A taste of Amsterdam
Paola Duque-Westbeek takes us out for an afternoon of gourmet shopping in Amsterdam, from the Noordermarkt to Amsterdam's ‘culinary avenue’.
"It is an unseasonably warm, almost spring- like day, as my family and I head out for an afternoon of gourmet shopping in Amsterdam. Today we are planning on visiting the Noordermarkt, one of the best organic markets in The Netherlands, and on our way there, we’ll stroll through what is known to ‘foodies’ as Amsterdam’s ‘culinary avenue’- the Haarlemmerstraat en the Haarlemmerdijk.
We leave with our empty wicker baskets and a lot of delicious expectations about all the wonderful things that they will carry back with us to Almere. Granted, my city does hold its own organic market every Saturday, and we do have access to some great shops where I can pretty much find anything I want for my day to day cooking, but food shopping in Amsterdam, is to me, something of a completely different calibre.
The Noordermarkt for example, has a certain air of nonchalance and a sense of joie de vivre which is felt almost immediately as you make your way into the hustle and bustle around its many stalls. The people walking through the market and crowding in front of the stalls have come out here in search of the best. They want the freshest seasonal produce, the finest gourmet cheeses, the tenderest cuts of meat and the loveliest looking (and tasting!) loaves of bread. I feel as though I have something in common with everyone around me, and in fact, I probably do. We all have a nose for quality and a passion for good food!
Before heading to the market, we start our journey at the Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk where I visit a few of my favourite shops. First stop is Vlaamsch Broodhuys, a bakery known for some of the best breads in the city. What sets their bread apart from all the others is that they are made with love and attention, not to mention the purest ingredients. The rising takes between six to 24 hours giving the dough enough time to allow the flavours and texture to blossom into the tastiest loaves ever to cross your lips. In fact, they are so perfect that I almost feel as though it’s a crime to serve them with anything less than the creamiest of butters.
There are breads here for all tastes and occasions but bread is not the only thing that makes a visit to Vlaamsch Broodhuys worthwhile. If you love typical French treats such as the ever-popular tarte tatin with its caramelised apples and melt-in-your-mouth pastry, or if you’re looking for impressive cakes to serve to your guests, you’ve come to the right address. Aside from breads and desserts, you will also find mustards, preserves and oils, as well as fine cheeses and butters. They also offer delicious ready- made sandwiches and there is a small sitting area in the back.
I purchase an enormous round of whole wheat sourdough and wait as the young man behind the counter neatly divides it into two smaller halves. He then slices the bread for us and tucks each half into a bag. Hans points out a tiny loaf of rye bread with Greek currants and suggests that this would make a delicious breakfast treat. We pay and leave with enough bread to last us the whole week, but I am almost certain that this won’t be the last of my bread purchases for the day!
The next stop is Casa Bocage. I am not looking for anything in particular but find it hard to walk past the Haarlemmerstraat without popping into this little bit of Portuguese heaven. The interesting display of jams and honey, the wines, the chorizo and even the morcilla (black pudding) all fight for my attention. Casa Bocage also happens to carry the best salt cod, traditional pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and fruity olive oils to compliment your salads or drizzle on bread. The man behind the counter greets me with a friendly smile as I head to the spice rack, suddenly reminded that my cumin could do with a refill.
We then walk over to Caulils, one of my favourite delicatessens in Amsterdam. At this address you can find an impressive variety of cheeses, including the best cheese in The Netherlands- Remeker from Lunteren, and cured meats such as the more subtle and less salty prosciutto dolce, refined truffle sausage and the deep burgundy Bresaola, sliced paper thin for you to enjoy in a simple rocket salad or as an antipasto.
Almost immediately, a homely looking jar of Belgian mayonnaise with a red and white checquered lid catches Hans’ attention. I don’t recall seeing it here the last time I visited, but we both agree that it’s something we need to try. To my surprise, I also spot a huge bag of Fleur de Sel de Guerande. As opposed to the thinner, dried flakes I have at home, these larger, moist, grey crystals are ideal for cooking, and an unbeatable bargain at just under three euros! While I stand in line, we chat about hams with the man behind the counter and I am reminded exactly why I so much love this kind of food shopping.
After a few stops at the odd non-foodie shop, we deicide to head to the market, but first we pay a visit to Ensink on the Haarlemmerdijk. Ever since my last trip to Bourgogne, I have been relentlessly looking for jambon du Morvan- thinly sliced cuts of the most decadent smoked ham, salty but not overpoweringly so. I long to source this ham somewhere in the country and therefore, I take the opportunity to ask at every delicatessen or butcher I know.
