Amsterdam, two cooks and their quest for street food. By Kevin O'Toole Part II

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This story is meant to be read in order, if you haven't read part I then find it here.

Day 2 of our Cook's tour.

On the second morning, I was rudely awakened by a loud gargling sound. It was coming from the bed beside me, fearing that my travel companion was going the way of Bon Scott or Janis, I leapt out of bed, ready to roll him onto his side. But it was a false alarm, Sham just snores like a fucking train. Needless to say, there was no going back to sleep after that, so I gave him a boot. We had some eating to do.

The plan for today was to rent bikes and grab breakfast on the go. Cycling is the absolute best way to get around Amsterdam, lots of canals equates to very few hills, easy. We stepped outside the hotel and got in the saddle, the city was blanketed in a freezing fog, Jesus it was cold! We had heard of a burger joint called Lombardos, word on the street was that they served the best in the city, we wanted to find the place, as according to map, it was kinda on the way to De Pijp ( de pipe ), which is where we were headed for.

We must've cycled up and down this pretty little street called Nieuwe Spiegelstraat about five times looking for the place, but, couldn't find it, we gave up, we needed coffee. We parked our hogs outside a promising looking little cafe ( not a coffee shop, big difference ), called Stach. A good call it was too, great coffee, tasty pastries and a smile, things were on the up. We stood outside, sipping our coffees, just watching the world go by, seeing freshly baked, unwrapped bread being delivered by bike, was such a lovely sight in a city.

Then, next door to Stach, we see Lombardos, how the bejaysus did we miss it? I guess we were expecting a bigger place, but it's tiny, with just a few stools, it didn't look like a burger joint. Now that we knew where it was, we'd come back later. Back on the bikes, we were heading to Albert Cuyp Straat in an area called De Pijp. To get there, we cycled through Leidseplein and very briefly stopped off at The American Hotel, I wanted to show Sham the beautiful Art Deco Cafe Americain on the ground floor, I got married in this lovely room ten years earlier, almost to the day. So, it would have been a sin, not to at least pop in and have a look. It's as lovely as ever, unchanged, with its beautiful stained glass windows casting different coloured light and a smashing spot for an afternoon glass of Cremant, if you've got the right company. It's a beautiful room for a wedding.

Shortly after, we were cycling down a random street, with our nuts frozen off us, when we struck gold. It was a shop, selling all sorts of restaurant and cooking equipment. I know this sounds so dorky. But, more often than not, such a vast array of kit is only ever seen in catalogues. There was a huge selection of really sexy looking coffee machines, as well as stoves, cook books, even aprons, I bought a couple of fancy ones. It was called Duikelman, we must've been there for almost an hour, then I stepped outside, while Sham bought a book. I looked across the street, they had another shop! We ran in, like two excited school kids. This place was the holy grail of cooking shops, talk about Chef porn! You name it, they had it. From ice cream machines to copper pots, from mixers to melon ballers and then the knives. Oh sweet Jesus, the knives, never before have I seen so many beautiful knives in one room, I was nursing a semi just looking at them, cursing myself for only carrying hand luggage! Knowing full well that my wife would most likely use the knife on me, if I spent close to 500 quid on one. We spent an hour in this shop , we'll be back, I took pictures of the knives, something to remember them by. Now I feel like the nerd.

The Albert Cuyp Market runs the length of the street, it sells all sorts of tat. It reminds me of the Dublin Bizarre, on Meath St., where my mother used to bring me as a kid, they'd sell bales of toilet paper and 20 kilo boxes of washing powder, just don't ask where they got it. It is not a food market, it's a general market, but, it's got some food. This market is more real Amsterdam, there are no red lights here, which is nice, no stags, no junkies, just Amsterdammers going about their day. There's a fish stand selling one of their national dishes, raw herring with onions and pickles. The Dutch have been eating this for hundreds of years, I lasted about a minute. I'm a big fan of sushi, sushi makes me happy and for a fat bastard, it miraculously makes me feel light, this is not sushi. Typically the fish is frozen, then laid in salt for a couple of days. Okay, in the spirit of the trip, I tried some, I wanted to, but I knew that it just wouldn't be for me. It smelt clean and fresh, tasted nicely salted, it also had a slimy texture and a mouthfeel that was just rather unpleasant, then it just had a couple of spoonfuls of raw onions on top of it. I know it's a healthy snack, it really is proper Dutch street food, hip hip hooray. But, it did not belong in my mouth.

Sham, on the other hand, was upbeat ( he normally is ), it stuck to the brief. He finished his, we both had some cod roe and squid with a dollop of mayonnaise, that was grand, not exactly rocking our world, but it was street, Dutch street. I must say, I was a little bit disheartened after the herring, I just wanted the taste out of my mouth, so, we popped in to a local bar and grabbed a quick gin and tonic, it was a large pour and we didn't have helmets, but, it beats mouthwash any day of the week. I love sushi and sashimi and if my fish is gonna be smoked, then give me something from Sally Barnes, any day of the week. It'll knock the balls off this stuff. But, hey, we weren't looking for the best.

