Western Europe is not cheap… kinda didn’t think about that when I booked the ticket to Amsterdam. The same budget goes much further in Central and Eastern Europe (as well as the Baltics) then it does in Western Europe.
I was put up in a hostel, but I wasn’t ready to cook for myself. I do it almost everyday I’m not going to do it on a city break! So I decided to challenge myself to dine in Amsterdam Amsterdam dining on the cheap, trying to find as much street food and snacks to fill the tummy and try new cuisine basically. It’s not the healthiest of foods but a weekend of sinful indulgence on my tummy… seemed like a healthier alternative to coffee shops, so of I went in search.
The first meal of my trip was a breakfast, I dropped by the hostel I was staying in and looked at the restaurant prices, even the cheapest meal there was 7 or 8 Euros. I wasn’t ready to drop so much on the hostel kitchen (I’m cheap like that), so I sat on the sofa and googled. A couple of articles mentioned that the department stall Hema sold cheap and scumptous breakfast at 2 Euros, but the deal was that the breakfast was only sold in a short one hour time frame (9-10am) – good deals but within a short time frame, there’s some practically Dutch to it.
I looked at my watch…
And with that, I hopped on to the train and made the 20 minute train journey into the city (I was living in a hostel, cheap hostels are rarely in the city).
The train alighted and the walk to the department stall had worked my tummy up for a meal. I walked up to the department stall and negotiated the maze to finally make my way to breakfast. “Hi is the breakfast meal still on,” I asked, somehow feeling guilty for being a cheapskate. The server replied matter-of-factly, “so there’s one of this (a baguette with eggs) and a croissant and a juice and a coffee.” I took my meal and walked to a seat.
Everyone at the place was going for the 2 Euro breakfast too, I was however the only odd obvious tourist among the lot. The first thing that took me back was the fact that everything was a Hema product. The milk, sugar, jam, serviette, heck even the cutlery. The only other place I’ve been to so far that has such a massive production span is IKEA. So I did some research about Hema while having breakfast. Hema is a Dutch discount store selling everything at a low price set up in 1926 with stores mainly in Western Europe; it has been owned by a British private equity firm since 2007. Not that it really mattered to me, It was a filling meal, that was all I was looking for a great way to start the day.
One of the must-tries that was recommended was patat or frittes, known to English speakers like me as French Fries. Fries are not necessarily a French invention (the Belgians have a lot to say about that), Thomas Jefferson had a meal of potatoes served in the French manner, basically fried potatoes, and somehow the name stuck. Considering the proximity of the Dutch with Belgium and France, it’s no surprise that the Dutch like their fries. So serious in fact, there is even an annual competition for the best patat in Amsterdam. Fries are fries are fires, I thought to myself, whats so special about this?
The first patat that I tried was from what (it seems) the locals themselves like. Named Vleminckx Patat, the stall has been in operation since 1887 and there was a long queue for the fries, when I got there.
Whereas fries tend to be served as a side in Sweden, Singapore and the States (maybe with a dollop of ketchup and maybe chili sauce) Fries here come with a range of sauces and toppings. When I think about it, it’s nothing so special, I do that with MacDonalds Curry when in Singapore, but to make a whole business that can succeed for a century with it, that is brilliant.
The most popular flavour is called Oorlog. Translated as war in dutch the topping is made from a mixture of peanut sauce (Indonesian satay sauce, the Dutch gained many fascinating flavours from their former colony, but that is for another post), mayonnaise and onions.
The combination is a as strange as chalk and cheese, but it works rather well together. The sweet smoothness of the peanut sauce melds with the savoury and slight sour punch from the mayonnaise. The onions bits are not spicy but add a little playful texture to the dish and cut the richness from the other ingredients (potatoes, mayonnaise, peanut sauce) so you don’t feel that sinful. This set me back by 3.9 Euros, which I think it quite a fair price.
I liked patat so much I went to try another famous patat store. This time, I went to a more tourist one, apparently voted the best fries in 2017, the name of the stall Manneken Pis (the statue of the young Belgian Boy who reputed saved Brussels by peeing on a explosive trail).
