Our members share their secrets for “going Dutch”

The first thing

By Meredith Mani
Co-VP of External Communications

The first thing our family does when we move to a new city is to search for good Indian restaurants. Whether in New York, Washington, D.C., Bangalore or Amsterdam, good Indian food is what has bonded and sustained us over the years. When I married an Indian man 20 years ago, I knew I'd better learn to make the food of his homeland. 

Knowing how to cook Indian food makes me a pretty harsh critic of restaurant food. Four restaurants in Amsterdam have become favorites. Three are sit-down restaurants that are perfect for a date night or a meal with friends. The fourth is street food served in a vibrant, casual environment. 

Tulsi
Van Woustraat 212, 1073 NA Amsterdam 

Tulsi has great service that starts with red ropes outside the door and continues to the tables with attentive waiters. They have vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings and even a children's menu with butter chicken (which is what all kids want at an Indian restaurant). Pani Puri is a family favorite dish, and Tulsi’s version does not disappoint. It is a crispy shell stuffed with potatoes and mild spices that you dip in flavored water. My description doesn't do it justice. It's addictive. Tulsi has super tandoori offerings and executes them well. The portions aren't huge but you'll leave satisfied if you share a dish or two with your table mates. For something different, try Bharta, Tulsi's smokey, slightly spicy roasted eggplant dish. 

Pind Punjabi
Van Woustraat 240, 1073 NC Amsterdam

Tulsi and Pind Punjabi are just steps from each other on van Woustraat. Both restaurants are delicious but offer different takes on familiar dishes. 

Pind Punjabi has several dishes that will be familiar, but it sets itself apart by offering a few extra items that will surprise you. They have a dazzling array of lamb and fish entrees. Where most restaurants offer one or two biryanis, Pind Punjabi has four. The Persian Biryani is especially memorable. While Butter Chicken is their signature dish, they offer a few chicken entrees that are hard to find. Chicken Kashmiri is slightly sweet with an undercurrent of aromatic spices. Paired with hot and spicy Chicken Madras, the combination plays nicely off each other. 

Mayur
Leidsedsedwarsstraat 203, 1017 RB Amsterdam

I love the vibe of Mayur with its tiny matchbox Hindu gods decorating the walls. Fun fact: you can buy one if you really like them. This place is always busy and for good reason — the food and service are consistently good. Mayur's highlight is the fun tasting menu. You can try small servings of several dishes and has both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The food comes on one big plate with small bowls of each item placed around the rim. The classic curries here are all wildly rich and hearty. Grab a few friends and treat yourself to a meal at Mayur if you haven't been. 

Indian Street Food & Co.
Karel Doormanweg 12, 1181 WE Amstelveen

Indian Street Food is a fairly well-guarded secret in the Indian community. Since opening last year, Indians from all over The Netherlands pack the restaurant on weekends to eat this truly authentic homey food. Plan to grab a bench in this brightly colored cafe and eat your way through the menu. It's that good and unique. They offer four types of food: Roadside curries, Bombay Brasserie, Desi Chinese and Street drinks. Indian Street Food serves some of the best Pani Puri. I could eat three plates. Try the Railway Bhel Puri for an authentic snack rarely found outside of India. Gobhi Manchurian, a dish on the Desi Chinese menu, is cauliflower fried in chickpea batter and tossed in a mildly spicy sauce. You could argue that it's good for you. Indian Street Food is so busy they don't take reservations or orders over the phone. That's okay though because experiencing the chaos there makes it feel a lot like being in India without the expense of flying.

 

In the Shadow of the Plane

By Lauren Mescon
With contributions from Nancy Koster Tschirhart

Hans van Arkel, the last surviving witness, remembers it like it was yesterday. A boy of 11 years old at the time, he remembers exactly where the plane went down and where the survivors fell. On July 30, 1943, Man-O-War, a B-17 filled with 10 U.S. Airmen returning from their mission, was shot down over Opijnen. Eight crewmen died and only the pilot and co-pilot survived their parachute jumps.

Mr. van Arkel says it was 9:25 a.m., 25 degrees Celsius and a beautiful summer day. He saw it all… the plane exploded and the falling wreckage looked like pieces of silver paper raining down as the bodies fell. He saw one airman crash through the roof of a barn.

The co-pilot, John Bruce, had a broken ankle and an injured shoulder and needed a doctor. The doctor turned out to be a Nazi sympathizer and alerted the Germans. The two survivors were sent to German prison camps until the war ended.

Mr. van Arkel took a gun from the wreckage and his father, afraid of the Germans finding it, buried it. Today it is in the museum in Opijnen.

This is not where the true story ends, but where it begins.  

We traveled to Opijnen to rejuvenate the long relationship between the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam and the residents of Opijnen. Fortunately, we had former AWCA President Nancy Koster-Tschirhart with us. Nancy, with the former mayor Ton Jansen and other community leaders, was instrumental in the amazing memorial that allows the memories of these brave men to live on and influence generations.

After the plane was shot down, in spite of the Germans’ prohibition against anyone attending the burial of the crew, villagers laid flowers at the graves in the middle of the night. When the war ended, the residents of Opijnen asked the families not to move their sons’ bodies to Margraten, the Dutch cemetery for more than 8,000 fallen American soldiers, nor to take them back to America, but rather to leave them where they fell, in the loving hands of the residents of Opijnen.

Opijnen was a poor farming area and one of 11 villages in the current municipality of Neerijnen. The villages are built along the dike protecting the Waal River. Unlike Amsterdam, their history is an oral history, passed on from parent to child. The community is one that most Americans know only from nostalgia, where everyone knows everyone else and celebrates and mourns life events together; where adult children live minutes away from parents, uncles, aunts and cousins.

This village has not only kept and lovingly tended the graves of the fallen Man-O-War crew, but they have also memorialized the plane in the middle of their newest residential housing development (completed in 2006). The streets bear the names of the crew. Although there are only four official streets, through the ingenuity of Nancy and the Opijnen representatives, they were able to use all 10 names of the men.