Sham and I had decided to stick around this area, we liked it. We were right, moments later we stumbled across Tijn, it's a deli with an Asian market out the back. They specialise in food to go from Indonesia and Suriname. I had a lesson in geography here, in my ignorance, I thought Suriname was maybe in the same neighbourhood as Indonesia, but, no. It neighbours Brazil. Man oh man, did the Dutch get around! A raping and a pillaging, as you do, oh, those were the days, I'm surprised Mel Brooks never made a movie about their shenanigans. We arrived in Tijn, feeling kinda cocky, both of us, I think the bromance was taking hold, I'd had a ride and Sham had been eyeing up some undies for himself or Mrs Sham. Who knows? I don't care, I never want to know. The dude behind the counter at this joint was amazing! A total credit to the place, warm, smiling, engaging and informative about the food. A gem. I ordered tempeh manis, a breakfast staple for me, whenever I visit Indonesia, it's basically fried tempeh in ketjap manis with chillies, ginger and garlic. It was decent, not quite as hot and sticky as I like, but tasty and meat free. But, why it was served in a crappy white bread roll is beyond me, there was no need for it, the bread got dumped. Sham ordered pom, a traditional Suriname baked dish of chicken, pomtayer, citrus juice, onions, tomato and spice. It was simple, authentic and tasty, more importantly, it was something we hadn't tried before. Again, served in bread, also dumped. Tijn is a good authentic deli, with a lot of choice. If it had been warmer, we'd have eaten outside, there are public benches or even better, walked around the corner to Sarphati park. It's clearly got a decent reputation as the queue was growing as we left. The same happy dude behind the counter, smiling away and working efficiently. Worth a visit, just ask them to hold the bread.

The bikes were locked up and we were strolling through the market, it really does sell an awful lot of shite, but, it was relaxing, having a yap, keeping our eyes open for what to stuff in our faces next. That's when we caught a whiff of the waffle man, there's something comforting about the smell of cinnamon in the air on a cold day. These are not the big thick American style waffles, these were stroopwaffel, more like a thin cinnamon tuile, cut open, then filled with hot caramel. What's not to like? The guy in the waffle van was cooking them to order, talking us through the process as he did, a real cool guy. It tasted great, something simple, done right, it was gone before it had time to cool and firm up. A definite Dutch, street treat. Right, at this stage it was about 3pm, bloody freezing and so far we'd eaten pastries, herring, tempeh manis, Pom, waffles, quickly followed by some rather decent chips from a van and a double G & T. A lot of this was street food, so, I guess it does exist here in Amsterdam, after all. It just isn't that good and lacks imagination. By now, we felt like we'd worked hard enough, adjourning ourselves to a lovely little local bar for some afternoon scoops and to people watch. It does becoming slightly upsetting when at around the forty years of age mark, a man realises he can no longer drink much during the day, without requiring a nap. The bullets no longer bounce off, they get absorbed into my soft white midriff.

The nap was to come, but, we had one more thing to eat, a burger. So, back to Lombardos we went, we ordered one Wagyu and one Dutch beef burger, both medium rare. They clearly use quality ingredients here, excellent meat, cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of toppings, pickles, red onion compote and the right amount of bun. Making a top notch burger is not rocket science, yet so many just make a total arse of it, here at Lombardos, they do make a top notch burger. The only criticism I have about this place is the room itself, it's tiny, we were sat at stools, facing a wall, instead of at the window, looking out, they have an antique meat grinder in the window, instead of stools! If it hadn't been so cold I would've sat outside on the kerb. It's well worth a detour, if you like a good burger. It was dark out now and although we still had one more night in Amsterdam, we felt we'd had enough, mission accomplished.

We rested up for a while, then went on the beer and after a skinful, we had two over priced steaks, it's such a let down when you get charged top dollar for poor quality meat. Irish beef really is the best in the world, so, we've been spoiled. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, the people are straight up and fairly good looking. I love Amsterdam. I will return, I got married here, I've holidayed here with the kids. It's got beautiful parks, architecture and museums, it's very kid friendly. Do not judge Amsterdam on the basis of red lights and weed, that's just a tiny part. We came to eat, to explore its street food scene or even if it had one. Street food is available, but, I certainly wouldn't call it a scene, it does get rather nippy. We'll go somewhere warm, next time ( do you hear that, wives? ), maybe Spain or Portugal, we'll be sure to let you know. But, like all major cities it does have a wide range of restaurants and great bars too, so, you won't be disappointed, but, I wouldn't call it a food destination. The most valuable thing that I take away from this trip is a cemented friendship, with my travel companion, Sham. Let's do it again.

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