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When thinking of the Netherlands the mind usually conjures up images of tulips, windmills, maybe even Ruud Gullit’s dreads before getting to the matter of food. Once Gouda has been taken out of the question, it would be safe to say that many would be hard pushed to cite many more Dutch delicacies. With close neighbours with such strong culinary heritage surrounding them, most would overlook The Netherlands as a foodie destination. I must admit that I was equally guilty of this prior to a trip I took over the weekend, where I was prioritising catching up with some old friends, rather than tasting the highlights of Dutch cuisine. However, luckily for me, the two went hand in hand.

We arrived in Amsterdam early on Friday morning, after a long 12 hour bus and ferry combo which was interesting to say the least. Waiting for my host that weekend to emerge from bed and direct us to his much needed shower and freshen up, we waited it out in a nice little café near the central station. It may have just been my tired state of mind, but the superb latté I enjoyed set the tone for the rest of the weekend. After dropping our stuff off, we headed for a mid-morning snack at a chic little café nearby, where the delicious little Italian flatbread sandwiches filled with smoked chicken and roasted vegetables filled the void left by the long coach trip. Like all major European cities the influence of immigrant communities and the weaving of numerous different cultures are ever present, particularly in its food, and this is just as true in Amsterdam. Just walking through Rembrandtsplein where we were based, it was hard not to notice the vast array of cuisines on offer. From Indonesian seafood restaurants to the multitude of authentic Turkish shawarma, even more common was the prevalence of Surinamese food, a lasting culinary legacy of the Netherlands colonial past. As we had a short time in Amsterdam, and an even smaller budget, we decided to grab a bite on the go, and my friend took us to one of the best Falafel joints in the city. Very reasonable in price, the crisp and well spiced Falafel was arguably upstaged by the bountiful array of delicious goods on offer at the self-service salad bar, which surprised us with pickled carrots, spiced sauerkraut, and a rather deadly chilli sauce. Taking note from the locals ‘fill your boots’ technique, I liberally piled it high in a country known for its even more liberal mind set.

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Inherently a chilled out folk, even without the aid of the coffeehouse, the pace of life of the Dutch does seem to be a lot slower. As my friend attested, the Dutch have a great quality of life, and after doing a bit of window shopping at the beautiful houses around Amsterdam it’s easy to see why they have an appreciation of how to relax. A city with more bikes than cars, this might account for the less manic nature of Amsterdam as a European city, however, it may also be a way of the locals burning off some of the flavoursome but  highly calorific treats on offer everywhere. As youngsters with a fairly good metabolism, we were obviously obliged to taste them all. Firstly, we ventured into Febo, which I was very dubious about initially as I saw what looked like deep fried twinkies served in a vending machine. It turned out that the Dutch version of the croquette is a highly popular snack, and the ones served in Febo, which included delicious satay and crispy chicken variations, became a guilty pleasure of ours over the weekend. We also sampled the Dutch speciality Bittenballen, another deep fried delight filled with a stew like mix and served with mustard, which was once again delicious. A true taste of Dutch comfort food, we also hunted down a couple of plates of Stampot, and the delightful mix of cabbage, mash and sausage didn’t disappoint.

Whilst these hearty and flavoursome dishes were undeniably great, the true star of the weekend was the sweet treats. Firstly the Stroopwaffels, the famous caramel waffle sandwich, were even better than I remembered from my first visit, as the multitude of vendors selling them smeared Nutella liberally all over them. This true decadence was, however, blown out the water by another world famous Dutch speciality. Standing head and shoulders above most other desserts I have ever tasted, the apple pie from the unassuming Winkel was the best thing we tasted that weekend. Due to it’s world renowned reputation, the queues were out the door, so we decided to brave the cold and take a seat outside. Strictly serving one dish, Winkel’s pie better resembled a cake, with the melting spiced apple only trumped by the both gooey and crunchy pastry. Honestly, no words can describe that pie, but the real proof in the pudding was that we ducked in for a second (and third) helping just before we jumped on the plane home.

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Idling around Amsterdam dreaming about eating said pie again, we got a real feel for the city outside of the usual tourist haunts. With only one major supermarket chain, the locals seemed to have an appreciation for using the many markets, and artisan food purveyors on their door step. My host that weekend, whom was working at a high end butchers, had to work on the Saturday and invited us to check out the shop before we explored the city a little more. The shop was a carnivores paradise, and my eyes didn’t know where to look as some of the finest cuts from around the world were presented beautifully in front of us. My friend let us taste some of the Wagyu pastrami, which had an indescribable amount flavour packed into almost transparently thin slices, and he picked up two amazing Angus cotè de bouef’s which we gorged the following night. The Dutch seemed to have an incredible appreciation for meat, with Wagyu beef seemingly on offer everywhere. It even featured on menus in most burger joints, which on more than one occasion I had to reel my enthusiasm in for as soon as I saw the price. Besides the dubious spreadable variation on Steak Tartarè that was the Filet American, it was clear to see that the Dutch really understood good meat.

Moving significantly slower, and looking visibly more rotund, we were glad that we had splashed out for a flight home, as by the end of the weekend we had happily eaten anything we could get our hands on. Having said our farewells, I left Amsterdam with a new found appreciation for Dutch food. It may not be the technical master class of French cuisine, and Amsterdam is not the culinary melting pot that London is, but they definitely have a true appreciation for hearty, gutsy, flavoursome food that is available for all savour. No more will my first thought of Holland be about clogs, it will most definitely be of a Winkel apple pie.

Author – Jack Cliffe – Marketing and NPD Assistant

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