The shadow of the plane, constructed from bricks with an elevated rudder listing their names lies in the middle of the common area in the center of the homes and the streets. The common area is named McCammonplein to honor the pilot, Keene McCammon, and the main street around it is called Brucestraat, to honor the copilot, John Bruce. And those that died are there, with names like Cianfichipoort and Polingstraat.

We began our visit with coffee, tea and cakes before we visited the school where the children, ages 10-12, practiced their English with us by telling us what they knew about the plane that crashed in their village so many years ago. They know the story well because they have the benefit of Mr. van Arkel and the others who teach them what it means to their village, to honor the men who died for their freedom.

These children are proud, as they should be, of their village and they understand and are interested in their futures and from this huge example, are learning the lessons of right and wrong. As one of the residents, Bauke Algera (my translator, thank goodness) shared, these children hear about all the wars in the world and are interested in this history, their history, a time when good vs. evil was much more clear.

Our last stop was to visit the actual graves of the men. They are buried side-by-side in a beautifully kept row, with marble headstones shipped from the US and like those used at Arlington National Cemetery. Although the headstones were spotless, the Opijnen children cleaned them shortly before Remembrance Day, celebrated on May 4 in the Netherlands. May 5 is Dutch Liberation Day. What is striking about the graves is that these heroes were just entering their adulthood, most of them were 22 years old, the oldest was 28. They were from all parts of the US, from New York to North Dakota. They were younger than my own children.

But their legacy and their message live on in a wonderful way.  Mr. McCammon’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter visited Opijnen in 2007. Although Mr. Bruce passed away in 2007, two of his children and a daughter-in-law returned yet again May 4, 2010, to lay flowers at the memorial. Close friends and neighbors of the parents of airman Krueger paid their respects that day as well. In July 2015, the nephew of airman Duggan visited Amsterdam and made the trip to Opijnen, hosted by former mayor, Ton Jansen.  

On May 4, 2019, Opijnen will once again honor these men during the Remembrance Day commemoration. All AWCA members, families and friends are welcome to join the Opijnen Hervormd (Protestant) Church service from 6:45-8:15 p.m. Once again, the residents of this remarkable village will remember, as they said to us more than once, quoting John Bruce during his visits, “Freedom is not free.” These brave men died to ensure freedom, not only for Americans but for everyone.  

Please email Martha Canning if you are interested in joining the group this year. It is about 45 minutes away and we will enjoy a group dinner nearby before the commemoration. We will also be arranging for carpools. It is a special opportunity to connect with our community and represent the U.S. and honor these brave men.

Going Dutch: A Guide to Koningsdag (King’s Day)

By Rhonda Jimenez

April 27 is King Willem-Alexander’s birthday. That means in in the Netherlands, Koningsdag (or King’s Day) is a celebration and a giant party. The entire city turns orange in his honor. (He is a descendant of the House of Orange-Nassau.) People dye their hair orange, dye their dogs orange, wear orange three-piece suits, drink orange beverages and eat orange bonbons.

Start collecting your orange gear now as it sells out quickly! Try Hema, AH and Witbaard Feestartikelen in de Pijp for your giant orange sunglasses, hats, leis and boas. Also, remember Koningsdag can be freezing — a winter coat, gloves and hat might be needed, or perhaps you should wear a sundress and shorts. You never know.

Don't be afraid to wear your best outfits!

This is truly my favorite Dutch holiday. I love it because young and old celebrate it with unbridled passion.

What to do on Koningsdag?

We have a sloop, so we love to experience the nuttiness of the canals. It is like bumper boats with alcohol and almost no water. If you don’t have a boat, stand on a canal and watch the insanity. If you do venture out on a rental or your own sloop, check waternet.nl (they also have an app) for routes. The city creates a traffic system to manage the flow of boats. They now have water-based waste stations throughout for trash collection and potty breaks. Well done, City of Amsterdam!

Our boat with the signature cocktail the orange Aperol Spritz

If you have kids: Vondelpark turns into a giant kids’ yard sale. All used toys are recycled on the cheap, so it is fun to see what your kids can buy with €2. If you have things to sell, you can actually set up a table on the sidewalk and let your kids raise some cash. For just one day, it is legal to sell almost anything anywhere and everywhere. The park is just one of the popular places for kids to set up games. “Give me a euro and you can throw eggs at my face.” My son spent €10 at that game. There are games of skill where you have to smash a rolling tomato or water balloon toss. Some kids sing. Some kids dance. Others perform skits or music. Last year our VP Christine Collins’ daughter earned €300 singing with a friend. This is a fun place to go or take part in the money-making. No joke, the egg-faced kid made hundreds.

Like to shop? Head to the ritzy parts of town like Apollolaan, Beethovenstraat or the canal houses for designer bags, jewelry and clothing. This is a bonus, as it is very green to recycle clothing and wear something that isn't from Zara or Mango.

Like to eat? Anywhere you go, the free-market concept is set-up to relieve you of any extra cash. Pop-ups from restaurants sell food; kids sell (home-made) cookies and cakes; even Auntie Antje will sell soup from her window. Food is everywhere. (And just as important if not even more so: People even will allow you to use their toilet for a fee.)

Join us for a bake sale! We'll raise money for Safe Spaces at a bake sale on Apollolaan, near the Hilton. Would you like to help by baking or selling during a two-hour shift? Find more information and sign-up sheets on this post on our members Facebook page.

Like to party? The party actually begins on Koningsnacht, which is the night before Koningsdag. Do not miss it. Head to Rembrandtplein where bands and strange polka music take over. Caution: don’t get crazy on this night because tomorrow is another day of drinking. Pace yourself.

Koningsnacht at Rembrandt Square

Then on Koningsdag, head to Dam Square or any of the massive music festivals dotted around the city. In the Dam, you will find thousands of orange friends dressed in anything you can (or can’t) imagine. Music, events and mayhem, guaranteed.