Full of hope, I pop the question, and instead of getting a “no”, the shop owner peers through his glasses with his warm, jovial eyes and offers me a taste of a similar ham from the Ardennes. I gladly accept and walk out with enough ham for an alfresco lunch and with a bottle of Bourgogne Passe-Tout Grains which I plan on opening for dinner that evening.
Our first stop at the market is the produce stand De Kwikstaart which sells products grown in and around Utrecht. As I wait, I stare at the plump, creamy heads of endive, imagining them in a lemony salad served next to a bowl of my aromatic lentil soup.
One of the stall holders offers us sections of juicy navel oranges, fragrant and sweet. Although the line is long, we are quickly helped-and by helped, I don’t mean that our produce is simply handed to us. Along with our fruits and veggies, we are always offered a great deal of culinary advice- anything from how to serve a certain vegetable to a tip about the best choice of fruit for a particular dessert. Now that’s something you won’t find at a supermarket!
I leave with a few bunches of carrots which will disappear into my morning juice, some Elstar apples (our favourite) and enough vegetables for the next couple of days.
We walk over to Maartens Marktkraam where we buy our eggs, fresh from farm De Eerste in Marknesse. I love their golden-yellow yolks and am already looking forward to enjoying one for Sunday morning breakfast, soft-boiled and with the lightest sprinkle of fleur de sel. The stand also carries all sorts of dairy products, including over 40 different cheeses from Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France.
As we continue on our walk through the market, we come across a stall where crepes are being made. Their buttery scent prompts us to stop and stare. I am amazed at how the man frying the crepes seems to effortlessly flip and fold them onto paper plates before handing them out to expectant customers. Crêperie Superlatif not only offers fresh crepes, but you can also buy packs of them to take home and serve with both sweet and savoury fillings.
Our last stop before breaking for lunch is the bread stand Compagnons where more rounds of sourdough tempt me into buying enough bread to feed a small army. It’s hard to choose between the bread at this stand and the one at Vlaamsch Broodhuys, so therefore I don’t make it too hard on myself and buy from both. This time I snatch up the last round of white sourdough and also leave with three baguettes for our lunch. I am always slightly taken aback when I realize how much I’ve spent on bread, but I know all too well that when I bite into that first slice I will once again come to the conclusion that I am definitely getting my money’s worth.
Pleasantly exhausted and rather hungry, we find a nice spot in the sun, close to the children’s playground. I reach for my baguettes, cut into them with Hans’ army knife and generously layer them with the ham we purchased at Ensink. The bread has a crispy crust which makes a fantastic sound as you sink your teeth into it. Its crumb is perfectly chewy and dense, and the delicate taste compliments the saltiness of the ham perfectly. We happily munch on our baguettes as Kirstie, my eight-year-old daughter, swings from the monkey bars, joining us now and again for a bite.
During our lunch, Hans and I eagerly discuss the evening’s dinner plans- for the moment they are not too concrete, yet we agree that roast potatoes should definitely be on the menu. Surely we need a good excuse to try our Belgian mayonnaise.
- The Noordermarkt was the first organic farmers’ market in The Netherlands. It was started in 1987 as a project to bring life back into the empty square in ‘de Jordaan’. Back then, there were only eight stalls. Today there are over 70 stalls, but they’re not all about the food! There is also a second- hand market with stalls selling old records, clothes and kitchenware.
- Don’t forget to stop at Cafe Winkel on the corner of Noordermarkt and Westerstraat for the best apple pie in Amsterdam! The lines are usually pretty long but the pie makes up for the wait!
- Here are the links for the places covered in this article. Do stay tuned for a follow- up story with more links to tickle your tastebuds!
Just published: A taste of Amsterdam (part II)
Come join me on a culinary outing through Amsterdam! We will visit some wonderful food addresses and ultimately end up at the market where I will teach you more about seasonal produce and good food. All walks are, weather- permitting, ended with a simple alfresco lunch. For more information about this and other culinary services, visit Mijn Zoete Leven (In Dutch and English).
20 February 2008
For more information on Paola and culinary delights visit Paola's blog."
Paola also offers culinary services such as cooking lessons, culinary outings in Amsterdam and expat lunches. For more information, please visit her website (in Dutch and English) Mijn Zoete Leven."
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