Amsterdam Food Tour

We met our guide, Chris, at a brown cafe just a few blocks from our apartment. We had passed it repeatedly but never stopped in. It turns out to be a very old and beloved place, run by the third generation of the family. Chris got us started with a piece of the best apple pie I have ever eaten. The crust was not flaky like American crust but crumbly though not cake-like either. Served with whipped cream on the side, it was perfectly delicious.


Chris explained to us that the Dutch would eat a piece of apple pie almost any time of day, including breakfast – and here I thought the Parrs had invented the custom! Bill Clinton had stopped by here (in his pre-vegan days) and there was an article and a thank you letter from Bill on the wall to prove it. If it’s good enough for Bill, it’s good enough for me.DSC04386
Here’s a picture of the enormous pie he cut our pieces from.DSC04388

Our next stop was a little storefront that served Surinamese food.  Former colony, you know.  We had pom, a sandwich filled with a mixture of chicken and some kind of starchy root – good enough that we came back for take-out at the end of the day.  The other thing was a delicious satay sauce served with something I’ve forgotten…

After this we wended our way to a butcher shop that has been in business since 1890 (or 1888, the owner asserted, “but we claim 1890″). Chris told us this was her favorite butcher and that she would travel from where she lives in the southern end of the city to come here for the best meat.DSC04392
It was certainly beautifully displayed: ranks of sausages and salads followed by gorgeous cuts of meat. DSC04390DSC04391Yes, you have to like sausages to enjoy the photo above.

Since there were only two of us on the tour (the other two people never showed up), we got special treatment. I tasted the blood sausage, which has a very grainy texture but was good, and Alison joked that she would go for a spare rib. The next thing we knew, the butcher had pulled off a couple of glistening shreds of deliciousness from the spare ribs in front of him. Then we came to the planned tasting: oxen sausage (made with beef these days) and a meatball.
The sausage must be an acquired taste. Although it is smoked, it had the texture of raw meat. Not sure about that one. The meatball, traditionally served for diners at home on Wednesdays and the size of a baseball in traditional cooking, was fine but not remarkable. We left after taking pictures with the butcher, who grabbed a big hunk of raw meat to pose with.

Just down the street was another butcher, a shop called The Fat Pig. DSC04393However, it’s recently been taken over by a halal butcher, so no pig can be found there any more…

The Barking Fish was our next stop. By this time it was after noon, so we were ready (apparently!) for a bit of beer and some bitterballen. The latter are like Dutch tapas, essentially beef croquettes that you dip into mustard. People buy them frozen and deep fry them at home. The crunchy outside gives way to a smooth inside that Chris described as stewed meat, but it’s better than that sounds – it has a very creamy texture. The beer was from a local Amsterdam brewery, an IPA that was light and a bit sour, very refreshing.DSC04396

Chris described how this bar/cafe was known for its celebration of King’s Day (on the birthday of the reigning monarch). They make an affectionately mocking portrayal of the royals and turn it into a billboard (?) in front of the building. Apparently hundreds of people gather in their orange regalia and drink and celebrate. Last year’s billboard featured the queen photo-shopped into an image from Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball video, which gives you a sense of the celebration. A good time is had by all.

Taking a non-food detour, we stopped inside a hofje, originally built by the church to take care of single women. The hofje is open to the public, though you are asked to respect the privacy of the inhabitants as you wander through the courtyard. This one had two gardens separated by a brick walkway with water spouts in the shape of dolphins. Above the doorway is the symbol of Amsterdam. sChris told us that hofjes are now quite desirable places to live, I guess partly because of the communal garden space. (Note the billowing Japanese anemones, which inspired me on last year’s trip to Wales to plant some of my own.)DSC04399

But back to the food, if food you can call it. Mariska is the proprietor of a candy shop that purveys the old-fashioned candies that people remember from their youth. DSC04401Primary among these is licorice. She admonished us not to call red licorice real licorice, it is simply gum and red food coloring (I’m with her there) and that real licorice is made from the root of the licorice tree. The roots are usually imported from Syria, but not lately, for obvious reasons. They come from somewhere else (Canary Islands??), so there’s no need to worry about a world-wide licorice shortage, in case you were wondering…

Mariska has dozens of varieties, and she had us try one with anise, one with honey and one salty. I can’t say I liked any of them though they were interesting to try. On instructions from Judy, I bought some licorice for the children: 100 grams each of mixed varieties including double salt. May they enjoy them!

More Than Fish was our next stop, a fish shop run by a Dutch man and an American. Chris told us that they went to the fish markets early every day to make sure the fish was as fresh as could be. Having tried some raw herring at a stand near the Bloememarkt, I was interested to see if I could taste the difference here. Indeed I could!

Chris came out with a big blue and white tray with raw herring and fried cod (side of tartar sauce). DSC04404You eat the herring “with the flag,” spearing the herring, dipping it into the chopped onion, and topping it with a pickle. The fresh herring really was more delicate and delicious that what I had had before. And the fried cod was fresh, light, crunchy, delicious. As we said farewell, the proprietors pointed out their fishy doorknob. Bye-bye!DSC04408

You would hardly credit that we could eat another thing, but almost four hours had gone by and we had really just nibbled (well, except for the apple pie and the bitterballen, which disappeared immediately). Our last stop was a cafe where we had pofferjes, little yeasty pancakes served with powdered sugar and maple syrup. They were so little that we kept having just one more until the two of us had eaten them all (one serving shared, I rush to point out). They were a delightful end to the tour.DSC04409

We thanked Chris profusely for a fascinating experience, where we learned something about Dutch customs and culture as well as eating mostly delicious food. Though the history tours can be fascinating, there’s something about the food tours that makes them more fun. Could it be the food?