It's one day only: As the day winds down, around 4:30 p.m. the city becomes a ghost town. A really dirty ghost town left with the remnants of an awesome party. Discarded treasures, beer bottles, orange boas and other things not to be mentioned are found on the streets and sidewalks. Don’t fret because the city is prepared. Cleaning crews dispatch and the city will be clean again by morning.

To the Dutch, Koningsdag is not a celebration of the royal family or even a holiday that celebrates the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is about community. The free-market, food and revelry are designed to encourage the citizens to go out and meet their neighbors. By purchasing a trinket, a treat or playing a game, they come together and celebrate being Dutch!

Happy Koningsdag!

Red Paper: Amsterdam in January

By Beth Massa

Soggy bits of red paper everywhere. Hardly distinguishable from the remnants of decaying leaves discarded by autumn’s trees and disregarded by Amsterdam’s street sweepers.

“What’s all this red paper all over the place?”

“Fireworks.”

“But why are there so, so, so, many firecrackers?”

“To banish all the bad spirits from Oud en Nieuw.”

Having visited many times, I moved to Amsterdam, intentionally for the rest of my life, on Jan. 6, 2007.

Upon arrival, I threw my suitcases into my temporary housing on the Korte Koningstraat and walked across the Nieuwmarkt over to ‘t Loosje, my regular bruin café, to meet up with my Amsterdam crew. They knew I was moving. They’d known for three years, since the first day we’d all met. So when I walked in for the first time not-from-out-of-town, it was no big thing. There were no cheers or applause or back-slapping hugs. Our gang celebrates in words, not in volume. We’re cool like that.

There was red paper stuck to the sides of my shoes that night. I scraped it off, tossed my shoes in the entryway, and went to bed, staring at the ceiling in disbelief that I had left my country for good. The fantasy was real, and it was for the first time — but only a brief time — terrifying.

_______________________

A year earlier almost to the day, I quit my job and rented an apartment on Da Costakade for three months during the worst time of year — dark, cold — just to make sure I really wanted to live in Amsterdam. I looked forward to taking weekend trips to Paris or to shoot down to Cologne to visit my best friend. But I hardly moved.

Burnout wasn’t a thing where I had worked. You’d stare at your Outlook calendar, which was triple booked with meetings across every hour, all day, every day. You found yourself shutting the door to your office because you could not face having to ask your exhausted and resentful staff to do just a little bit more. You found yourself “underperforming” and then your body would rebel and then you’d have some sort of sudden, dramatic departure. We didn’t know burnout. We only knew failure.

But in that apartment, I would wrap myself in a blanket and stare out the large windows watching the snow fall and melt on the canal outside. Sometimes I didn’t leave the house for several consecutive days. In those months I discovered what I needed from Amsterdam, at that time and in that condition, and it was actually the best time of year.

_____________________________

My 70-year-old mother has been traveling to Europe regularly since 1985. Three years ago, she retired and moved from Seattle to South Bend, Indiana to be closer to her oldest friends and much of our family. She moved to an adorable Tudor in a historic neighborhood across from a park and around the corner from the University of Notre Dame. Her friends and our family were thrilled to have her back, after 20 years being so far away out west. And I was excited, too. It would be so much easier to travel to see each other, and I would get to see our extended family more. But I could tell she was restless. Last June, I asked her, “What do you really want?”

She said, "I want to move to Amsterdam. I don't want to just visit anymore. I've dreamed of living in Europe ever since I was a girl leafing through my collection of Time-Life books. I’ve tried to make a life here. I love visiting with my friends. I’m volunteering. I’ve really tried. I even do Zumba! But I’m bored. I want to move now while I'm young and active enough to enjoy my life in Europe to the fullest.”

After we had a brief mother/daughter squabble (“Why didn’t you just say this in the first place!” “Well I was waiting to be invited.” “Please don’t be passive aggressive, I can’t read your mind.”), I told her to go for it. She sold the adorable Tudor, pared down her belongings, and five months after that conversation over weak coffee at a strip mall Starbucks, I picked up her and her Shih Tzu, Tullymore, from the airport and took them to their new home.

She’d seen the apartment on Funda and through Skype. My mother has this gift for finding treasures where no one else is looking. How she found this perfectly cozy nest of a place, suspiciously affordable, right on the Herengracht, dead center in the middle of the Negen Straatjes, can only be explained by a brief, magical, Harry-Potteresque window, opening for only her to see, and only for a moment. It had been on the website for weeks. This just doesn’t happen. But it did, and we aren’t asking questions.

I staged the moment I would open the door for her to her new home. I’d closed the curtains on the floor-to-ceiling windows, so I could grandly cast them open for that view to receive her. I installed a garish and exotic and ridiculously Alice-in-Wonderland oversized bouquet. She couldn’t speak. We had pulled it off.

What if the house doesn’t sell? It did. What if the movers don’t come in time? They showed up. And worst and most worrying of all, what if at the last minute the airline doesn’t let Tully on the plane? They hardly took notice of him. My mom, the worrier and the planner, could exhale. Deeply. Spiritually. Maybe for the first time in her life.

A few days later, we went to our favorite pizza place in town, which is right around the corner from her apartment, because everything is right around the corner from her apartment. As we hugged goodnight and started to part ways, I reflexively began to well up as I watched the back of her little body, huddled against the cold, walking away from me — just as she had done so many times in the past with a suitcase ka-chunk-ka-chunking behind her.

“This is weird! I want to cry because you are leaving! But I’ll see you tomorrow and the day after that!” She turned around and smiled at me, beaming. Happier than I can recall her ever being. “This isn’t weird, you’re weird,” she yelled back.

And so, she walked that night to her cozy apartment with the Cinerama view over the Herengracht. Her usual life, all her clothes, her dog, her housewares and picture frames, layered like vellum on top of her new life, is taking some getting used to. It seems unreal and it’s disorienting. But that is what I love about Amsterdam. The surrealism of the city never leaves, no matter what circumstances brought you here.

We’ve spent many hours these last weeks looking through her windows at the darkness pierced with a dozen soft spotlights — the theatre of Amsterdam streetlife performed on, in, and around a 400-year-old stage. Never changing, always changing.

