A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sept. 15.

Amsterdam, Part Two - Beware the bike. In Amsterdam, standing in the mauve-painted bike lane is more dangerous than the street. Everyone, of all ages, sizes and races, is a two-wheeled demon, and the city is a constant chorus of bike bells warning errant tourists to leap for cover. Eventually, I was mostly able to avoid walking into the lane, but the first two days were a series of near-collisions and deft footwork.

The bikes were all the more prominent because I was again walking all over town. A large circular ring of canals and bridges, Amsterdam proved quite the pleasure to maneuver, even under the continuing drape of mist. In the northeastern part of town, I found a sandwich shop called Tokoman that served the same Asian broodjes I loved in Rotterdam. The spitfire proprietress had a sign hanging up that read "This isn't Burger King. You either get it my way or you don't get it at all," which didn't faze any of the customers on a line that was consistently twelve people deep. The shop smelled wonderful too, charged with exotic and sharp aromas. When my turn came, I randomly ordered a pom and a gehund brahkt. I'm still not sure what I had as she spooned the fillings from the metal containers, but both were wonderful. With an excellent bread with a ripe crunch, the two broodjes were even better and more unique than Rotterdam's. I was appalled all over again that, as far as I knew, nothing like this was available in New York.

Afterwards, the rain really started to hammer down so I sought refuge in a lugubrious bar called Cafe Eik en Linde. It was almost a saloon, populated by world-weary locals and women who've downed more than their share of suds. I ordered a WeiƟbier and took a seat in the corner to write a little poetry. Long-haired septugenarians who looked a long way from a shower played an odd variation of billiards with only three balls and a table with no pockets. Then a frail man in a felt hat and a wheelcahir started to blow into a harmonica. I finished my beer and ordered a coffee to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

The rain never let up so I started on the winding road home. I made it back eventually, my clothes reduced to cotton sponges. I dried out in the lounge of my hostel, while five or six people rolled massive joints around me. Eventually, Vince made it back from his daytrip to Leiden, and we ventured out to find dinner. Naturally, the rain charged down more forcefully than ever as soon as we had gone too far to turn back. We chose a neighborhood Indonesian place called Tanjung Sari as much for its dryness as its intriguing menu. Also, I had really wanted to try the cuisine, reputed to be Amsterdam's biggest food specialty.

For eight and a half euros each, we both ordered fried rice with chicken sate, which came with eight accompanying sides. I was most interested in the daging rendang, or stewed beef in Sumatran sauce, eager to experience the full spiciness of Indonesian food. To further underscore my mission, I stressed to the waitress that I would like it very spicy. Our dishes came, my rice flanked with such curious companions as sambal goreng telor, or egg in tomato sauce and opor ayam, or chicken in saffron sauce. All of them were tasty, but I was most interested in the daging. Taking my first bite of meat, I was reminded of flavors from Thailand and Vietnam but most prominently Malaysia. There was the same interplay of spice and sweetness that made food from that region so wondrous but also difficult to pull off. Like much other Southeast Asian food, my meal had great flavors but was still missing the essential heat to truly make the dish sing. Nonetheless, as an Indonesian introduction, dinner only confirmed what a strange and diverse variety Amsterdam could offer.


Blogger Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

nice article and nice blog too. thanks

9:20 AM  
Blogger MEM said...

You know the blogosphere is too small when you run across someone who has stolen the same photo of an indonesian toko as you have!

I eat at Tokoman at least once a week as I live right around the corner. I've been meaning to do a "pom" post for a while, maybe this will incent me. Just wanted to say that these Indo/Surinam sandwhiches are a very specifically Dutch mutant, which is why you probably won't see them in new york. I'm working on a post that explains why....

2:40 AM  
Blogger MEM said...

Oops, just saw Emile's email in the other post...never mind!

2:46 AM  

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