Amsterdam – Jordaan food tour with Eating Amsterdam (Netherlands part 3 of 5)
Once we got the museums and The Hague under control we were ready to explore the food scene in Amsterdam. I had a few food items on my “list” and a lot of them revolved around breakfast: dutch pancakes, dutch baby (a puffed pancake, but turned out they never heard of it) and the little pillowy pancakes they call poffertjes. In the street foods department I had stroopwafel (waffles) and dutch fries on the list. There were other local foods to try and of course Dutch cheese, cheese and more cheese.
One of the best ways to explore the food scene is with a food tour and I booked the Jordaan Food and Canal Tour with Eating Amsterdam. I have been on tours with this company in other European cities and like the format, quality of guides and there is always plenty to see and taste. Our guide Rudolf was knowledgeable and offered a lot of information about local history.
The Jordaan district is a foodie’s heaven. Much like Testaccio in Rome and Cockneys in London, this is a working class neighbourhood and is full of food specialty shops and restaurants representing the multicultural character of the city. The Jordaan begins near the train central station and stretches along the Grachtengordel (canal ring).
Many of the buildings that now house apartments used to be warehouses and storage facilities for businesses dating back to the 17th century. You can identify these buildings by the wooden shutters over the windows. These spaces have now been converted into spacious loft apartments. The Jordaan district is very much a family neighbourhood and you see many parents riding their bikes with the kids in the back seat.
The Anne Frank house is also in this neighbourhood and if you have read the book you may remember her listening to the reassuring sounds of the Westerkerk (West Church) bells ring. There is a saying that the Jordaan district extends to where you can hear the bells ring. Rembrandt, who lived in the Jordaan taking advantage of the cheaper rent back then, is buried in this church.
In previous centuries there were no house numbers on the buildings’ facades and the owners were identified by a stone tablet that announced their occupation. It’s fun walking around noticing these messages from the past. A butcher may have a pig, a writer would have a quill, a locksmith, a key etc…
The food tour group met at a landmark Cafe Papeneilnd, one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam in continuous operation since 1642. The name means Pope’s Island, referring to the hidden Catholic churches in Amsterdam in the 1600s when they were prohibited (Amsterdam was Protestant) and had to carry their operation in hiding.
Papeneilnd is a small and compact cafe decorated with dark brown wood and delft blue tile, located on one of the most picturesque canals of Amsterdam at the edge of the Jordaan district.
The cafe is known for its apple cake, considered one of the best in the city. Being an apple dessert “connoisseur” (I’ll take apple desserts over chocolate (almost) anytime, sincere apologies to the chocolate people out there), I have to say it was one of the best I have tasted. The cake is made with sour apples and a thick crust and hits the balance between sweet and tangy to perfection.
On the wall hangs a letter from Bill Clinton who visited the café when he was president, stayed for several hours visiting with patrons and ordered a few of the apple cakes to go, to share with his staff back at the hotel. You can see a video of this event on the café’s website. Papeneilad is one of the many “brown café” establishments that Amsterdam is known for, named as such for their dark brown, low lit interiors.
The tour continued along the oldest canal of Amsterdam and we stopped at Swieti Sranang, an Indonesian takeout restaurant (we had a Surinami broodje pom chicken sandwich and baka bana: battered, fried plantains with satay sauce). The prevalence of ethnic foods from South East Asia is a reminder that the what we know as the Netherlands today was the Dutch Empire before, a colonial power established through their superior navy in the 1600s. Their Empire extended to the Dutch East Indies and Suriname among others places. This small restaurant serving authentic Indonesian and Suriname foods is one of the reminders of that era, a link between past and present that you find all over the city whose residents come from more than 150 countries around the world.
Next stop was at a famous butcher shop Frans Louman, in operation since 1860 likely the oldest butcher shop in town. Being mostly a vegetarian (I do try other things when travelling) I am not the one to judge the quality of meat but the word is that they sell the best meats and sausages in town.
Next stop was Patisserie Anesta a beautiful French patisserie with some gorgeous chocolates and pastries. The Anita & Estephan owners-team (hence the name) combined their talents (Estephan is the chef) and passions in this patisserie and the results are perfectly made pastries and chocolates (how do they do that?) that you can take home or enjoy with coffee at their coffee lounge.
Amsterdam is also known for its inner courtyards they call hofjes. These courtyards served apartment building that were mostly built in the 1600s as charity to house widowed women who in turn provided laundry services to the community. The entrance to these courtyards is a small “hidden” archway and if you go in you enter a beautiful treed and landscaped yard that now serves the current residents of these apartments. Beneath the windows you can still see the iron bars on which they hung laundry to dry and some of the yards still have the central water supply.
One memorable stop was at Urker Viswinkeland, a fish monger where we tasted North Sea herring that was nothing like we have tasted before. Silky smooth and buttery, it is bought daily by the owner Dirk Bos and sliced to order. They serve it with pickles and chopped onion and also stuff it into buns for sandwiches. We also tried fish dipped in batter and fried, served with a mustard sauce if I remember correctly, also delicious. I went back there for a herring sandwich the next day with G, I didn’t want him to miss the experience (he wasn’t on the food tour with me).
My favourite food on the tour were the proffertjes that we had at Café de Prins. The fluffy little pancakes served with a pat of butter, syrup and a dusting of powdered sugar were completely addicting and we had them during our stay in Amsterdam at every opportunity. Cafe de Prins is another “brown cafe” and quite famous at that. It is located centrally across from two landmarks: Westerkerk (West church) and the Anne Frank House on the outer edge of the Jordaan distrcit and not far Hotel Pulizer where we boarded The Tourist boat. The cafe is more than just a coffee house and has a full menu you can sample all day.
We ended the tour at the Pulitzer Hotel were we boarded a historical (1909) wooden boat called “The Tourist” for an hour tour along the Amsterdam’s canals. The boat was beautifully preserved and maintained, with polished teak and brass, marble, leather and beveled glass. Winston Churchill rode in this boat in 1946 after WWII. On board we were treated to a glass of champagne and a cheese platter as we explored Amsterdam’s waterways. Later we picked up a few appetizers from a restaurant along the canal (the captain picked up the basket with a pole he extended over the edge of the boat) and enjoyed them with local beer.
The food tour of the Jordaan district tour lasted about 4 hours, included a lot of food and we were given a two page brochure and a walking map listing all the stops we made and the specialty foods we samples. I left with more knowledge and curiosity about beautiful Amsterdam. Mission accomplished.
Note: The opinion expressed here is my own, not paid for. I paid for participating in the tour and do not benefit if you sign for a tour through this link or otherwise. The post is for the benefit of my readers.
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