And here’s what they look like

A selection of cyclists.  I don’t yet have a photo of a cyclist in high heels, but it will come along.

Taking your children along.DSC04265

Carrying lots of bags
carrying lots of bags

Carrying a bouquet of flowers on a Saturday evening
Wearing your party clothes



Cyclists in Amsterdam

They are everywhere, just as everyone said they would be.  They behave like my Prius – suddenly and silently they are right behind you.  On the first day, we learned quickly which were the bike lanes and they do mostly keep to them.  Some of them even signal when they’re about to make a turn, and some fewer of them even ring their bells when they’re right behind you.

Leaving Central Station, we saw this enormous bicycle parking garage.  DSC04173There are, roughly, zillions of them.  We wondered whether this meant that people parked their bikes here and then commuted into a different part of the city, or what.  You’d think a commuter lot would be in the suburbs somewhere…

Here is how people ride bikes here.

  • wearing high heels
  • wearing a mini-skirt
  • wearing high heels AND a mini-skirt
  • wearing a suit and dress shoes
  • wearing stockings, short shorts and sandals
  • wearing flip-flops
  • smoking
  • talking on the telephone
  • smoking AND talking on the telephone
  • carrying a toddler on a seat perched on the handlebars
  • carrying a child in a seat perched behind yours
  • carrying a child/groceries/unknown stuff in a little wooden cart attached to back of the bike
  • carrying a plastic bag in one hand in which rests a bakery box, balancing it upright lest the cake be smushed
  • carrying a cat in a fabric cat carrier behind your seat

To be continued…

A few more critters

I’ve seen these on the roads in the last few days.  My first thought was June bugs, but they must be cicadas.DSC04147I found this one on the back lawn.

I saw two beautiful spiders in the garden this morning, but when I got close they ran away and/or curled up into a ball.  One was orange and the other wasn’t.  This is as close as I could come.DSC04152My other fail at photography has to do with hummingbirds.  This morning I saw one fly away from the morning glory (yes, one tiny vine has persisted even though I tried to root it out) and rush to the cardinal climber vine.  It was followed by either three baby hummingbirds or three big bugs that can fly really fast.  Wow, do I fail at nature.  Here’s what attracted them.DSC04156Not many flowers, but what there is, is choice.  Plus beautifully cut leaves.

Day Lilies

The daylilies stopped blooming before I was quite ready for the show to be over, so I went in search of late-blooming dark reds to round out the collection.  I ended up with four plants from Oakes Daylilies.

blood spot daylily







Blood Spot (dreadful name) is a nice dark red.

Crimson Shadows daylily







Crimson Shadows comes highly touted as a rich, dark red.

Chicago Apache daylily








This one is Chicago Apache, said to be a good rebloomer.

Then I had to stray into the fragrant yellows and chose Lemon Lollypop (sic).

Lemon Lollypop daylily











This is another fragrant re-bloomer.  Oakes was kind enough to send a freebie, Tender Love.

Tender Love daylily







A rebloomer that has won an award for fragrance!  We’ll see.

I am very pleased with their service:  came on time, well packed, free plant, and four of the five were abundant enough that I got two or three plants from each one.

Summer successes

Like most people, I see what hasn’t worked and what needs to be done more than I notice the garden successes.  To remedy that, a few high notes:

The clethra has finally bloomed abundantly and is just as fragrant as I’ve been told.  The bees love it, too.  This is ‘Ruby Spice.”  I saw a clethra somewhere recently that was as big as a small tree, so I’ll have to keep an eye on this.  At least it is finally in a site where it can thrive.


The pink garden is coming right along, helped by the bright pink verbena I bought on a whim, and the pink Mandevilla vine that my neighbors planted. Here you see the crepe myrtle (is it Cherokee?) looming over the fence. It rains down tiny pink blossoms that fall onto the greenery below.

I finally tore down the thuggish morning glory that is self-sowing EVERYWHERE and didn’t look so good, despite this picture of the blossoms at their best.DSC03794
But you can already see that the leaves are being eaten by something, and the whole thing was looking shabby. I’ve planted some beans in its place.

Finally, the scarlet runner bean, which actually has orange blooms, is doing well on one side of the trellis, while the elegant cardinal climber vine with its finely cut leaves and small, brilliant red flowers is carpeting the other side. They really don’t go together, and although the bean attracts myriad bees, you can probably tell which I prefer.DSC03795

Flying things

Yesterday I saw this perched on a plant, either the datura or the day lilies in the sunny side garden.eastern pondhawk  There’s no pond nearby, but everything else I found about this dragonfly matches up with what I saw.  Based on some Googling, I’d call this a female eastern pondhawk.  Gorgeous!

Thanks,  bugguide, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, for the information and the photo. (The remaining photos are mine.)

Other flying creatures include a hummingbird, which apparently avoids its own special feeder but loves the little red zinnias that have self-sowed in the vegetable bed, and also likes the bronze fennel although its flower is yellow.DSC04092


The butterfly hunt has resulted in yet another Silver-spotted Skipper.  I had hoped it was something more exotic, but it’s still pretty and kindly stayed in one place so I could take its picture.DSC04049  Like everyone else, it seems to love the verbena bonariensis, which has self-sowed everywhere.