Dutch Treats: Rijsttafel

Standard

Say what you will about a buffet, there’s no denying the glee that stems from having an assortment of dishes from which to fill up a plate. A little of this, a dab of that, a heaping spoon of the third. And when the buffet sits right upon your table, precariously balanced in small containers perched atop warming trays, well, that’s an experience worth seeking out.

Purnama rijsttafel at Indrapura

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I finally had the opportunity to sample the legendary Indonesian Rijstafel, the “rice table” so beloved by the Dutch and Indonesians alike. Our search for a casual yet high quality purveyor of this meal led us to Indrapura, right off Rembrandtplein and mere blocks from our accommodations. Arriving early on a Friday, we had the place to ourselves to begin, and the waiter provided nice attention, offering an Indonesian Bintang beer to accompany the “Purnama” rijsttafel.

After an appetizer of minced lamb in a fried pastry wrapper, the table began in earnest, with the waiter depositing a good score of small containers arrayed with some flair and a brief description. I could hardly keep track of what he was placing before us, but it all looked brilliant. The dominant tastes were of peanut sauce, coconut milk, and very mild spice, carried by a variety of pork, chicken, beef, and vegetables. Two bowls of rice, one plain white and one fried, accompanied the meal.

Purnama rijsttafel at Indrapura

I must confess to being underwhelmed by the spice levels. I had hoped for, and indeed expected, for heat to suffuse the meal, but on the whole, the tastes were subtle and the heat nearly nonexistent. I’ve had this problem in the Netherlands before, where theoretically spicy dishes came out with a “tourist” level of spice. Perhaps I should have let the waiter know that our spice tolerance sits on the high side of the scale.

Still, the total experience left us happy to have sampled such a wide variety of Indonesian dishes in a welcoming environment. A pleasant way to begin a Friday night, indeed, and a quintessential Indo-Dutch treat.

Dutch Treats: Goudse kass Komijn

Standard

Travel blends the extraordinary with the simple, and on a recent trip to Amsterdam, that most mundane of meals, breakfast, became a moment of simple delight: strong coffee, fresh bread, and Dutch cheese. Gouda with cumin seeds, to be exact, a fancy meal served on napkins on a hotel room side table.

Gouda01

The translation of the cheese name (“Goudse kass komijn”) suggests cumin, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t primarily caraway instead, the two sister seeds being occasionally interchangeable. This firm, mature cheese lacked the stronger bite I associate with cumin, but regardless, the effect of the seeds in the cheese created a texture and taste very similar to that other firm cumin/caraway cheese, the Norwegian nøkkelost, with the semi-soft seeds leaving keyholes behind when they fall out. These tiny spaces provide an interesting and satisfying texture.

Continue reading

Onderzeeboots by the Zee

Standard

The typical tourist sights in the Netherlands include tulips, windmills, canals, and various and sundry museums, all quite exceptional. The slightly less typical sights include two submarines which might well have played cat and mouse with each other during the Cold War: B-80, a Soviet Zulu-class submarine, and Tonijn, a Dutch Potvis-class submarine.

The Zulu submarine sits in Amsterdam’s harbor, in NDSM-werf, where it served as a stationary “party boat” that could be rented for events. To facilitate such soirĂ©es in a submarine’s exceedingly cramped conditions required the gutting of the hull, so now it’s just a shell. Given the copious graffiti on its sail and the general lack of upkeep, it seems deserted at this point.

GVB, Amsterdam’s public transit company, runs a free ferry to NDSM-werf from behind the main train station, and while you can’t access the submarine, there are several good vantage points to shoot pictures from.

Zulu Class Submarine in Amsterdam Harbor

Perhaps an ignominious reincarnation for such a machine, but it’s likely the other fate would have been the scrapper’s yard, and it’s quite an interesting conversation piece in an already picturesque city.

Continue reading

Dutch Treats: Broodje Pom in Amsterdam

Standard

Travel engages all five senses, and my faithful traveling companion would probably suggest that I focus on taste more than any of the other four when we’re on the road. So, for our recent trip to Amsterdam, I was determined to find some unique dishes to complement the intense experience of a van Gogh seen in person and the delightful sound of the high plinks of bicycle bells in concert with the lower plonks of trams on their street tracks.

Indonesian places came highly recommended, and we did visit one (mentioned at the end of this post), but my main culinary goal for the trip was a broodje pom, a sandwich filled with a Surinamese chicken-and-tuber casserole called pom. And Tokoman, on Waterlooplein, holds grail status online as the place to visit for this sandwich. So we went!

Tokoman, Amsterdam

The first time we tried to eat there, this website-less shop was closed (no Sunday hours), but the second trip, on an incredibly breezy day (small glass vases went flying from vendors’ shelves when we roved around the nearby Waterlooplein Flea Market) proved more bountiful. For €3.30, we got a nice sized sandwich (say ten inches long) on a fresh baguette, filled with the orangish-red casserole and topped with a cabbage relish and peppers.

Broodje Pom from Tokoman, Amsterdam

Or, at least we asked for the peppers. Everything I had read suggested the peppers would impart some heat, but there was no heat at all in this sandwich. I wonder if the person behind the counter, detecting my foreignness, held back the good stuff for fear that I couldn’t handle it.

Still, the broodje pom had a nice sweet and sour balance, and the grated tubers blended well with the chunks of soft chicken. The tubers, while essentially the filler, played a nice textural role, a tender counterpoint to the chicken. Overall, the flavor was reminiscent of a barbecue sandwich that substituted any vinegar tang for a sweeter, more citric bite. A multi-napkin sandwich for sure.

The broodje pom wasn’t the knockout sandwich of my dreams, but I’m glad we tracked down Tokoman (Waterlooplein 327) to give it a try. It’s not every day you sample Surinamese cuisine, and the broodje pom we shared kept us going for another few hours of walking in one of Europe’s most walkable cities.

Oh, and we grabbed Indonesian take-out in Nieuwmarkt, near our hotel, at Toko Joyce. A small, take-out only operation, they offered a lunch box with 100 grams each of a meat dish and a vegetable dish over rice or noodles for about €6.00 or so. Perhaps it wasn’t a full-blown rijstaffel, but it hit the spot, gave us a sample of Indonesian fare, and got us on our way for more sightseeing and random canal crossings.