The store was lined with more tourist perhaps because of its location smack in the centre of the main street (Damrak). It was funny that the sauces were poured out of the peeing staute’s appendage, the name of the store lends itself to it. The sauce this time was a special sauce, I’m not sure what though and if I’m not wrong it cost about a Euro more.
This was good but was perhaps less amazing than the one at Vleminckx. Let’s just say, I’ll choose Vleminckx anytime I go back to Amsterdam.
Fries done and some extra exploring done. It was time to go back to rest. I had been exploring Amsterdam for more than 10 hours and my legs were sore. But there was one place more that I had to o to.
Amsterdam is home to Ajax Amsterdam a famous football club especially known for its ability to produce and nurture footballing talent. Others with a similar reputation include Leeds United (England), Atletico Madrid (Spain), VfB Stuttgart (Germany) and Atalanta BC (Italy). Being a fan of this school of football – the growing your timbre sort, I had to check out one of these great institutions.
On the way there, I dropped by a fast food store known as FEBO. FEBO is popular for being a local fast food chain, but what it is specially well known for is the way you get your food. Rather than buy food from a counter, you can but why would you, you can check the window panels and see what sort of fried dishes can be dispensed. Slot some coins in (around 1 or 2 Euros) and out comes your deep fried goodness.
Many kinds of fried stuff are sold, from burgers to hotdogs to croquettes. Croquettes are a balls of meat, fish, or vegetables battered with breadcrumbs and deep fried. Croquettes grew in popularity in the Netherlands after the second World War. The more upscale version is called the bitterballen, a croquette of deep fried meat basically. It’s not healthy, not by a mile but its fried and tasty. I had a vegetable and satay croquette simply because they were all that was left.
Don’t remind me of the irony of getting fat while checking out a sporting mecca, I know the irony, my stomach didn’t.
There is one caveat to note though, I learnt later on that their is a prank that is played by some kid, they put in the coins and instead of pulling food out, do a manneken pis on some of the food. So if you get a dish that has a slight hint of urea, convince yourself that it is just extra Dutch topping. The way to avoid that it seems it to reach for the food on the higher racks of the automated counter.
I’m quite sure my food didn’t taste that ‘special’.
I think I’m sure…
Man does not live on fried stuff alone, and after a day of being thrifting, I had a bit of a budget for a healthier meal.
While walking around the old town, I noticed a small hole in the wall that was so popular a line of customers was waiting outside to go in. It spelt O-Mel-Egg, Omelegg, and it seemed popular. Turns out it sold omelettes, the best in Amsterdam was the claim.
So I returned the next morning, before the crowd descended upon it. It wasn’t planned so my timing was fortuitous. Just after I had shown up and made my order, the crowd had returned to line up outside the restaurant.
It was kind of awkward eating at the window with people looking at you but heck it was a good omelette, soft and fluffy still without the dried or slight fry that characterises omelettes. I had chosen an omelette with cheese and ham, one of the msot basics that was possible here. At around 6.9 Euros for a cheese and ham omelette with bread and salad, it wasn’t the cheapest breakfast, but it was tasty. And it allowed me to feel better about indulging in the greatest dining sin of the trip – stroopwafel. Heh heh heh…
Stroopwafel is a dutch waffles made of two layers of baked dough stuffed with a thick caramel filling in the middle, first made in Gouda it is now a dish that everyone eats and takes home as a gift. The traditional way of eating it is with coffee, especially by placing the stroopwafel over a cup of warm coffee to soften the caramel syrup while biting into it. But this wasn’t just a stroopwafel, oh no!
If I was going to get crazy load calories, it better be worth the sin. This was an expensive sinful desert in price and health. I dropped by a Van Wonderen Stoopwafels that opened barely a year ago. The stall served not just stroopwafel but stroopwafel topped with chocolate and even more chocolate. I’m guessing one of this is basically your complete calorie count for a week, that’s how it felt biting into it.
Sweet on sweet, no wonder I had too much energy to burn that day!
Could I have eaten healthier for the budget I had? Probably not.
Did I enjoy fried food and sweet food? Oh hell yes.
ON THE MAP (Vleminkcx)
ON THE MAP (Manneken Pis)
ON THE MAP (Omelegg)
ON THE MAP (Van Wonderen Stroopwafel)