Michael and I volunteered at Project Open Hand recently (check it out, they are amazing) and happened to talk to a fellow volunteer about traveling. She asked us how we usually plan our travels – what we do during trips and what our day looks like. Honestly, it depends a lot on where we go. If we happen to be on a beach you’d probably find us laying in half shade with books in our hands staring out into the ocean. Occasionally Michael will risk his life surfing or boogie boarding, and we like snorkeling a lot even if I am terrified of fish. Other times, we hike or kayak or wander but the one thing that ties all of our trips together is food. We really like to eat and we are very open to trying new foods. Thankfully our fairly active lifestyle keeps us from showing our love of food… well, mostly.
When we started our month in Europe we had cities and dates and a list. Our friends and coworkers contributed to some sightseeing suggestions and a few restaurants and pastry shops, but we don’t like itineraries. Our vacation was just that a vacation and who wants to follow a strict timeline when you’re trying to forget all about schedules? So how did we plan our day? We picked neighborhoods to visit each day based on where we wanted to eat! This was especially true for Paris because there is so much ground to cover, but food in general is how we planned.
Amsterdam was one of our favorite stops and was also our first stop. It has an amazing history, gorgeous architecture, narrow streets, and bikes and bikes galore. It was friendly to non Dutch speaking tourists as well though I’d recommend practicing your courtesies, even if you learn them on your flight on the way there like me. Dutch language is one of my favorites. It sounds like bubbles and is really fun to pronounce. Words like Alstublieft (please), Dank je wel (thank you) and Tot Ziens! (goodbye) might come in handy, and if you aren’t going to Amsterdam anytime soon you should try working them into everyday conversation just for fun.
The food in Amsterdam was really really good. I’m not a huge meat and potatoes person (we knew we’d encounter a great deal of it based on all of the placed we were visiting) but I can say I never tired of it and really grew to love it by the end of our journey. It’s peasant food and comfort food and it warms you from the inside out.
Our first night in town we ate at De Reiger (Heron Restaurant) in the Jordaan. They are known for their ribs and make amazing mussels and fries. They don’t take reservations so make sure you go and get your name on a list before you get too hungry. We stayed in an amazing airbnb apartment on a canal so we were able to cook a little while we were there.
We rode bikes almost every day. We had two bikes as a bonus with our apartment and only skipped riding them when it was pouring rain. The city is small and easy to get around once you get your bearings. It’s also really flat so biking is the main source of transportation. Hurray for bikes! Bikes offer a freedom of exploration to stop anywhere that looks nice. One of those stops should be Winkel. We sat here on a rainy day and drank mint tea and shared a giant slice of apple pie. Yum. A recommendation of one of our best friends who probably ate pie every day while in Amsterdam. The mint tea is not what I expected. I think it’s a Moroccan thing, but you basically get a steaming hot glass of water with a giant handful of mint inside served with honey. Simple and surprisingly delicious. The pie was very good with an exceptionally flaky crust. While you’re on this side of town go explore Vondelpark, take a book and relax in the sun (hopefully it doesn’t rain on you!).
We highly recommend staying far far far from the red light district. It’s terrible and full of touristy gimmicks and cheap souvenirs and a ton of people who will go home and have no idea what Amsterdam is really like. We walked through in about 20 minutes just to see what all the fuss was about, but in reality the whole district was really depressing.
We had an amazing dinner experience at DeKas. The restaurant is nestled on the outskirts of the centraal on a small chunk of land they use to farm some of the produce the serve, the rest is sourced locally. You dine in a greenhouse and are surrounded on all sides by gardens. They also have some resident storks living atop an abandoned chimney which sound a lot like pterodactyls. Our prix fixe menu consisted of three small salads, a main, and a dessert. I wish more restaurants plated shared dishes like DeKas. It is so annoying to go to a small plates restaurant and get three of something when you have four people. DeKas was completely catered to serving the exact amount to each diner. Attention to detail here is key and the waitstaff was knowledgeable, professional and well spoken. If you go here, make sure you plan your reservation far in advance, pack a nice outfit, and get ready for an amazing meal.
Coming back to reality after a decadent meal, you should try some Poffertjes. They are sweet, puffy pancakes (not to be confused with the infomercial sensation “pancake puffs“). They are what Michael and I assume is the Dutch equivalent of funnel cakes and are probably best eaten sitting by a canal. There are multiple pancake places in the city, two recommended are La Piccola or The Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht. Some other things you can do besides eat: Walk the 9 Straatjes (9 Streets) for great shops and bars; Explore the De Pijp; visit the Anne Frank Haus; learn a bit of history at the Amsterdam Museum.
My last food recommendation is Moeders. Yes, it means Mothers, and just in case you didn’t know (because we didn’t) Vaders is father (Darth Vader = Dark Father). The walls are covered by pictures of people’s moms and I think they are still accepting new photos so bring a picture of your mom! I had an amazing hash (yes I willingly ordered beef) which was rich and tender and served with mashed potatoes and red cabbage. It was so amazing I vowed to find a recipe and recreate it when we got home. I did! See below.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time here, even though 4 days is not long enough. We are definitely going back. I know this is only a small glimpse of our trip so please feel free to comment and ask questions and I’d be happy to help in any way I can. Stay tuned for the second stop on our trip, Brussels Belgium.
Here are the recipes I made in Minnesota during our Christmas Holiday and think you should make them too. Especially if you’re freezing in the East right now. They are so good I want them as I’m typing this….
Dutch Stewed Beef
- 2 lb stewing beef (1 kg) cut into medium chunks and patted dry
- 3 T butter (50 g)
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 3 large onions, finely chopped
- 3 1/4 cups low sodium beef stock (750 ml)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp juniper berries
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- 2 T molasses
Heat a cast iron pot and butter. Sear meat on all sides being careful not to crowd the pan. (Cook in batches if necessary). Once the meat is browned return all to the pan and add onion. Cook until onion begins to caramelize. Add remaining ingredients to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook stirring occasionally for 3-4 hours. Be sure the liquid level stays high enough to cover the meat. Near the end of the cooking time, remove the lid and allow the liquid to reduce and thicken. The meat should almost fall apart at this point. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and any other berries you can find. If it seems too runny, add 2 T cornstarch to a small bowl and whisk in some of the cooking liquid. Stir into meat and cook for at least 10 minutes. Serve with Mashed Potatoes and Red Cabbage.
Dutch Red Cabbage
I changed almost nothing from this amazing recipe I found online
- 2 T butter
- 1 medium head of red cabbage, sliced thin
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 tart apples peeled, cored and diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves
- 3 T red wine vinegar
- 1 T brown sugar
- 1/2 C red wine
- Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
In a very large skillet with a lid, heat the butter and cinnamon. Cook until fragrant. Add in the onion and cook until translucent. Add the cabbage, red wine and vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes and add apples. Cover and cook another 45 minutes. (I probably cooked mine for 1 hour and 15 minutes because my meat wasn’t ready). Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Serve warm.