Few restaurants have been immortalized in both a popular book and a movie. Nam Kee, operated since 1981 by the Chan family in Amsterdam's Zeedijk is one. A Chinatown favorite long before Dutch novelist Kees van Beijnum alerted foodies to oysters' sensual pleasures in De Oesters van Nam Kee (The Oysters of Nam Kee) in 2000, the Cantonese eatery was named Best Chinese Restaurant in the Netherlands by Lonely Planet. In 2009, Time Out Amsterdam recognized it as Best Chinese Restaurant in Amsterdam.
A 2010 renovation has replaced the former cold, white tiles with warm woodwork, stone accents and the obligatory Chinese calligraphy scrolls. The revamp has failed to make Nam Kee upscale or fancy, so don't expect anything romantic or gezellig (cozy). A brightly lit dining room is simply furnished but filled with the flavors of salty soy and sweet ginger wafting from sizzling dishes of classic Cantonese favorites.
The fabled Oysters of Nam Kee arrive steamy in their craggy shells, swimming in pools of silky black bean sauce, garnished with crunchy green scallions. My hot and sour soup with seafood was spicy, laden with chunks of shellfish. Friends shared a velvety corn soup with shrimp and minced pork. For light eaters, dim-sum-size appetizers include renditions of classics like Chinese Spring Rolls, Fried Won Tons and Sesame Prawn Toast. Main dishes are more substantial and include such Cantonese specialties as Salt and Pepper Squid redolent of peppercorns and crisp Peking Duck.