Amsterdam for Foodies: Around the World on a Plate

Amsterdam may not rival Paris, Rome, Hong Kong or virtually any other international capital as a foodie destination, but what it lacks in haute cuisine it makes up for in culinary diversity. Reflecting its multicultural population, the Dutch capital’s dining scene encompasses restaurants offering everything from Indonesian rijkstafel and Mediterranean cuisine to Argentinean barbecue, Middle Eastern fare and Dutch fusion.

Here’s how to cover several continents on a few plates.

Journey to Africa at Abyssinia in the Oud West.
Journey to Africa at Abyssinia in Amsterdam’s Oud-West.

Abyssinia: Journey to Africa in Amsterdam’s Oud-West

It’s cultural kitsch at its best in Amsterdam’s non-touristy Oud-West. In an interior designed to resemble an African hut, Abyssinia serves dishes once prepared by Ethiopian nobles. Bring friends and eat with your hands, sitting on rattan furnishings surrounded by baskets woven with geometric designs. If you like sweet beverages, order a mango, banana or coconut beer served in a calabash shell—good for washing down the spicy dishes. Or indulge in Abyssinia‘s honey wine or dark Hakim Stout imported from Ethiopia.

Come hungry and eat with your hands at Abyssinia.
Come hungry and eat with your hands at Abyssinia.

Your feast arrives on a silver platter, layered on a giant sourdough yeast pancake. There’s no cutlery, so yank a piece of the light, spongy base, envelope some meat or veggies and bring the morsel to your mouth. Savor Zegni, Ethiopia’s national dish made with beef or lamb, and Doro Wat, a chicken dish served at weddings and other special occasions. The cozy restaurant seats 35–40, so reservations are advised if you’re visiting on a weekend.

La Paella: Spanish Tapas off the Red Light District 

The night before, Kristi & I ate paella at El Centra in the RLD w/ Aussies Andrew & Rad.
Rich concoctions of saffron rice, chicken, rabbit and/or seafood feed several friends at La Paella.

You can make a satisfying meal of small tapas plates at La Paella, a tiny bistro near Amsterdam’s Red Light District known for Spanish delicacies like Patatas Bravas, Spanish Croquettes, Albóndigas and Chorizo Español. But the real deals here are the paellas—rich concoctions of saffron rice, chicken, rabbit, seafood and/or vegetables. At €14–20pp, they’re are not everyday meals. For special occasions and group sharing in a convivial atmosphere, they’re a treat.

You might not expect high quality in a restaurant on Warmoesstraat, where tourist traffic leaves most owners with little expectation of repeat business. Since 1985, that hasn’t deterred La Paella‘s José Luis Peira Ducan, known as Maño, from serving up authentic Spanish fare in a cozy hole-in-the-wall on one of the busiest streets in town. Born in Aragón, he and his family, together with Chef José Manuel Castro Gómez (who’s been behind the scenes for more than two decades), have brought a taste of northern Spain to Amsterdam.

Weekends are fiesta time at Roses.
Weekends are fiesta time at Rose’s.

Rose’s: Latin Flavors on Gay Street

Since 1982, Rose’s Cantina has been drawing locals for Latin flavors on a street known for its plethora of dining options and gay-friendly clubs. On a busy night, don’t expect intimacy or romance, as the Regulierswarstraat establishment is big, boisterous and noisy. If it’s a fiesta you’re after, this is the spot for killer nachos and Pan American favorites like chili con carne, enchiladas and empanada pastries.

For adventurous eaters, braised octopus and duck breast with pineapple-raisin salsa are on the menu. Enormous burgers are topped with jalapeños, melted cheddar, bacon and guacamole. At €18, they’re pricey but will feed two, especially if you order appetizers like ceviche, chicharrones or quesadillas. Finish off with chocolate mousse splashed with tequila, Dulce De Leche and crunchy sea salt. Wash it all down with a tiramisu, pomegranate or frozen fruit margaritas, or order a Jalapeno Margarita spiced with agave.

Rose’s is the brainchild of Casper Reinders of Jimmy Woo, Bocinq, Lion Noir and Chicago Social Club fame. Like the famed restaurateur’s other Amsterdam establishments, this one is unique―furnished with leather couches, Chesterfield chairs and exposed beams. The turquoise-green paint is an original recipe, fabricated to recreate a Mexican cantina.

Nam Kee: A Chinatown Favorite

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Oysters at Nam Kee.

Now immortalized in both a book and a movie, Nam Kee was a Chinatown favorite long before Dutch novelist Kees van Beijnum alerted foodies to oysters’ sensual pleasures in De Oesters van Nam Kee (The Oysters of Nam Kee). Operated since 1981 by the Chan family in Amsterdam’s Zeedijk, the Cantonese eatery was named “Best Chinese Restaurant in the Netherlands” by Lonely Planet in 2002 and recognized as “Best Chinese Restaurant in Amsterdam” by Time Out Amsterdam in 2009. In 2001, scenes from the book were shot on location at the restaurant.

Chicken with Black Bean Sauce at Nam Kee.
Chicken with Black Bean Sauce at Nam Kee.

The fabled Oysters of Nam Kee arrive steamy in their craggy shells, swimming in pools of silky bean sauce, garnished with crunchy scallions. My hot and sour soup was spicy, laden with shellfish chunks. My friend’s corn soup with shrimp and minced pork came thick and velvety. We shared an order of Chicken with Black Bean Sauce, rich with tender meat. For light eaters, dim-sum-size appetizers include classics like Chinese Spring Rolls, Fried Won Tons and Sesame Prawn Toast. Main dishes are more substantial and include such Cantonese specialties as Peking Duck and Salt and Pepper Squid redolent of peppercorns.

2 comments

  1. You’re speaking my language, Melissa! I just had a big plate of paella at a friend’s wedding last weekend and the paella pan was larger than my arm span! 🙂 I can’t wait to try this place!

    Like

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