Cosmo-topia! Got the Munchies? Eat your Heart out in Amsterdam

Posted on August 10, 2011


A great-great grandfather of mine, Captain (and sometime smuggler) Rientsma, once punched a fellow sailor outside an Amsterdam brothel in an altercation concerning a prostitute. I have no idea whether this story is fact or fiction (stranger things have happened in my family), but it illustrates a point about the oft-maligned city of my birth: stories about it usually concern sex, or drugs, or both.

You know what more stories about Amsterdam should contain?

Argentinian Restaurants.

No kidding. Amsterdam has got to be the number one destination for lovers of Argentinian cuisine. They are everywhere. In one random block in the labyrinthine centrum, I counted no less than NINE different Argentinian steakhouses. This is probably more than in all of Argentina. Even weirder, in another street, there were three different steakhouses – ALL creatively named “El Rancho”. Like so much of the city, the steakhouses are decorated with neon lights advertising the quality of their “Carne” and the heat of their grills. Even amongst all the other eye-catching “wares” being offered in Amsterdam’s shop windows, you can’t miss them.

Argentinean Steakhouse in Amsterdam

Sometimes Smith’s invisible hand passes over a small area, leaving in its wake an island of unlikely localised industry. Argentinian steakhouses are to Amsterdam what Bridal shops are to Sydney Rd. And that is not a statement I make lightly.

But… why?

When it comes to cheap(ish), fast food, even Berlin, with its Doner Kebabs and Currywurst, can’t match Amsterdam. Did you know that Amsterdam houses Europe’s largest floating Chinese restaurant? Neither did I. And if you’re not in the mood for dumplings, help yourself to some Bami noodles at an Indonesian take-away shop, a rubbery “Frikadel” sausage from the local pub, or some Chips with mayonnaise at the hilariously-named “Chipsy King” chain. My personal favourite is the wonderful world of Dutch pancakes. To imagine a Dutch pancake, picture yourself sitting in an other-worldly Pancake Parlour where the menu contains a whole section just for bacon-themed pancakes. To the apprehensive tourist: Be ye not afraid. It is not weird to eat pancakes with such unlikely toppings as “Apple and Cheese” or “Mushroom, Tomato and ham.” One friend traveling with us said, “This is so great. Travel is really broadening my mind; I mean, look at me, eating a chicken pancake.”

To be honest, most of the food in Amsterdam is closer to stodge than to cuisine. There’s probably a causal relationship in here somewhere: I’ve yet to meet a person who craves caviar after a joint. The Food Thing is probably a side-effect of the Marijuana Thing, but nonetheless, it deserves attention in its own right. There are not many places outside Japan where you can get a hamburger and fries from a supermarket-sized vending machine. Nor is there any other place in the world where you can legitimately put chocolate sprinkles on a sandwich, and substitute butter for nutella.

I should add a note of caution. Dutch food has got to be some of the most unhealthy and heavily calorific (is it a word? It should be!) food in the world. Do not overindulge. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s heart-attack or obesity. The only reason Dutch people aren’t fat is that they ride their bikes absolutely everywhere. At train stations, they have car parks for bikes instead of cars. Indulge responsibly.

A bicycle car park

They say that nerds come to Amsterdam to obtain what other people can get anywhere. True, if the crowds in the Red Light District (“De Wallen”) are anything to go by. But I urge you: differentiate yourself from the chubby German businessmen and British lads who swarm the canals at night. Put the belly in underbelly. It’s not just the girls in the sex shows who can do amazing things with potatoes…

For more check out Someone Explain Berlin and True Blooooooooooooooooood