The tall, reedy young man in a flat cap and suspenders with a strip of bow tie around his neck, unbowed, parking his car and hustling down the street. What’s he doing? He returns with a golden girl draped in a gold sequined flapper dress. They are going to a 1920s Christmas party. He opens her door for her, awkwardly. Ah! He almost forgot to open her door!

The residents in the apartments across the street. The generously proportioned older gentleman on the top floor flops his foot on the window sill to remove his dress shoes, then shuts the curtains, presumably while he disassembles the rest of his workday finery. The windows of the French cooking school steaming up from a crush of people more than the cooking — presumably there for an office party. The amber glow from the stained-glass windows of the luxury lingerie shop in the corner that gets almost no customers.

But mostly right now the rondvaart tour boats have us nearly hypnotized. A new one cruises by every 20 seconds. The people in the boats looking up, or sadly in too many cases, looking through a phone or iPad. Do we give them a show? We are each other’s scenery. We should pay them no mind. But we are new and giddy. Occasionally, I’ll stand at the window with Tully in my arms. When I hold him like a baby he relaxes so his head falls back over the crook of my elbow. The cameras go up. The people point or wave. The tour boats can roar to a stop. Powerful reverse thrusters hold the boats motionless. They stand so still so they can maneuverer impossibly through the narrow tunnels under the bridges.

Life in Amsterdam can be as mundane and routine as anywhere else. Jobs. Grocery stores. Traffic. Dentist appointments. But first and always first, Amsterdam is a playground you can jump in and out of whenever you like. We see it with a first-timer’s eyes all day as the tourists walk around in a fog of wonder.

Amsterdam is cool like that. It knows what it is, and what it has achieved. It has nothing to prove. And this Northern European city will awaken from its hibernation. Spring is coming. But for the next few months, my reunited family will roar to a stop. To watch. To relax. To recover. To wait. And to marvel.

Going Dutch for Thanksgiving

by Beth van Amerongen

What does Thanksgiving have to do with “Going Dutch”? Well, a lot, actually.

If you are an expat living in the Netherlands and will eventually end up in the U.S., you are following in the footsteps of many of the pilgrims. In a nutshell, an English religious group, which was somewhat rebellious, escaped to the Netherlands for its religious tolerance. They first settled in Amsterdam in 1608, where they founded and worshipped at the English Reform Church in the Begijnhof. After a year, the Amsterdam labor guilds proved too restrictive for them, so they moved to Leiden and settled in the vicinity of the Pieterskerk. Assimilating into their new lives didn’t come easily for everyone, including adapting to the more liberal Dutch morals, so in the fall of 1620, roughly three dozen of these expats sailed on the Mayflower to Plymouth Colony.

It is even hypothesized that the first Thanksgiving meal was influenced by the Relief of Leiden, a holiday held on October 3rd that's celebrated with a thanksgiving service followed by a meal. You can read more about the Dutch pilgrims in these articles:

The American Book Center has a multitude of resources available for making your Thanksgiving special, including cookbooks and children’s activity books. Visit the ABC website, type “Thanksgiving” and it will yield over 3,600 results! Don’t forget to show your AWCA membership card when you visit them for a 10% discount.

From fresh cranberries and pumpkin available at local supermarkets to restaurants and butchers creating authentic Thanksgiving meals, options abound in Amsterdam and its surrounds. Whether you want to cook an entire meal from scratch, order a catered meal from a butcher, eat at a restaurant, enjoy a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with a Dutch twist, eat pies in Haarlem or attend an Interfaith Service in Leiden where it all began, there is something for everyone here in the land where the pilgrims once dwelled.

Interfaith Worship Service

Thursday, Nov. 22, 11 a.m.: Non-denominational Thanksgiving Day Service in the church where the pilgrims worshipped: the Pieterskerk in Leiden.

AWCA Events

All AWCA members, partners, and families are welcome to these area events, but space is limited, so be sure to RSVP.

Restaurants with Thanksgiving Meals

Wyer's Restaurant at the Kimpton De Witt Hotel: Nov. 22 (see Thanksgiving dinner in Amsterdam, above)

Seasons Restaurant: Nov. 21-23, 3- and 4-course Thanksgiving dinners

Cafe Belcampo at De Hallen: Nov.22, sponsored by the American Book Center

Butchers and Grocery Stores

Photo of a loaded cheeseburger on a seeded bun and fries

Best Burgers in the ‘Dam

by Rhonda Jimenez

Photo by Haseeb Jamil on Unsplash

Craving the comforts of home? A juicy Black Angus burger? Read on, meat lovers. You don’t have to wait until you’re Stateside to enjoy a tasty burger. American burgers in Amsterdam may sound like a contradiction, but there are some tasty burger joints in the 'Dam. Here is a collection of some of the best burgers.

Best Basic Burger: The Butcher, Nine Streets, Foodhallen, and Albert Cuypstraat
The Butcher offers basic burgers without fancy toppings (no truffle mayo here). There are two locations: a fancy eatery located in the chic W hotel and the original on Albert Cuypstraat (this location has a secret backdoor into the speakeasy late night but you need to be on the list).

Best Burger with a View: Ellis, Prinsengracht, Gravenstraat, and Singel
Dine on the canal’s edge and choose from veggie, chicken, lamb and fish burgers.

Best Build Your Own Burger: Burger Bar, De Pijp, Kolksteeg, Regulierbreestraat, and Warmoesstraat
Choose the meat, fixings, and bun for a custom burger.

Most Fattening Burger: Burgerfabriek, Regulierbreestraat, Warmoesstraat and Nieuwendijk
Try the wagyu and foie gras.

Best Vegan Burger: Vegan Junk Food Bar, De Pijp or Oud West
Try the kapsaloon (loaded fries).

Best Fast Food Burger: Five Guys Burgers, various locations
This one doesn’t technically make the list, but Five Guys Burgers now have locations in Almere and Utrecht (along with several others in the Netherlands). My son and friends often hop the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Utrecht for a fix. It’s conveniently located right in the Utrecht Centraal station.

