We’ve found, on our new kid-free city breaks freedom, that a perfect way to instantly get to know a new city is to take a walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide. Which is why when we visited Amsterdam recently, we jumped at the chance of an Amsterdam walking tour; thanking Eating Europe, and signing up instantly for their Jordaan Food Tour.
We were in Amsterdam on a kid-free city break, trying out the new direct London-Amsterdam Eurostar, and we chose the Jordaan area for a couple of reasons – firstly (and most obviously) it’s the district in which we were staying, at the frankly amazing Mr Jordaan hotel. Second – and the reason for the first – because it’s a beautifully quiet, historic district of the city which is relatively untouched by the tourism that swamps the more well-known areas of Amsterdam.
We met our group at our first stop; a local ‘brown cafe’ just a short stroll from our own hotel, where we introduced ourselves and tucked into the first food of the day – Dutch Apple Cake – whilst we listened to our guide Estefhan give is a quick overview of the history of the region.
Estefhan was a total marvel – born and raised locally, and a qualified chef himself from some of the best restaurants in Amsterdam. I cannot imagine anyone better to explore the food and history of the city with.
I have to be honest though – interesting as Estefhan was, the star of the visit was the apple cake. If Estefhan says it’s the best apple cake in Amsterdam, then I’m happy to take his word for it; if you’re in the city, then you need to visit the Jordaan and stop by Cafe Papeneiland for a slice.
Once we had polished off the cake and coffee, we set off for the smaller streets of the Jordaan.
First stop? Why cheese, of course!
But it’s not just a tasting you get on the Amsterdam Walking Tour. Oh no.
As well as introducing us all to the various tastes of traditional Dutch cheese, Estefhan also gave us a quick professional insider’s guide to the cheese industry. Gouda, for example – it’s a blanket term for those milky rounds of cheese from cow’s milk. And just like cheddar, not all gouda cheese is created equal – or even similar. When you are in the Netherlands and buying cheese (and why wouldn’t you?) don’t be swayed by the big chain touristy cheese stores. Head into the back streets for a proper cheese shop which stocks local artisan-made produce:
what you’re looking for a is a cheese which containes the word ‘Boeren’
(you can see it on some of the labels below).
Boeren can only be used if the cheese is a ‘farm-produced’ product; meaning small scale artisan production with correct ageing. If it says it’s ‘matured’ it means it’s been left in a cool dark place to, y’know, mature.
Not just had a load of salt added and left in a factory for a week.
From the cheese store our little group on the Jordaan Food Tour moved onwards down the street to a butchers shop. Yes; we were really happy that this isn’t a superficial tour where you bounce from overpriced cafe to tourist-spot bar. These are tastings from real businesses, experts in their specific produce, selling to the local residents. We generally had to squish to one side to allow the regular customers to continue their daily shopping.
It was here I tried the raw meat sausage for the first time (having studiously avoided steak tartare for years). It was delicious.
But this tour isn’t just about the food. Between each stop Estefhan dipped down back streets and cut through alleyways into private residential areas any tourist would walk straight past, discussing fascinating snippets of local social history as we went.
We stopped in a small fish and chip shop (yes, really), but we weren’t here for the battered cod (we did try some, and to be honest, it was no different to our local chippy at home, though the Americans loved it). No this was the raw Dutch herring stop.
And yet… we had agreed to try everything… so we did, following Estefhans specific instructions of herring>chopped raw onions>gherkin slice. All on one cocktail stick, and then in the mouth at once. It was… surprisingly lovely. Velvety soft, tasty and good enough for a second helping.
Across the road, Estefhan guided us into a tiny Indonesian takeaway which I would honestly have walked straight past. It was unprepossessingly basic, and gave no sign that there was anything worth investigating inside.
Oh my lord what a mistake that would be.
Just a teeny tiny takeaway spot – our small group filled it to the seams. Here we tried the peanut chicken satay – and my mouth is watering just remembering it.
On again (really starting to feel the effects of all the portion tasting now) , and we paused outside a small takeout bakery cafe. Finally – here were the stroopwafels.
These are the melty biscuit discs of thin waffles which contain a sliver-thin layer of sweet sticky syrup – traditionally you have them with a strong coffee, and lay them over the mug so that they can be warmed and the syrup softened perfectly. Ours were freshly baked, and Estefhan had called ahead so that they were perfectly warmed and ready for us. No need to tell you how good they tasted…
Finally, we came to rest at another brown cafe – only this time we were here for two things; the Geneva and the Poffertjes. Frankly, these two things alone might be my favourite thing about Amsterdam!
Geneva is the original drink which the British copied and altered to create gin (if you’re in Amsterdam, we strongly recommend a visit to the House of Bols, definitely worth a couple of hours of exploring. Also – cocktails!). And poffertjes are the most incredibly delicious little puffy Dutch pancakes, served with butter, dredged in icing sugar and with cream on the side.
Sorry – there’s no way to make them look pretty for a photograph – but know that they taste a gazillion times better than they look.
In all we were on the Amsterdam Walking Tour for almost four hours – but it felt far less, we couldn’t believe how the time had flown.
We learned so much about the food, the culture, the history and the amazing neighbourhood of the Jordaan. We felt we didn’t just get to taste the food, we really explored the area and got to know it so much more than if we’d stuck to the well-known tourist highlights to see on our visit to the city.
We were gifted this tour by Eating Europe – but would definitely pay for another of their tours in a new city. Their mission is to give travellers “an unparalleled, non-touristy, food-related experience in undiscovered neighbourhoods of the most fascinating cities in the world.” Job done Eating Europe – we can’t wait to try some more.
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