eating in amsterdam, duck style (part 2).

IMPORTANTE: This post is from 2006, a long time ago. Much has changed. Please don't hold me responsible if things aren't as good as they were X years ago (and counting)....


Man, does Blogger suck. Welcome to Installment 2 of this 4-part series, necessitated (the parts) by a ridiculous bug in Blogger that begins adding tags indiscriminately if you edit the same post a number of times. Confusingly, here is Part One of this series.


6) Loempia and Maiskoekjes at Toko Ikan Mas, 1e Constantijn Huygensstraat 61. (link)


UPDATE, Jan 2007:
Recent visits to Toko Ikan Mas have been disappointing...their loempias seem to have degraded into something more doughy and bland. Bummer.

UPDATE: Jan 2009: Loempias at Toko Ikan Mas seem to have recovered...not quite the same as they used to be, but headed back in that direction. Los Pilones, on the other hand, has been increasingly disappointing on our last two visits. BOO. Both visits have been to the new Jordaan location, it's true, but the changes aren't execution-related, they seem conceptual: there are fewer authentic menu options, and in general the food seems much less spicy and interesting.


Toko Ikan Mas
is a bit of a nostalgic favorite from when we first moved here and lived right across the street, but we still find their vegetarian loempias to be the best in town, primarily because they try harder.

Terminology check: A toko is typically an Indonesian food shop that sells take-away snacks and full meals as well as produce and supplies for the home chef. A loempia (or lumpia in most other languages) is very similar to a Chinese egg roll, a Vietnamese spring roll, and a Thai popiah. They were introduced to the Dutch population in the early- to mid- 20th century, probably by Chinese and definitely by Indonesian immigrants, and they are now everywhere, at least in Amsterdam. It would be a challenge to find an Amsterdam snack bar that did not have something it referred to as a loempia.

Unfortunately, these may be the some of the worst loempias in existence. Thick, soggy wrappers around fillings that don't taste like much more than salt and cheap, old frying oil. To be fair, 90% of Amsterdam snackbar loempia makers probably use the same 3 brands of frozen loempias, so there's really no comparison with someone who puts some effort into it.

Toko Ikan Mas makes its own loempias. They use a paper-thin wrapper that doesn't retain much oil, and fill it to bursting with the usual suspects (cabbage, carrots, tauge/bean sprouts) as well as vermicelli noodles and some good heat from a sambal. These loempias are about 6 times the size of the standard borrelhapje loempia/vlammetje (a tiny loempia that was invented so that loempias could participate in a borrelhapjes plate (bar snacks) without scaring off the bitterballen and osseworst).* One is a reasonable order for one person. I should stress, though, that their size has nothing to do with their goodness: they're good because they're fresh and light.

The other item to pick up here is a maiskoek, or Indonesian Corn Cake (also called frikadel jagung in Indonesian maybe?). It's also fried, but wrapperless; this is basically a corn fritter with actual corn, lemongrass, leeks, and a little sambal. As always, I recommend scoring a tamarind or young coconut water drink from the fridge to wash it down.

Again, as with most of these Indonesian/Surinamese snack places, the closer you can go to lunchtime, the better the food will be and the more likely they'll have what you're looking for. These aren't all-night places, they're typically open til 7 or 8 at the latest, and by then (if they've calclulated correctly), they'll be out of just about everything perishable.

* The actual reason for this size issue may have something to do with the fact that Malaysian spring rolls are actually traditionally quite small.

7) Chicken Mole or Cochinita Pibil at Los Pilones, Kerkstraat 63. (link)

European-Mexican food. Just seeing those first two words next to each other should be enough to put a scare in you. If you've ever been gallivanting around Yurp and thought it might be fun to try a restaurant called A Taste of Texas, Buenos Nachos, La Cantina, or anything remotely Mexican-sounding, you know what I'm talking about.

It's not that the cooks in these places don't have the skillz necessary to prepare authentic Mexican dishes, they've just never actually tasted authentic Mexican food before. So everything is (at least) slightly off, like eating in a bad dream. Guacamole can be toothpaste-colored and creamy, as in, it has cream in it. "Salsas" can run the gamut from simply crushed and unseasoned canned tomatoes with jarred jalapeno slices to highly seasoned spaghetti sauce. Corn tortillas? Sadly, no. Same goes for tomatillos, poblanos, epazote, nopales, hoja santa, chipotles, anchos, pasillas, Negra Modelo, moles, pipians, etc. etc. etc.

Unless, that is, (get ready for a transition here...) the European-Mexican restaurant in question is Los Pilones, run by two brothers from Mexico City (smooth!). You can tell that Hector and Pedro aren't creamy guacamole guys as soon as the chips are brought to your table. They come with not one but three excellent salsas. The non-creamy guac is simple, chunky, and otherwise perfect as well. For entrees, we usually stick with the chicken mole and the cochinita pibil because they've been great every time and nothing else on the menu has been able to distract us from them.

Now...as great as it is, Los Pilones is not a Mission burrito joint, or a taco truck, nor is it many of the things that we American Eaters of Mexican Food are homesick for, authentic or not, so don't expect any of that. But, it is a lovingly-designed, artfully-managed fun spot for dinner or drinks that serves carefully-prepared, as-authentic-as-possible Yucatecan and Oaxacan food. In Amsterdam!