Eet smakelijk!

A Foodie’s Favorite Restaurants in Amsterdam

By Lauren Mescon

How can I possibly share all the great food experiences I’ve had in Amsterdam? My head almost exploded at the task …so many places, so little time!

Here are a few of our favorites, loosely grouped by food type. From Michelin-starred restaurants to holes in the wall, this town offers it all.

High-end, expensive restaurants

— For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, go to De Librije in Zwolle. It is the only 3-star Michelin restaurant in the Netherlands. After a drink at the bar, the fun begins when you’re escorted to your table. Each of the courses is more creative than the previous. The first was a shell containing caviar held by a black rubber glove that had been filled with water and frozen. One of the desserts was coffee that was also served on an ice pack. The monkfish course was the best I have ever tasted, and I am not a monkfish fan. (They had no problem with food restrictions, either.) Our five-hour meal was part food, part art, and part theatre. Our wine pairings even included a Dutch wine (not great though, aroma of asparagus!). You can also sign up for the Saturday overnight package and spend the night in the hotel, which was formerly a women’s prison. You will be greeted at reception with gin and tonics, then you can check into your room and tour the town. It is a typical Dutch town and has a fantastic museum, Museum de Fundatie. The next morning, a multi-course breakfast is again a creative assault of the senses. Do not plan to leave early!

— To celebrate our first “Amsterdammiversary,” we went to Restaurant Vinkeles at The Dylan Hotel. It's a 1-star Michelin, and it’s absolutely lovely. I ordered Dover Sole. It was perfect, and I think the best I have had to this day. Several amuse-bouches added to the experience, and the sommelier suggested an outstanding rosé. Although it was 3½ years ago, the review I wrote on Trip Advisor still gets the most likes of any of my reviews, so I’m guessing it's still fabulous!

— Moon is a revolving restaurant at the A’Dam Toren, just a ferry ride across the Ij. The view is the best 360 in the city, with amazing sunsets. The chef’s tasting menu changes often, so check it out. We took our son and daughter-in-law when they visited — they are the real foodies. (We're faux foodies; we eat too fast and don’t savor.) This is a special occasion restaurant, so if you ever want to "fly someone to the moon," take them there. (If you are adventurous, get on the tallest swing in Europe on the top of the tower. The ride lasts only a minute, albeit a long one, but it’s so much fun. Just make sure you wait to get your drinks until afterward.)

—  John Dory on Prinsengracht is the best upscale fish restaurant, in my opinion. All of the fish is Dutch-sourced and changes daily. What makes it so unique is that you order a certain number of courses, and that’s it. They take care of the rest. I just learned they also have vegetarian and meat options as well. Try to reserve on the early side so you'll have a better chance of sitting by the big window overlooking the canal.

A Taste of Dutch

— Restaurant d’Vijff Vlieghen, (the Five Flies) on Spui is a beautiful old restaurant. It's a dark maze of dining rooms set in canal houses from the 1600s: you could dine beneath a Rembrandt etching. The dishes are tasty classic Dutch. Make sure to check the brass plate on your chair to see what famous person sat there before you! This is a great place to go for a romantic dinner, but also to take guests that want a nice white tablecloth dinner. It's like dining in a museum, plus the food and wine list are both very good.

— Our go-to for everyone that comes into town is Restaurant Haesje Claes, also located on Spui. It is truly Dutch food, with a seasonal menu. The starters include all of the Dutch staples: herring, mackerel and croquettes, and the mains include hutspot (a.k.a. stamppot), beef, cod, and mussels. If you are a vegetarian, try the vegetarian stamppot – it's delicious and you'll be stuffed! The restaurant is always busy, but don’t be put off by the tourists — there are plenty of locals, too. The staff is amazingly friendly and the portions are large. Make a reservation, but if you have to wait, go to their bar next door for a beer; it makes the wait go faster. If you decide just to stay there and order, they’ll bring your food over from the restaurant.

— Moeders (a.k.a. Mother's) on Rozengracht is another Dutch classic. You really do need reservations, but occasionally you can get lucky and just walk in. It is one huge room (huge being a relative term) and the walls are covered with pictures of random mothers. It is a very fun, campy place and the menu is equally campy. The specialty for visitors is their Hollandse Rijstafel, which includes beef, potatoes, and sausage, in many different forms. They have plenty of options for vegetarians and fish eaters, so not to worry. It's a very fun place with friendly staff.

There’s so much good sushi in this town!

Izakaya, located on the Albert Cuypstraat, is particularly non-Dutch, in that you are limited in how long you can stay when you book. When you do book it, make sure to specify you want a table, unless you don’t mind sitting on stools at a long bar. It can also be very loud and is populated by a younger crowd. If you want a fantastic “Japanese grill with South American influences” experience, request the booth by the kitchen, then order the chef’s menu and get a bottle of sake. It’s all absolutely fantastic, and it includes sushi and wagyu beef. (They will honor food restrictions in the tasting menu.) They also have a delicious duck, a la carte. You can also tell the waiter your favorite tastes, and the chef will put something together for you. It is pricey, but worth it for a special night or a celebration — or if you prefer spending money on food over shoes.

— Just as tasty but without the ambiance or buzz is Dragon I, located on Amstelveenseweg. It is also a fraction of the price, with dishes ranging from €4.50 to a Sashimi mix for €16.50. All of the usual dishes are there: edamame, miso, spicy rolls, etc., and they also have a very good duck pancake. Go any time and often, but it doesn’t hurt to have a reservation.

Barbecue: For a southerner, it's a must!

There are two great places here for the BBQ fan: Pendergast Smokehouse and Carnivore. Both places have fabulous slow-cooked meats, including beef ribs, sides of mac and cheese, cornbread, beans, slaw and more. My friends like to debate which one is better so just choose the one closest to home and go for it!

