My last trip to Amsterdam, ten years ago, had been predicated on the whims of my travel buddy, Tom; it was his trip, I just invited myself to tag along. It was my first time in a non-English speaking country, and I was more than happy to let him take the lead.
But when I went again last October I tried to do a little more planning, have a more in-depth experience.
Well, sort of.
I mean, I guided my friend to the same exact restaurant Tom and I had stumbled upon near the Anne Frank House, the Pancake Bakery. But that’s because I remember that meal vividly a decade later. Though, it turns out I remember it wrong; I had this vision of a giant plate-sized stack of pancakes, slathered in ice cream and chocolate sauce (because I was twenty, and a grown up, so I could eat whatever I dang well pleased for dinner.) But actually, Dutch pancakes are flat, like a crepe, and the size of a small pizza. My possibly maturing taste buds led me to the savory Hungarian pancake, piled with chorizo, salami, tomato, cheese, paprika, onion.
Then we went to a street fair in Dam square, gorged and waddling, and had tiny profitjes, bite-sized pancakes slathered in whip cream and chocolate sauce. The best of all worlds, pancakes for dinner, pancakes for dessert.
But seriously, I wanted to broaden our horizons and steer clear of endless meals of carb-laden comfort foods. I had bulked up a bit on Dutch history, and learned that the Netherlands had colonized Indonesia in the seventeenth century ergo (direct link, right? We can skip the four hundred years in between) there are a lot of Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam.
We were up for trying this untested cuisine, so I asked our walking tour guide for suggestions about a good Indonesian restaurant. Terry was an Irishman, married to an Australian, whose kids spoke better Dutch than he did. But after eight years in country, I figured he would have some good local insider tips.
As he mulled my query, he mentioned that he could point us in the direction of the Hard Rock Café.
My friend and I were offended. Obviously our request meant we were trying to get off the beaten path, to eat like the Dutch. We weren’t your typical tourists.
Anyway, we’d eaten at the Hard Rock two nights before.
After that suggestion, we began to worry Terry wasn’t as familiar with life beyond the tourism industry as we had hoped. He couldn’t remember the name of the Indonesian restaurant he’d eaten at recently with his wife, but he knew it was just off the Leidseplein, in the direction of that shiny neon landmark, the Hard Rock, and it was up a set of stairs.
Later that evening, my friend and I wandered the cobbled pedestrian alleys around the Leidseplein, following my hastily scrawled directions from Terry. Our frustration mounted as we crisscrossed streets with nary a glimpse of anything Indonesian. A name would have been really helpful. Thanks, Terry.
We stood at an intersection, peeking to the left, which is what Terry had told us, and then to the right, because Terry clearly had no idea what he was talking about. Back to the left, a green neon sign suddenly stood out in relief against the mass of culinary advertising.
It simply read “Indonesian Restaurant.”
We approached it, and yes indeed, it was upstairs.
We found this pretty funny.
After all that, we decided not to eat there. Upon inspecting their menu, we realized Indonesian cuisine is far spicier than either of us cares for.
We meandered some more until we stumbled upon a restaurant offering traditional Dutch cuisine called De Blauwe Hollander. We each got a “hotchpotch,” a comforting meal of potatoes, veg, and meat, all smushed together and drowned in sauces. My friend ordered a bacon/endive/meatball/mashed concoction that you could well crawl into and hibernate for the winter. And then we had traditional Dutch apple pie for dessert. So much for avoiding carbs.
Moral of the story: Terry knew exactly what he was talking about even when he didn’t know what he was talking about, and if you’re ever in Amsterdam, I highly recommend you book a walking tour with him. (And the Hard Rock has really good nachos, so lay off.)