Besides frites and beer in Belgium, and beer and cheese in Holland, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the culinary side of the trip. Sure, there are lots of jokes about people going to Amsterdam to eat Indonesian food and, of course, “special” brownies. But what else could we expect? Well, here’s a quick overview of some of the best spots we uncovered while traveling in both regions.
Beer—OK, this was a no brainer. There are thousands of beers brewed in Belgium and they come in all types, with a special glass for every one too! ‘t Brugs Beertje offered a phenomenal selection in Bruges including a wide range of Krieks (beer’s fruity cousin). As of this trip, Kasteel is by far my fave. So, NSLC or private local liquor stores, please call me when you get some in. Cokebaby and I also did a tour of De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) Brewery which was a very different experience from Guinness or Heineken because of how small an operation it is. The steep steps during the tour are not for the faint of heart!
Chocolate (Bruges)—Well, maybe this was a no-brainer too. All I can say is that, yes, it does taste better in Belgium. My favourite were the chocolate covered orange slices. This from a person who doesn’t really have much of a sweet tooth. There are chocolate shops around every corner here and each one seems to have a different take on chocolate. The only thing you can do is go from shop to shop and try them all…
Frites—We know them as French fries but that’s a misnomer because the Belgians invented and perfected them. The secret? Double frying in animal fat, then serving them up piping hot with a massive dollop of mayonnaise on top. I have to admit they were too rich for my taste but Cokebaby seemed to enjoy them.
Proeflokaal De Admiraal (Amsterdam)—One of several “tasting rooms” in the city, the place is decorated in an old nautical style along with distillery kettles and tools, and old wooden casks. This was actually our first stop to eat so we sampled some regional cuisine. Whenever we saw “snack” listed on a menu in Amsterdam it was referring to bitterballen. These are sort of like puréed meatballs made of beef, beef broth, flour, butter and seasoning. They’re deep-fried and served with mustard. Here we also tried pickled herring and smoked eel, both served on toast. The herring was only lightly pickled so it had a fresher consistency closer to sashimi than the stuff you’d find in a jar. We also enjoyed our first taste of Jenever (a.k.a. Dutch gin). I quite liked the berry infused one that I tried while Cokebaby went for an aged one that was more akin to Scotch.
Café Cobra (Amsterdam)—Situated conveniently within a stone’s throw of the Rijksmuseum, Cokebaby and I stopped here for a light lunch. He ordered poffertjes, essentially miniature buckwheat pancakes, while I had mustard soup with salmon. The rest of the trip we were on a mission to find a poffertjes pan (which we did) and some time this fall I’m going to try my hand at making the soup based on this recipe. If you have a better one you’re willing to share, please do!
Sacre Coeur (Bruges)—On most of our trips we typically find one restaurant that we return to more than once because of the recipe for a good place to eat: delicious food, excellent service, interesting ambience, and good value. Sacre Coeur has it all. And they don’t skimp on portion sizes. Of all the meals we had it was the traditional Flemish stew and Koninginnehapje (Queen’s Delight) that I’d recommend above everything else.
Tujuh Maret (Amsterdam)—We couldn’t leave the city without trying at least one Indonesian place, right? This meal was by far the most expensive of all the places we went but the food and service was great. Cokebaby ordered a rijsttafel (rice table) with a wide variety of meats and vegetables in interesting sauces. I opted for one of the smaller, but still considerably pricey, dishes that was essentially a plate of appetizers. Truly a delicious experience.
Honourable mention goes to breakfast. In Amsterdam, for me that meant having a slice of ham and fried egg piled on a piece of toast with cheese melted on top (always served with a small salad). Meanwhile Cokebaby sampled a number of sweet and savoury pannenkoeken (pancakes). In Bruges, our hotel provided an amazing spread that included pate, smoked salmon, a variety of yummy cheeses, breads and homemade jams.
On a side note, if you ever do fly with Icelandair, everything at Reykjavík Airport is crazy expensive! You’re better off eating on the plane or packing a snack. I don’t mind splurging while on vacation but not on airport food.
In any case, that wraps up the posts on Amsterdam and Bruges. You can check out some more photos from the trip on Flickr.