Pendergast Smokehouse, on Groen van Prinstererstraat, is small, so a reservation is a must, but the food is just as promised: real Kansas City BBQ. 

Carnivore on Amstelveenseweg is a bit larger, so you are more likely to get in if you forgot to reserve.

Indonesian Rijstafel: the best “Dutch” food the Netherlands has to offer

Whenever we have visitors, the first thing we offer is Indonesian food. Decide which experience you want and choose from there. The food at all three of these Indonesian restaurants is delicious and something that should not be missed by visitors.

— I am sure there will be lots of disagreement with this, but we regularly go to Sama Sebo, on P.C. Hoofstraat. It is said to be the oldest Indonesian restaurant in the Netherlands, and I think neither the décor nor the waitstaff has changed since it opened. Make a reservation and go hungry. The service is prompt and efficient. They are always happy to snap a photo and will bring you extra things if you run out. Also feel free to tell them if you prefer more chicken than beef or veggies and they will accommodate you. Their command of the English language isn't great (albeit much better than my Dutch or Indonesian), but they know how to serve a great rijstafel and explain the dishes. They also have vegetarian crackers if you don’t like the shrimp ones.

— As a back-up, we often go to Sampurna, located in the Bloemenmarkt. It has all of the same dishes and probably offers a bit more variety than Sama Sebo. (Be sure to reserve in the front of the restaurant if you are the least bit claustrophobic, as the back has no windows and low ceilings.) The staff is very friendly and, again, while their English is not the best, they will offer suggestions for which rijstafel to choose.

— I would be remiss if I didn't mention Restaurant Blauw Amsterdam on Amstelveenseweg. Many of my friends take their guests there, as it is more modern, with clean lines and high ceilings. It can be crowded and noisy, and during my visits, it’s usually been full of Americans.

Best Italian in the city

There are two restaurants that I find amazingly authentic and delicious: Risto Enoteca PepeNero and Lo Stivale d’Oro.

— Make reservations in advance for PepeNero on Eerste Oosterparkstraat. The portions are ample and the service unhurried. If it's warm enough, sit outside. We had the best cod there, and I will not hesitate to go back to order the homemade pasta with tomato sauce and amazing fresh parmesan, prepared in the parmesan wheel. My mouth is watering! I love tiramisu, but this one is served deconstructed, so if you like it that way with very strong coffee as the key ingredient, try it out.

Lo Stivale d’Oro, on Amstelstraat, is located five minutes from the National Opera and Ballet, so it is perfect for a pre-theatre dinner, but of course, go early! It feels like you’re in Italy, crowded and with all of the favorites: antipasto, spaghetti, lasagna, gnocchi, and pizzas, plus delicious desserts of tiramisu, profiteroles, Tartufo and sgroppino!

One last one…

— Krua Thai is the best Thai I have had here. Located on Staalstraat, it is a cozy restaurant with authentic Thai food. No visit is complete without an order of Miang Kham, deliciousness wrapped in wild pepper leaf. Make a reservation as space is limited and it's very popular!

Shopping Survival Tips in the ‘Dam

by Rhonda Jimenez

You’ve just arrived in Amsterdam and you have no idea where to shop for what you need. If only they had a Target! Here are some basics to help you survive without that Target or Walmart down the road. Here are a few go-to’s and tips to help you find what you need — fast.

Groceries: You have probably already found Albert Heijn, but did you know that they deliver? It’s so much easier than balancing your bike with a full grocery load and then carrying it up two flights of stairs. Other grocery stores are Jumbo and Lidl. For organic, try Markt (like Whole Foods) or Ekoplaza. TIP: many items you can’t find are usually shelved in strange locations and or have unique packaging. Baking soda is sold in AH, but it’s shelved with the cleaning supplies or even in the refrigerated section. American peanut butter can be found in the small “American section” with root beer and ketchup, not with the Dutch nut butters. Ask for help if you need it. You will slowly find everything you need.

Home goods: Blokker has most items you would find in a Target: supplies for cleaning, kitchen, bathroom, and some home decor. Hema also has some home items as well.

Appliances: Media Markt has all things electronic from irons to video games, much like Best Buy back home.

Back to School Supplies: HEMA and Winter

Fashion: Trendy Nine Streets and busy Kalverstraat are always fun shopping destinations. But when it’s wet or cold, try the Amstelveen Mall. The two large department stores are Bijenkorf and Hudson's Bay. Did you know we now have a Saks Fifth Avenue “Off 5th” outlet? It’s located in Kalverstraat area and also in a huge outlet mall about 1.5 hours away called Batavia Outlets. The outlets will remind you of home, with many of the same outlets you know and love — from Nike to Michael Kors.

American Stuff: If you still can’t find what you need in the grocery chains, try Tijn’s in de Pijp or Eichholtz on Leidsestraat. Both international stores charge a big premium but offer things like canned pumpkin, Betty Crocker cake mix, Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms, and many other American treasures. Make a trip to one; it’s worthwhile!

Furniture: Ikea is a mainstay, but stop by Loods 5 and the outlet behind it — together, they take up a full block — for a huge selection of furniture. There is also a mall called Woonmall at the arena area — long waits, but good quality custom furniture. Online, try Leenbaker, Woonexpress, and Wehkamp.

Good luck on your next shopping adventure: you will survive! Remember, look carefully— they probably have it!

 

North, South, East and West: Stepping Out of My Bubble in Amsterdam

by Suzanne Vine
originally published Nov. 3, 2017 on Suzanne Vine's Amsterdam

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

In September, I passed my three-year milestone in Amsterdam. Expat years are kind of like dog years, so three years makes me a very elderly expat, indeed. In those three long years, I like to think I have discovered a lot of the city. I like to think I've gotten out of my neighborhood and explored. I like to think some of you are still reading along.

This post gives me the chance to share some of what I have discovered on my journeys and weigh in on the experience of living here for three years. In the end, I may not have much wisdom to share, but I can tell you where to get a good cup of coffee.

