Whether it's local cheese, poffertjes or even cannabis popsicles, a visit to the Dutch capital and nearby towns is filled with local eats.
Poffertjes — small spongy pancakes trickled with syrup and butter and sprinkled with sugar — were laid before us on the long communal table. This was the first of an eight-course, four-hour guided food and walking tour of Amsterdam’s Jordaan.
Palates piqued by poffertjes, our little group walked, talked and ate their way around neighbourhood delicatessens, fish shops, bakeries and cafes. We sampled salt herring with chopped onion, salamis, Gouda cheese, tulip liquor, kibbeling (battered and deep fried cod), bitterballen (beef and veal meat balls), chicken satay and Dutch beers.
Our tour ended back on Prinsengracht Canal at Cafe Papeneilan for Dutch apple pie, ice-cream and stroopwafel. Eventually at 3pm, we waddled back to our hotel, crossing cycle lanes with the utmost care.
We have taken a number of cruises from Amsterdam and make the most of our pre or post-cruise time there. We stay in small hotels, within walking distance of the city’s transportation and information hub — Centraal Station. At the station’s Amsterdam Visitors Centre, we pick up prepaid I Amsterdam City Cards. These cards provide city transportation and entry to most museums and attractions, as well as discounts at restaurants, retail outlets and bicycle rentals.
Having already experienced the van Gogh, Stedelijk and Rijksmuseums on earlier visits, late on our second morning we trammed back to the leafy Museum Park (Museumplein) to line up for the legendary Junkyard Dawg at the Food Crib, one of the park’s fast-food kiosks. This notoriously non-cultural Dutch bratwurst comes enveloped in cheese, piccalilli and sauerkraut.
In need of a little exercise, we walked 10 minutes to Vondel Park. Treasured by Amsterdammers, it is an escape to tranquil lakeside picnics, quiet shaded glades, well-manicured lawns and English gardens. We sipped cool drinks on the terrace of the lakeside Vertigo Pavilion and, before leaving the park, pondered the abstract concrete Fish sculpture by Pablo Picasso.
That evening, we joined the promenade on Nieuwendijk Street in the warren of streets and alleys of the red light district.
The China Si-Chuan restaurant on Zeedijk St is known for its excellent spicy food. We ordered dumplings and then Sichuan chicken with fresh vegetables. We walked back to our hotel with palate-cooling tiramisu ice-cream waffle cones.
After a Dutch breakfast of wholegrain bread, cheeses, smoked herring, orange juice and kaffee, we headed down to Waterlooplein Square. Overlooked by the historic Mozes en Aaronkerk Church, the Waterlooplein Flea Market offers for sale an eclectic mix of items including old cameras, manual coffee grinders, vintage clothing, ancient bikes, Delft china, Dutch prints and ... cannabis popsicles at €1 each ($1.60) or €7 for 10.
A block away in the quiet Jewish quarter, the Jewish Historical Museum occupies an old Ashkenazi Synagogue. Artefacts include a collection of ceremonial scrolls, robes, silver and jewelled pieces. A separate collection of paintings, photographs and personal letters tell of the persecution and deportation of Dutch Jews during World War II.
The Hermitage Amsterdam Museum is a ten-minute walk from the Jewish quarter. This smaller but excellent museum in the Amstelhof building (1683) is a satellite of its legendary namesake, the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Carefully selected artworks from the vast collection in St Petersburg are rotated through the museum in Amsterdam every six months. The exhibit Portrait Gallery of the Dutch Golden Age by 50 different Dutch masters was showing when we visited.
We had planned to take a couple of day train trips to nearby historic Dutch towns. Our first day trip from Amsterdam was to Gouda (pop. 70,000), a pleasant fifty-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station through the lush green pastures of “cheese valley”. It was Thursday, and Thursday is Gouda’s cheese market day and we didn’t want to miss it.
Gouda cheeses were piled in neat rows in front of the ornate 15th Century Gothic Stadhuis, Old Town Hall. Farmers in traditional Dutch clothing stood by their cheeses, while merchants in white smock coats walked between the rows tapping, sniffing and tasting the cheeses and doing deals.
This lively and entertaining auction takes place in Gouda’s Market Square from April to August between 10am and 1.30pm. Of course, there is more to Gouda than cheese and most of this walkable city’s historic sites are within minutes of the market.
It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so before catching the train back to Amsterdam, we stopped at Brownies and Downies a little cafe just off the Market Square. We ordered kaffee and a selection of their specialist brownies, plus a gift pack to go.
Our next day trip was to The Hague (Den Hague), the Netherlands’ capital and third-biggest city (pop. 521,000), also just under a one-hour train ride from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. Outside The Hague Train Station a vintage hop-on, hop-off tourist tram squeaked to a halt. We boarded, then hopped off outside the Maurithuis Art Museum.
We wanted to see Johannes Vermeer’s painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Having seen the movie and read the book, we wanted to see the real thing and were soon standing in front of the beguiling artwork. The model’s identity is unknown so author Tracy Chevalier created Griet, a servant girl, for her novel.
Back on the tram, we rattled around the city sights to Scheveningen Beach, the Netherlands’ popular North Sea resort. A brisk walk in the fresh sea air raised an appetite which was soon satisfied with kiosk kibbeling, onion rings and chips.
On our last evening, we returned to Jordaan’s de vergulde Gaper Cafe on Prinsengraat. Tables still lined the canal wall, the beer was still cold and their cheese bacon burgers and Dutch fries were as good as we remembered.