I’ve been meaning to write about our long weekend in Amsterdam for over a month now – in fact I have a queue of blog posts lined up and now, after the rush of pre-Christmas cooking classes, I might just get down to a bit of writing.
I just can’t believe that I’d never been to Holland before, I suppose that I’ve always felt that it’s right on the doorstep- any how we decided to escape at half term on a hideously early flight, which did mean that we were fit for little more than watching the world go by from a barge for most of the first day. We’d booked a 48 hour, jump-on-and-off boat ticket on line (with museum entries too) so I felt rather smug and über-organised for once, saving some precious euros as well as a lengthy queue.
The boat was ideal, Imi rather randomly spent most of the time engrossed in a puzzle book about Ancient Egypt allowing us to soak up the scene. Mile upon mile of skinny canal houses with their glorious gables cutting into the clear blue sky, bikes everywhere, stalls of tulip bulbs and the odd Gouda cheese emporium. Amsterdam was everything I’d expected – all the clichés in a good way, bar the delights of the red light district which we left to the stag parties (although the crotchless, fishnet body stocking in the shop window by the tram stop did lead to a challenging discussion with an 8 year old).
I didn’t expect to be making many gastronomic discoveries on the trip, we were travelling with Imi after all and there’s only so much time that she’ll put up with poking about in food markets and perusing restaurant menus. We came upon the Saturday organic farmer’s market in the square by the Noorderkerk quite by chance; they were doing a roaring trade in oysters and I snapped up cheese, bread, apples and raspberry tart for a picnic lunch.
We left the fabulous museums until Monday and Tuesday when the crowds had calmed down a bit and were surprised at how relatively quiet they were. There were moments in the Van Gogh Museum when you could find yourself standing quite alone in front of one of those oh-so-familiar masterpieces, it was just a million miles away from the Mona Lisa scrum I experienced a few years ago in Paris. The Rijksmuseum was mind-blowing too, with Imi’s highlight being the 1660, Pieter de Hooch’s Mother’s Duty ( a mother delousing her daughter’s hair)- rather topical after a recent school memo about the latest nit outbreak
Back to the foodie stuff though –
Autumn beer, a dark delicious brew became the holiday refreshment – particularly the Chouffe Boc 666 (which I’ve since discovered is Belgian!).
My newly found snack of choice was the local ossenworst – a sort of lightly smoked, subtly spiced raw beef sausage, a bit like steak tartare, served with dark bread, pickles and mustard.
We were determined to eat a traditional Indonesian Rijsttafel (a huge spread of tiny dishes) whilst we were in Amsterdam and our dinner at Sampurna right next to the flower market on the Singel canal was very good indeed.
And then came the Liquorice?– Now I thought that I liked, even loved, liquorice – from the super-commercial Bertie Bassett variety to the soft Kiwi sticks and even the salty Italian pastilles in their tiny designer tins. So, when we found a wall of liquorice in a traditional sweet shop, I went a little wild and bought bags of the stuff: salted, sweet, with honey, with bay and then a good scoop of the Amsterdam “drop”. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the astoundingly hideous taste of the “drop”- flavoured with ammonium chloride! The rest of my liquorice haul was not much better – so please all you Dutchmen and Scandi’s (yes, you chaps eat it too) explain yourselves.
& finally came the splendid pancakes at Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. There is a bit of hype surrounding this tiny place (just four tables), especially since Anthony Bourdain visited, so I’d definitely book. Thankfully you do burn off a bit of energy getting up the unbelievably steep stairs, as the pancakes are huge. Star of the show was the cheese pancake with a mound of finely diced stem ginger piled in the centre. It’s a combination I’ll be repeating and did remind me just how much I love stem ginger.
And just incase you were wondering what else you could do with stem ginger?
- Slice and eat with plenty of salted butter on wholemeal toast for breakfast.
- Use as a marinade for grilled salmon – Dice finely and mix with orange juice, zest and soy sauce. Pour over the salmon (leave in one piece rather than individual portions), leave for 20 minutes and then grill until caramelised on top and still wonderfully juicy inside.
- Added in thin slices to a chocolate or pear tart.
- Combine with rhubarb – in fools, crumbles or my favourite rhubarb and ginger pavlova.