Frommer's Favorite Local Restaurants

  • Raw herring is a Dutch specialty, and there are dozens of haringhuis fish stands in town. The top place is (arguably) the centrally located Stubbe's Haring, Haarlemmersluis (tel. 020/623-3212; tram: 1, 2, 5, 13, or 17), at Singel. It's a great spot for "new herring" and other seafood snacks.
  • There aren't many better outdoor terraces than that of Klein Kalfje, Amsteldijk 355 (tel. 020/644-5338;; bus: 62). This atmospheric little Dutch cafe-restaurant's waterside terrace is at a tranquil spot along the Amstel River, just outside the city limits. It's easier to get here by car or by bike.
  • Sabrina and Denise of Basilico, Willemsstraat 29A (tel. 020/627-2685;; tram: 3), in the Jordaan, rustle up some ace homemade Italian food, but only for takeout. If you have somewhere to eat an Italian meal, or are looking for picnic makings, go for it.

Secrets of the Rijsttafel

The Indonesian rijsttafel is Holland's favorite feast; it has been ever since the United East India Company sea captains introduced it to the wealthy Amsterdam burghers in the 17th century. The rijsttafel (literally, "rice table") originated with Dutch plantation overseers in Indonesia, who liked to sample selectively from Indonesian cuisine. It became a tradition upheld by Indonesian migrants to Holland who opened restaurants and, knowing the Dutch fondness for rijsttafel, made it a standard menu item. Rijsttafels are only a small part of an Indonesian restaurant's menu, and there's a trend among the Dutch to look down on them as "just for tourists": The Dutch generally have a good understanding of Indonesian cuisine and prefer to order an individual dish rather than the mixed hash of a rijsttafel. However, rijsttafels remain popular, and many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants have copied the idea.

The basic concept of a rijsttafel is to eat a bit of this and a bit of that, blending flavors and textures. A simple, unadorned bed of rice is the base and mediator between spicy meats and bland vegetables or fruits, between sweet-and-sour tastes and soft-and-crunchy textures. Although a rijsttafel for one is possible, it's better shared by two or more people. In the case of a solitary diner or a couple, a 17-dish rijsttafel will be enough; with four or more, order a 24- or 30-dish rijsttafel and experience the total taste treat.

Before you begin to imagine 30 dinner-size plates of food, it's important to note that the dishes are small and the portions served are gauged by the number of people expected to share them. Remember, the idea is to taste many things rather than hunker down with any single item. Also, an Indonesian rijsttafel has no separate courses. Once your table has been set with a row of low plate warmers, all 17, 24, or 30 dishes arrive all at once, like a culinary avalanche. The sweets come alongside the sours and the spicy, so you're left to plot your own course through the extravaganza.

Among the customary dishes and ingredients of a rijsttafel are loempia (Chinese-style egg rolls); satay, or sateh (small pork kebabs, grilled and served with spicy peanut sauce); perkedel (meatballs); gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce); daging smoor (beef in soy sauce); babi ketjap (pork in soy sauce); kroepoek (crunchy, puffy shrimp toast); serundeng (fried coconut); roedjak manis (fruit in sweet sauce); and pisang goreng (fried banana).

Caution: When something on the menu is described as pedis, meaning spicy, that's exactly what it is. Beware in particular of one very appealing-looking dish of sauce with small chunks of what looks to be bright-red onion -- that's sambal badjak, or just sambal, and it's hotter than hot. A fire extinguisher would be a useful table accessory; for an equally effective alternative, order a witbier (white beer).

What's in a Name  -- There's Chinese food and there's Indonesian food. In Holland, there's Chinees-Indisch (Chinese-Indonesian) food, too. Watch out for this not-here-and-not-there genre. Chinees-Indisch restaurants are rarely, if ever, any good (there are plenty of these restaurants in Amsterdam, and I can't think of a single one worth recommending). Places that attempt this crossover style can't get either one right.

Feeling Like Something Sweet?

A crowded Saturday-morning spot is Kwekkeboom, Reguliersbreestraat 36 (tel. 020/623-1205;; tram: 4, 9, 14, 16, 24, or 25), between Muntplein and Rembrandtplein. It's a coffeeshop/candy store (sweet shop)/pastry shop/ice-cream stand, where everything's freshly made and management proudly displays awards won for everything from fruit pies, bonbons, and butter cookies to "fantasy cakes." Two other Kwekkeboom outlets in the city are at Ferdinand Bolstraat 119 (tel. 020/673-7114; tram: 3, 12, or 25), and Linnaeusstraat 80 (tel. 020/665-0443; tram: 9).

You may have to push your way to the back and wait for a table at Greenwoods, Singel 103 (tel. 020/623-7071; tram: 1, 2, 5, 13, or 17), which brings English flavor to its tea, homemade scones with jam and clotted cream, and lemon meringue pie.

Notable ice cream is created at Jordino, Haarlemmerdijk 25 (tel. 020/420-3225;; tram: 1, 2, 5, 13, or 17), where 30 flavors of Italian ice cream, plus chocolate cake and desserts, appeal to anyone with a sweet tooth.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.