Feel free to share this post with your visitors so we all don't have to reinvent the recommendation-wheel every time family and friends come to stay. I purposely left out all tips for the center of town. Most expats already know that part of town and can steer their visitors to the right spots for food, drink, and sightseeing. Frankly, you can just walk up and down the canals and find your own favorite places without much fuss...you and the crowds who visit Amsterdam. I'm going to sound like a cranky Dutch native, but we avoid the center as much as possible during the summer months. Even in the three years since we arrived, I see more and more tourists and hear less and less Dutch spoken. The city seems to be trying to strike a balance between accommodating the tourists — and their money — and keeping the charm of Amsterdam alive and well. Some would say the balance is tipping towards the tourist dollars right now.

A quick geography lesson for those of you who are new or don't live here: Amsterdam is composed of different neighborhoods. Like many of the neighborhoods in New York City — well, actually in Manhattan with its Upper West and Lower East Sides, etc. — the names of the neighborhoods are mostly directions with actual names for some of the neighborhoods tucked inside those big areas. So here we have North (Noord), South (Zuid), East (Oost), West (West). and The Center (Het Centrum), but also de Pijp, and The Museum Quarter (Museumplein). 

It seems like every map you look at divides the city in different ways. Some leave it in big chunks (North, South, East, and West) and some include the names of the neighborhoods. No wonder I get lost so often.

Old South. Like many in the expat community, I live in Oud Zuid, or Old South. Here's the great part about living in our hood: we are a few short blocks to Vondelpark, Amsterdam's Central Park. We're also a few short blocks to the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum (home to the Vermeers and the Rembrandts you want to see), and the Stedelijk, the modern art museum. We're also only a short walk from the elegant concert hall, Het Concertgebouw. And we have taken full advantage and seen lots and lots of concerts. We never seemed to do that when we were only a short train ride away from New York City.

You can see a real Picasso sculpture in Vondelpark. I'm always surprised that no hooligans have ever taken a can of spray paint to it. Maybe even they have limits.

My husband Peter and I often have moments when we shake our heads in amazement that we are actually living here. Mine often come when I look up at the majestic Rijksmuseum. How did we get so lucky to live so close by? Or to live here at all?

I took this photo during the Women's March, where for once Museumplein, the square surrounding the museums, was packed with protestors, not tourists taking selfies.

I love the quiet side of the museum, where the bikes outnumber the people.

Now, what's the downside of living in my part of town? For one, it can feel like a bubble. A very tony, one-dimensional bubble. The one "regular" store here - a hardware store - just closed its doors. It will be replaced by yet another "bougie" boutique selling overpriced clothes that appeal to someone, I suppose. That someone is definitely not me. The other downside is that there isn't much culinary diversity. You can find Italian food or Dutch bistro-style restaurants, but where is the Thai? The Vietnamese? The Lebanese? And where are the good coffee spots? That's a problem. So to find what I need, I have to get out and about.

The Dutch pride themselves on being a society of equals. When we came to look for apartments before we moved here, the relocation person told us that there weren't any super-rich here. Then who lives in those houses along the canal near the apartments she was showing us, I asked. The answer? Drug dealers. 

I can assure you that not all the fancy houses in Amsterdam are inhabited by drug lords.

North. So, let's get out of the bubble, shall we? First, we head to Noord, the North. This part of the city is a little out-of-the-way. You have to hop on a ferry behind Central Station to get there unless you have a car. They are talking about building a new bridge that will allow you to bike from behind the station, but I've learned that there can be lots and lots of talk before any shovel breaks ground, so I'll believe it when I see it. For now, take your bike right on the ferry. Once in the North, I recommend heading out to a giant oasis called Het Twiske. You can bring your lunch and have a picnic. You will feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.

When my son Ben was here for a visit, we went straight to the motherland for our picnic provisions: a place called Piqniq, in the Jordaan, a neighborhood in the center of the city. Worth every penny. Gluten-free bread available, making this picnicker a very happy camper.

On the way back from your bike ride through Noord, you can stop for coffee at The Coffee Virus. Very good coffee. Not so good English. Here's a sentence from their website: "We are very ambitious. Actively we look to expand and spread our positive virus at other inspiring locations were [Note: Yup, you read that right], creatively, we adapt to our surrounding." One job idea I have is to help businesses rewrite their "English" into words that make sense. An English Fixer. They really need my help here. 

Although not inside the city limits of the North, once you are up there, you can visit some quaint villages like Marken, and some touristy ones like Volendam.

If you're really feeling like a tourist, you, too, can get in costume and transport yourself back in time, Volendam-style. Let's just say that my daughter Rachel deeply regretted joining me on an outing with the American Women's Club that day.

Ben felt slightly better about our bike ride to Marken, but for some reason, he refused the opportunity to put his face into the your-face-here board set up near the lighthouse.

Another place to visit that's north of my bubble is The Zaanse Schans, a colonial Williamsburg-style village where you can step back in time and see what 18th and 19th-century life was really like. One of my expat friends took every single one of her visitors there, but I actually ventured there for the first time in April. It was a grey, windy day, raw even by the usual standards, so the crowds were somewhat thinner. I can't imagine taking this trip on in the height of the tourist crush in the summer. But we actually enjoyed the tour inside a windmill and the photo ops. Ah, April in the Netherlands. The wind sure kept those windmills busy.

Let's face it: you want to see windmills when you come to the Netherlands. A trip to Zaanse Schans gives you a lot of bang for your buck. You take a short bus ride from Central Station and you're face to face with a whole army of them. I've heard that most Dutch people have never been there.

I don't think the guys inside the windmill - still a working sawmill - had ever seen the likes of our friend Pierre. They did their best to answer all of his questions.

East. Let's head East, shall we? This is a neighborhood where, unlike places like Zaanse Schans, Dutch people do live, and do go for dinner and coffee. The area has changed a lot in the past few years. I think even the Dutch would agree that it has become gentrified. You still see many women wearing hijabs, but now you also see tons of young people in search of good food, and lots of new restaurants to lure them in. And then there's me: an expat who is looking to get out of the bubble and take a bike ride for a bit before settling in with a coffee and a book, or a notebook. Some of my favorite Amsterdam places are in OostCoffee BruRum Babaand Roostwhere there's a book exchange wall. You can take a book if you forget yours, and bring it home. For keeps. They even have some good books in English. Good coffee is a big reason this uptown girl likes to get out of the white bread world of the Old South neighborhood.

