The city has worked hard in recent years to shake off its potatoes and pancakes reputation, and to unleash its inner chowhound. Cue the Michelin-starred Dutch tapas, Bloody Mary brunches and organic microbrews, all served with a dose of Amsterdam ingenuity and conviviality. Loosen the belt for an indulgent 48 hours in the Netherlands' capital.
Brunch is quite the thing 'to do', and the trendy neighbourhood of De Pijp is the place to do it. Take your pick: try vivacious Bakers & Roasters for banana nutbread French toast and spicy Bloody Marys; cool, blond-wood Scandinavian Embassy for salmon on Danish rye bread and excellent cold-brewed coffee; or art deco CT Coffee & Coconuts for buckwheat porridge and juices such as the Sweetie (a sweet potato, apple, pear and ginger combo).
Stroll over to gaze and graze at the Albert Cupymarkt, also in De Pijp. Vendors from Indonesia, Suriname, Morocco and other countries hawk electronics, clothing and spices in the half-mile-long street bazaar, but you're here for the Dutch snack stalls. First thing to munch: a classic herring sandwich. The standard comes with a fleshy piece of fish on a fluffy white roll, topped with pickles and chopped onions. Several purveyors sell them. Next, follow your nose to the cinnamon-scented stroopwafel maker. Resistance is futile when it comes this traditional treat of two cookie-esque waffles held together by thick caramel syrup.
Make the pilgrimage to Ron Gastrobar, a 20-minute walk from the Museum Quarter. Chef Ron Blaauw is a hero to local food lovers and no wonder – the Netherlands native serves Michelin-starred cuisine at modest prices (no dish costs more than €15), and in a comfy space with no minimum order restrictions. It's a great spot to sample contemporary twists on vintage Dutch recipes, say smoked eel drizzled with sweet wine sauce or potatoes with shrimp and lobster gravy.
Join the Amsterdammers hobnobbing at De Hallen, where a cinema, bike-recycling store, fashion boutiques and design shops pack a revamped, century-old tram depot. The most popular (and aromatic) facet is the food hall where more than 20 vendors waft fare from oysters to chocolate tarts to gourmet croquettes, along with beer and wine. Stake out a sturdy wooden table and nibble the afternoon away, especially if the weather blusters.
Amsterdam is no exception when it comes to the microbrewery trend. Brouwerij Troost and Brouwerij De Prael both brew a wide range of suds to quaff in their hip tasting rooms. But it's hard to beat Brouwerij 't IJ, where fresh beer flows beneath a massive windmill in the Plantage district. Hopheads salivate over the Struis (barley wine) and Columbus (dark ale). They're both a head-walloping 9% alcohol, so order some cheeses, sausages and other bar snacks to take the edge off.
Time to try Indonesian food. The Netherlands' former colony knows how to spice up a meal. Plunge in with a rijsttafel – or 'rice table' – which brings a dozen or so tiny dishes such as braised beef, chicken satay and stewed eggs to the table. It's served with white rice and meant to be shared. Dèsa, in De Pijp, wins praise, but remember this wherever you go: pedis (pronounced 'p-dis') means hot, and Indonesian cooks know how to stoke hellfire intensity.
Gartine is a lovely little cafe that hides on a quiet street amid the centre's hubbub. Simple dishes – yogurt with blueberries and lavender syrup, and pancakes with smoked salmon and crème fraîche – arrive on mismatched china under the antique chandelier. Or head to Letting for a classic breakfast of wentelteefjes (the local version of French toast) and orange juice in the cafe-strewn Western Canals neighbourhood.
Spend an hour or so browsing Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk, two streets running just west of the central train station that are loaded with gastronome favourites. Walking from the east you'll encounter Vinnies Deli for superbly inventive sandwiches (and furniture), and Petit Gâteau for tempting mini-tarts. Just off the main drag, on the Binnen Dommersstraat, Toki serves top-notch coffee in the beautiful a terrazzo sitting area.
Bistro Bij Ons not only looks retro, it cooks retro. Settle in at the cosy dark tables and check out the homey knick-knacks before tucking into traditional Dutch stamppot (potatoes mashed with another vegetable and served with smoked sausage and bacon) and pan-fried mussels with curry. If your Dutch grandma were making your lunch, the experience would be much like this.
Devote the afternoon to the most famous of local foods: cheese. Pop into De Kaaskamer, a Western Canals shop whose name translates to 'cheese room', and learn to distinguish your Gouda (rich and creamy) from Edam (slightly drier) by sampling the wares. To really become an expert, sign up nearby for the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting class where you can try six varieties while guides explain the differences in look, smell and taste.
You can't leave town without sipping a jenever (Dutch gin). The city centre holds several age-old tasting houses where the malty elixir arrives in a tulip-shaped shot glass filled to the brim. Tradition dictates that you bend over the bar, with your hands behind your back, and take a deep sip. Try it at Wynand Fockink, which also runs distillery tours, or Proeflokaal de Ooievaar.
Still craving Dutch food? Greetje puts a mod, organic spin on conventional fish and meat dishes, and it finishes with awesome desserts (looking at you, apple-topped bread pudding). Intrepid types can seek out Hotel de Goudfazant, a punk, industrial, French-influenced restaurant set in an enormous garage in the hip-happening Noord district.
Before you go: tips & advice
- For most restaurants you'll need to phone ahead to make a reservation; many also allow you to book online.
- Book a foodie tour in advance. Hungry Birds focuses on street food and markets.