By: Andrea F. Pagliai
This weekend, food will be my drug. The girls inform me that we are to discover the city through its gastronomical offerings instead of its legalized substances. Roos Haasnoot and Emilie Sobels, two 21 year-old
students living in Amsterdam and Utrecht – and my hosts for the weekend – are excited to show me a true Netherlander’s day and night-out. Preparing a line up of important delicacies for me to try, the locals laugh at my mention of a diet.
Contrary to popular belief, a typical soirée for a Netherlander does not include a visit to the Red Light District, nor a stop over in one of the infamous Coffee Shops – to stock-up on hash, or pot-brownies – as is generally associated with the Amsterdam allure of today. This phenomenon, Roos insists, “is just for the tourists.” Because I desperately yearn to be a traveler, not a tourist, and because I do not partake in pot ingestion, I happily oblige.
Friday starts off in the sleeper-train at 8:30 am. First stopping in Utrecht, just 20 minutes away from Amsterdam, I meet up with Emilie at Utrecht Centraal. We both had brunch on the mind, so after deposing excess travel baggage, we dash off to appease our overactive appetites.
The first gastronomical experience begins at De Bakkerswinkel
(the Bakeshop) – at first sight, a normal, delicious-smelling European bakery. Ignoring the counter, Emilie persists past the kitchen, down a hidden stairway, and into an expansive Romanesque cellar turned popular food-spot. With its low ceilings, exposed brick, and mood lighting, I feel quite content. The food was excellent, but the Red Rooibos Vanilla tea was exceptional; Emilie explains that it originates from a Dutch colony in Africa. Post-meal, we bike and explored the beautiful city of Utrecht whose ancient city-center adds to its medieval feel.
At 5:30pm, the day is nearly passed and our stomachs are showing unhappy signs of inactivity. Emilie guides us to De Beurs, a terrace bar located in Neude Square and one of the main student handout spots in the city. One order of Bitterballen and two glasses of white wine later, both Emilie and I had gone to our happy place of mild inebriation and pure snack-time bliss.
Bitterballen are this country’s pastime.
Available everywhere in the country, but impossible to find abroad, Emilie insists they are a must for this weekend. “My favorite,” Emilie says, they are the most popular bar-food in the country. Bitterballen are bite-size fried meatballs made out of whipped veal meat. The filling, most resembling the consistency of mashed potatoes – is then spiced, breaded, fried, and served with mustard that burns one’s lips in the most addicting way. One bite and steam curls out of the soft core’s crunchy exterior. With the right amount of greasy, crunchy, meaty, salty, and tangy – that would be the mustard – the Bitters go with any kind of beverage, but I would recommend something alcoholic.
Suddenly out of our bitterballen dream, we realize it is 8pm and that the Amsterdam train departs in half an hour. Despite an unfortunate incident incurred due to the aforementioned inebriation involving my boot-heel and Emilie’s bike’s rear wheel, we still managed to make it on time.
9:30pm. Upon arriving to Roos’ flat, I’m greeted with hugs and a bag of kruidnootjes. They nearly spill all over the floor as Roos tears open the package of round bite-sized cookies. Kruidnootjes – bigger than M&Ms, but smaller than Oreos – are this country’s version of Santa Clause’s cookies and milk. Usually only made in November and December in honor of an annual festival celebrated on the 5th of Dec when St. Nicholas comes to town, Roos managed to get them early, thanks to Albert Heijn – the gourmet grocery of the Netherlands. Kruidnootjes have a curious effect. Like pistachios – it’s impossible to eat just one. Their crunchy, cinnamon-ginger goodness is like crack – pure sugar crack. Please get addicted and don’t leave the Netherlands without them.
At 11pm, after pre-gaming with Coronas – yes, Netherlanders do cheat on Heineken – we hopped on bikes and made our way to the city center.
Parking the bike, Roos spots a food truck located in Dam Square. “Wait! You have to
try these! They are so typical-Dutch!” she says. Before I can decline, Roos purchases an oliebol and stuffs it in my mouth. Oliebollen, doughnuts sans holes, are freshly fried with powdered sugar on top and decadently delicious. We share one – I was beginning to worry about the weekend’s effects on my waistline.
Clubbing, the drink of the night is unfortunately Heineken¬; that superstition is true. As the national beer and with Heineken’s brewery in Amsterdam, it is the ‘cheap’ go to drink when out and about. However, I’m partial to dark Czech beer and the 3.50 Euro for-a-half-pint-Heineken failed to please neither my taste buds, nor my wallet.
Exiting at 3:30am, the sobering night air hitting our faces and we remember the night won’t be complete without a greasy treat. Roos declares, “croquettes!” as the game plan. I don’t argue – croquettes are just a bigger version of bitterballen! Served from special dispensers, you insert an exact 1.40 Euros to retrieve your treat.
The street-side ‘FEBO’ as they are called, are strategically located at nightlife spots most frequented in the city.
At 4am, after having our fill, it is finally time to go sleep and digest the day. Mounting the back of Roos’ bike, I hold on to her waist, the cycle swaying under the weight of an additional passenger and too many croquettes to count.