The burger craze has hit Amsterdam hard. Smokin' Barrels makes a burger that any American restaurant would be proud to call its own. And, oh, those fries!

In addition to good coffee, you can find some good food. There's Smokin' Barrels, where my friend Vera's daughter Rosanne worked until the wee hours, and De Biertuinwhere you can find yourself older than the other customers' parents. Lest you think all I do is eat and drink, I can also recommend The Tropenmuseuma museum "about people." According to the website, "From Africa to West and Southeast Asia, from New Guinea to Latin America: come to the Tropenmuseum and discover that, despite cultural differences, we are all essentially the same." I'm not sure if that's really true, but it's a lovely little museum with interesting exhibits. This museum is one place which doesn't call Dutch colonizing "exploring" but rather, uses the word "slavery" and the Dutch in the same sentence. Imagine that.

This exhibit about the history of music was fantastic. How could I not be excited about an exhibit that included my favorite musical genre? One can never get enough of this funky stuff.

While you are in this neck of the woods, you can visit Czar Peterstraat, recently voted the nicest shopping street in Amsterdam. And that was before De Pindakaaswinkel, the store selling one thing and one thing only — peanut butter in various flavors — moved in. I discovered the rest of the street when I went in search of the store one afternoon. It's worth wandering around there.

West. Finally, let's head to the West, another area of town that has changed a lot in the past five years or so. You will certainly see more "diversity" out there than in my neighborhood, including many Muslim faces. But as the rents around the city rise and rise, there are more pockets of gentrification. I think of the West as the Brooklyn of Amsterdam. For the coffee fans, try White Label Coffee or Lot Sixty One. White Label is still wedged among kebab joints and inexpensive chain stores, but I'm guessing the neighborhood will soon change. Lot Sixty One now has a line down the block on weekends. Sigh. When we first moved here, I discovered this place — like so many others in this post — while walking with my dog Casey. I knew about four people in Amsterdam, and Peter was one of them. I could always go West (my version of Downtown) and find someplace cozy, or gezellig, as the Dutch say.

Now to really get out of the bubble, you have to go to the Nieuw West, or New West. There you can find some tucked-away gems, like De Cantina. What's not to love about a place where you can read in a hammock, or sit in an old hippie car with your coffee or tea? Note to my expat friends wondering how I find these places: I didn't find this one. Rachel did, on a list of Top 5 Secret Spots in Amsterdam. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

This little plant shop, Wildernis, is in Oud West, Amsterdam West. It might as well be in the Wild West to some expats who don't venture there often. You can buy all sorts of plants, and, of course, a cup of coffee or tea after exerting yourself with your plant shopping.

So what has changed about Amsterdam in my three years here? Many would say the expats are responsible for one big change: higher and higher rents. You can't blame those rising rent prices and gentrification solely on the American expats, as one recent local news broadcaster tried to do. He also blamed us for the piles of garbage and the noise. We are definitely not taking credit for those, dear Amsterdam. Of course, many of us do come with big pocketbooks and our American values, like huge kitchens and multiple bathrooms, and the Dutch real estate market is certainly trying to oblige. But we aren't the only ones moving into previously affordable areas and turning them into posh hideouts. For selfish reasons, I want Amsterdam to gentrify, but just enough. I still want to discover places that don't feel like they are part of the bubble.

But let's face it, fancy coffee is a sure sign that a neighborhood is changing over. The city is certainly getting gussied up. Everywhere you look there is construction. Everywhere. Why can't they finish one project before they tear up the streets somewhere else? It's like when kids have to take out every different Lego set all at once and leave them strewn around and mixed up, instead of cleaning up the ones they are finished with before moving on to a new set. The city is as likely to follow my suggestion about finishing one project at a time as kids are likely to follow an organized Lego play routine. But a girl can dream, can't she?

I recently finished a novel called Euphoria, by Lily King. As it so often happens when I read, one passage seemed to be calling out to me, to be exactly what I have been thinking about as I wrote this post. The character Nell - based on the anthropologist Margaret Mead - is describing her favorite part of her fieldwork. She says, "It's that moment about two months in when you think you've finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It's a delusion — you've only been there eight weeks — and it's followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It's the briefest, purest euphoria." If you substitute her two months for my three years, you will know how I feel.  Sometimes it's euphoria: I can't believe we actually live here! We are so lucky! I think I understand the Dutch and their ways. And then the next moment, it's despair: I'll never really fit in. I'm so far away from home. Where is home, exactly?

I'll end our journey through Amsterdam with a photo of my Dad, taken in 1948 when he visited the Netherlands. He came to Europe on a ship with his father. The overseas trip was a gift for graduating from medical school. The little girls in the photo, I assume, actually dressed that way, unlike the people who dress up to amuse the tourists nowadays. When my dad visited, the world was still a huge place, where people in one part of the world lived very differently from people in another. These days, the world feels like a much smaller place, with H&M and Starbucks uniting us no matter which corner we call home. I often think about how much my dad would have loved to hear about (and read about) my adventures here.  

I didn't crop out the sides of the photo because I love those jagged edges.

In answer to one question we're often asked: No, we don't know how much longer we will stay here. For now, I'm happy to live in my expat land-of-limbo. I'm beyond grateful to have the chance to travel around the city, without the stress and all-consuming schedule of teaching. This move has given me the gift of time, as has Peter, who is, for now, singlehandedly holding down the retirement-fund fort. Thank you, Peter.

I'll close with a quick farewell to a musical part of my past: the late Tom Petty in the Traveling Wilburys: "Maybe somewhere down the road aways, you'll think of me, wonder where I am these days."

I wonder where I'll be, too — somewhere down the road.