Okay, the formalities. Shamzuri is a kickass Malaysian chef, cooking from his own restaurant, The Cottage in Leitrim, he cooks Modern European cuisine, with a nod to his homeland. Kevin (that's me), well, I'm Irish, a Dub that cooks South East Asian, quite a bit of Indonesian from my place The Chameleon in Temple Bar and we are mates
We had to talk some serious bullshit to convince our wives into letting us visit Amsterdam to investigate its street food scene, or whether or not it even has one.
Given that the Dutch colonised and kicked the crap out of a fair chunk of South East Asia back in its hey day, one would expect that maybe, just maybe, some of that Asian street food culture would have made its way back to the cobbled streets of Amsterdam.
It was 6 am on a cold and wet, Sunday morning in Dublin, that myself and Sham were making our way to Dublin airport, two, tired chefs, after busy services in our respective restaurants, the night before.
Bound for Hamster jam, as my 5 year old calls it.
We were there to eat, that's the bottom line and that's just what we did, plus a beer or two.
Breakfast, the most important meal of the day.
Thankfully, on the flight out, Sham and I were not sitting together, it meant I could sleep, he's a right yapper, don't you know? So, when we landed and then quickly jumped a train, we hit the ground running....
Before even checking into our 2 star shoebox twin room, we were chomping on and not finishing, below par, street rolls, most of which ended up in a canal, sorry, but it was the best place for them. We wanted our calorie intake to consist of quality nosh, not factory made rolls.
Having visited Amsterdam umpteen times, we know the place pretty well.
So, off we went to the Red Light District!
Now, hold on a minute, we know what you're thinking, but, it's not like that, honest.
Just on the edge of said infamous district, there's a street called Zeedijk ( say it with me, Zay-Dike ). It leads to Nieuwmarkt sq., which is great on a summers day for some alfresco embibing, it's also got one of our favourite bars Cafe Stevens, a really cosy, local 'brown' bar. They call them brown bars, because the ceilings and walls are often discoloured from years of indoor smoking, a firm favourite for a beer and some bitterballen. Bitterballen are basically croquettes, filled with various different types of mystery meat, cheese or just potato, often served with mustard, needless to say, it did not rock our world or warm our tummies on this bitterly cold afternoon. I guess we just weren't drunk enough.
Which brings us back to Zeedijk.
This street cuts through the red light, it's got sex shops, coffee shops, bars, gay, straight and whatever tickles your fancy, restaurants, pimps and pushers, too.
It's also got Bird Snack Bar.
Bird serves, down home, street style, hot as hell, cheap, Thai food. It's basically street food, cooked indoors.
Searingly hot, it even made Sham break a sweat!
It's got Mama in the open kitchen, the kind of kitchen the food police in Ireland wouldn't let you away with and the husband and sons on potwash, while working the floor, too.
Sham is multi-lingual ( very impressive ) a great bonus here, so he did the talking. The room is tiny, food comes out fast, tables turn quickly and it's all fresh. It's just a small square room, but, it's like you're eating in the kitchen, brilliant!
The windows were steamed up, everybody crammed in, bumping into each other, but nobody cared. They were here for the food, simple as that. They don't even serve booze, just soft drinks, you're in and out so fast, there'd be no time to skull wine.
Sham had Pad Krapow, stir fried minced beef with chillies, green beans & Thai basil. (We'll attach our own version of this dish, dropping the heat a little). I had a spot on Thai green curry, it was bang on, clean, hot with a right whack of galangal!
It's got it's regulars, we both agreed, if either of us lived here, we'd be among them.
After Bird, we explored the canals and narrow streets of this beautiful city, taking it relatively easy. Later that evening, when we regained consciousness (after a nap), we walked the streets again, searching for something that we couldn't find, hoping to see somewhere we wanted to eat. But, we are a right couple of fuss pots, so, I made a call.
That call was to Envy, we strayed way off the brief here, out of pure laziness, as its not street food, it's kinda swanky, but it had been a long day. Its also one of my favourite Amsterdam restaurants. They fitted us in at 9.45pm on that Sunday night, we were their last table of the evening.
Thankfully, Sham, who is a far better chef than I am, approved, phew! He was dissecting and analysing the different flavours in his own funny nerdy way, while I was on my third glass of really nice wine, just enjoying the good food and the company of my friend. It's the kind of place, where the clientele are nicer than the waiters, who are in need of a good slap.
The first time I visited Envy, which is on Prinsengracht, was about ten years ago. It's a dimly lit, modern space, with chefs on show behind a glass wall, the place is pristine and looks as good now, as it did then. The food really is the star here, so much so, that they have fridges with glass doors in the dining area, displaying the top quality produce.
Between sips, I found time to take some pictures of their very tasty, high end, cheffy plates of food. You're welcome.
Baked langoustines with lardo,
Hollandaise sauce and dill.
Grilled spring chicken breast with pumpkin,
red beetroot, rosemary and a sauce of Madeira and foie gras.
Beef entrecôte with creme of puffed onion and green peas. (We both agreed, not a patch on Irish beef)
Foie gras with raspberry and hazelnut
This is all very fancy schmancy, not the reason we came, but, hey, we adapted. If you're into your food, you really must try Envy, each of these small plates averaged around €12. We'd be back, in a heartbeat. Street food, it is not.
Envy, Prinsengracht 381 http://www.envy.nl/en
After Envy, we went for a few Grolsch to discuss the days gluttony.
We both agreed, Bird was by far the winner, hands down.
But, we were getting the feeling that street food in Amsterdam just isn't a thing, despite the Dutch colonial history and its diversity of restaurants, it's just too damn cold.
But, Bird was street, as street as John Shaft. We decided to continue our street food search the next day, except we'd be taking it indoors.
Back at the hotel, we had to swipe our key cards on the front door to get in.
We crept in, being considerate to the other cheapskates asleep upstairs.
Then, out of fucking nowhere, the hotel receptionist/manager/concierge/breakfast cook popped out from behind a door wearing only boxer shorts. I offered him Sham, as a gift, but he declined, he just reversed back into the silent darkness, kinda like the penguin in The Blues Brothers.
That was a lucky escape for Sham, I had his back, he owes me one.
Welcome to Amsterdam.
Sirloin steak or similar, it needs to be lean, about 400g
A big handful of green beans, or mange tout, blanched.
A handful of Thai basil, regular will do.
1 - 4 red or green chillies, sliced, I like it hot.
To marinade the beef, cut it into thin slivers.
In a bowl, mix;
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
5 tablespoons light soy
5 tablespoons honey or sugar
1 - 2 tablespoons crushed black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, minced
Mix the marinade with the beef and leave it for 30 - 90 mins.
Heat your wok, nice and hot, with a dash of veg or sunflower oil.
Throw the meat in, with the marinade liquid & stir fry for 1 minute (ish),
Add the chillies & beans, stir fry for 1 minute,
Then add the basil for a few seconds and serve with steamed rice.
Garnish the dish with fried peanuts or crispy shallots.
Serves 2 - 4.
I shared it with my son, with some rather excellent tea.
We hope you like it.
Stir fried strips of beef, with chillies, green beans, Thai basil & peanuts.
Day 1, done and dusted.
Day 2, the adventure continues, mostly in De Pijp (de pipe).