8) Bocadillos at Hollandaluz, Haarlemmerstraat 71. (link)

This shop can do no wrong in my tiny little mind, or at least not much (they could maybe carry some better canned tuna...Ortiz for example). Before Mara took off for Scotland this summer, our sunny day plan went like this:

Her: "OK, see you at the park. Get the one with the membrillo, and something else."
Me: "The artichokes with aioli?"
Her: "Hmm. We just had that one."
Me: "But it was fantastic."
Her: "Right. Get one. And something else."
Me: "That's two humongous sandwiches already. How many days are we going to be at the park?"
Her: (frown, with extended lower lip).
Me: "OK, what else?"

The items in question are bocadillos (sandwiches) from Hollandaluz. We've had all 10 of them (or at least I have), and my favorites in order are....well, it's just easier to list the ones I wasn't bowled over by: both of the roasted red pepper bocadillos might actually be fine, but compared to everything else they were a bit boring. If I were going right now, I'd get a tuna/aioli and a manchego/membrillo. Their aioli is the best I've ever had, I think, and any sandwich that they put it on is one you're going to want to bite the shit out of. But...their albondigas are also the best I've had, and the warm chorizo with onions is the shit as well. They also have a morcilla (blood sausage) option that's a bit hard to see on the menu, but it's there, and it's good if you're up for it. Make sure to ask for a little extra olive oil on any of these sandwiches, because the olive oil they use here is out. of. sight.

I haven't even mentioned any of their other homemade stuff: great non-fishy marinated fresh anchovies; paellla; gazpacho, croquetas. And unflaggingly friendly service, even in the deepest throes of our Summer Deathwave of Heat.

9) Gambas and Homemade Ginger-Pear Tart at Van Kerkwijk, Nes 41.

This is my fail-safe "dining out with guests" option in Amsterdam. I've eaten here at least ten times and been thoroughly pleased every time. It's not really "fancy" cooking, but you won't find any hutspot or kroketten here. It's a quietly cool (but not quiet) and classy neighborhood restaurant run by an ever-changing number of sisters that prepares fresh, creative food with a pronounced Spanish influence, but more than that (to me) seems very Dutch in its appropriation of "whatever sounds good".

My most memorable meal there was a beautiful, perfectly cooked filet of beef in a strawberry/balsamic/olive oil sauce, simply plated and delicious. In fact, the steaks here have always been very very good (for Americans reading this, it's worth mentioning that you will not see a charcoal-grilled steak here very often, they're more often pan-fried in butter I believe). Some nights we just go for starters, interesting cheeses and gently modernized pan-European tapas/antipasti. The menu changes often, and there are usually interesting seafood and salad options. We almost always order the gambas, large whole shrimp baked in a clay pot with lots of garlic, good olive oil, and red chile pepper. And for dessert, we order the homemade perentaart when there's still some left (mom makes it for them every day the restaurant is open). Excellent, friendly service and an overall good vibe. OK, the music is occasionally a little...mmm, lounge-y for my tastes, but with cool music Van Kerkwijk would probably be too devastatingly attractive for its own good anyway.

10) Bara at Toko Hangalampoe, 2e Nassaustraat 7.

I just had one of these this morning, as this is my downstairs Surinaamse toko, and the baras are only 1 euro...how can you not get one when you walk by? A bara is a deep-fried black lentil doughnut (bet you never thought you'd see all those words in the same sentence) of Indian/Nepalese origin. The Indian influence on Surinam cuisine seems surprising for a South American country, until you find out that 37% of the Surinam population is East Indian/Hindustani (the largest ethnic group in the country). I know this is true because Wikipedia told me so.

Anyway, Toko Hangalampoe's bara participates in the noble tradition of Indian lentil fritters, but takes it in a totally different direction by adding to it a ridiculously spicy Madame Jeanette (habanero relative) salsa smeared liberally on top (less liberally if you don't speak Dutch, I've heard). This is the spiciest food I've had in Amsterdam, in fact it can be too hot (depending on who is behind the counter). If you're not a chile-lover, you might want to ask for the peper separate (it comes in a little plastic bag this way) so you can regulate your dosage. But you definitely have to get your bara met peper.

This is probably not the best bara in Amsterdam, but it is above-average, for sure. It's possible that you will get a not-completely-reheated bara. Take it home and put it in the oven to reheat, or the toaster if you got your sambal on the side.



Anonymous said...

wow fabulous post! Re:frikandel jagung - it is pergedel jagung in Bahasa Indonesia and Bergedil Jagung in Bahasa Malaysia.

anne said...

I hope you still have your blog. I am desperate for a recipe that is at least similar to the pear cake/tart at Van Kerkwijk. I've eaten there several times on business trips to Amsterdam and can not get the wonderful flavor out of my head. I would love to recreate a version at home...can you help me find something??

MEM said...

hey anne, yes i do still have my blog. it's been 7 years or so since i've had a piece of it, but as i remember, there wasn't really a "pear filling", the pears were just kind of randomly strewn throughout, right?

MEM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MEM said...

Like this, right?

Except darker, as if there were some whole-wheat flour or a touch of molasses in there. The molasses is unlikely, but the Dutch do use something called perenstroop (pear syrup) that is the color of molasses. I know you can't read this, but maybe Google Translate can help: http://marsepein.blogspot.nl/2011/01/appelstroop-en-perenstroop.html.

I'm not much of a baker myself, but I'll have a quick poke around and see if I can find something that looks like a darker version of the first link above.