian and Indonesian to French - no English funnily enough.
My advice on where to eat is to ignore whatever it says in the Rough Guide. Simply take a stroll and check out which places look popular - menus and staff change too quickly, in my view, to be able to rely on a guide written twelve months ago. Before I tell you where we did eat though, I need to qualify something I said in an earlier post when I railed against the generic nature of Amsterdam's shopping centre: full of shops you might see in any other main city - McDonalds, H & M, Next etc. I am not entirely against global chains; at least not now at any rate. Whilst I would love every shopping centre and city to be full of unique shops and local traders I cannot discount entirely our discovery of Wagamama, the casual worldwide noodle eating experience: it is fabulous. An eclectic clientèle sat on benches with long tables and just the right distance between you to be matey, if you like and absorbed in each other if you don't - there is probably a scientific formula for that distance. The menu is an imaginative mix of noodle dishes and other very reasonably priced oriental fare; and the service is friendly and refreshingly efficient. In the spirit of adventurous journalism, I was tempted to investigate a desert that consisted of a kebab of lychees and pineapple, dusted with grated coconut and - wait for it- fresh chilli; sounds so wrong but was oh so right, as the poet said. I can't wait for an excuse to investigate our Manchester Wagamama .
So that is Amsterdam done with; and not before time: yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, or Whit Sunday, as it is known around here. Why do I tell you this? Because that means Friday is Whit Friday one of the most important days of the year around here; but before I spoil it by telling you the plot, I'll sign off - you'll have to wait and see.