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Amsterdam Dining

A Friendly Coffee Scene
Amsterdam Dining
Keeping traditional Dutch food alive in a city with such a diversity of cultures and cuisines can be a challenge. But in Amsterdam, Dutch and ethnic food coexist effortlessly, and you rarely come across a bad meal—although service can be hit-or-miss.
By Hannah Wijana, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Venkel
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    A Friendly Coffee Scene
    A Friendly Coffee Scene
    In some cities it can be a challenge to find unique, friendly cafés that locals frequent, but Amsterdam has always bucked this trend. With the city’s large population of students and young professionals, there's no shortage of places where you can hang out, drink good coffee, and eat a fresh meal. The Jordaan teems with lovely spots that have small gardens and terraces, some attached to independent art galleries as a bonus. Outside the Canal Ring, the charming Thuis Aan de Amstel offers coffee on its Amstel River-facing terrace or in the cozy, antique-filled rooms.
    Photo courtesy of Venkel
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    Fine Dining
    Fine Dining
    Amsterdam shed its reputation for stodgy meat-and-potatoes meals long ago. Today the city's fine-dining scene contends with restaurants in Paris and New York. Most luxury hotels have their own restaurants headed by highly regarded chefs. Among them are The White Room, inside the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, where you can dine on modern Dutch cuisine in a historic setting, and The Duchess, at the W Hotel, which serves gourmet Mediterranean fare in a grand Belle Epoque room. For a memorable dining experience, book a private canal cruise with a four-course meal (just be sure to choose a company with food that's as good as the ambiance).
    Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Marketing
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    Explore Local Beers
    Explore Local Beers
    Belgium may be better known for its beers than the Netherlands, but Amsterdam, aside from the famous Heineken, has a superb selection of local brews, from crisp Pilsners to refreshing blondes and warming dark ales. The best place to enjoy them are at brown cafés (or brown bars)—historic pubs named for their dark interiors, the result of years of smoke accumulation. This may not sound appealing at first, but if you stop by one to warm up in the winter or to people-watch outside in the summer, you’ll see why Amsterdammers love them. Two to try are Café Belgique, offering 50 Belgian-style beers, some of which are brewed in the Netherlands, and Café de Sluyswacht, with a healthy selection of local brews served in a slightly tilting building that dates from 1695.
    Photo by Olaf Speier/age fotostock
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    Spring Herring
    Spring Herring
    It may not be to everyone’s taste, but spring herring, or Hollandse Nieuwe, is serious business in the Netherlands. The fishing season is just six weeks long, so good catches are something to celebrate. The first barrel is auctioned each spring and can fetch more than $100,000, which is donated to charity. This Dutch delicacy isn’t cooked; instead it’s soaked in a mild preserving liquid and served with chopped raw onions or pickles. You often finish with a shot of genever, a juniper-flavored gin. Herring stalls can be found all over Amsterdam, including several at the famed blocks-long street market Albert Cuyp Market. The traditional way to eat the herring is to hold it up by the tail, tip your head back, and slurp it down. Don’t worry, you can also spear it with a little pick adorned with a Dutch flag.
    Photo by David Kosmos Smith
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    A Taste of the Colonies
    A Taste of the Colonies
    Thanks to Amsterdam’s mix of cultures, it’s easy to find just about any type of cuisine in the city. If you can only try two, go for Indonesian and Surinamese food. The Dutch colonized Indonesia for 300 years, so it’s not surprising that Indonesian food in Amsterdam—from takeout to fine dining—is about as good as it gets. Utrechtsestraat has a few Indonesian restaurants where you can find rijsttafel, an assortment of small dishes to share. Surinamese food is usually served in a more diner-like atmosphere and can be found around the De Pijp neighborhood. West Indian curry with flaky roti is the specialty in these cafés.
    Photo by Michael Adubato
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    Going Dutch
    Going Dutch
    Homestyle Dutch food is warming, hearty, and back on many menus after a longtime focus on Asian and fusion cuisine. Today the revival of grandma’s kitchen is in full swing, with such dishes as stamppot (mashed potatoes and vegetables served with sausage) and snert (split-pea soup) popping up in restaurants across town, especially in the Jordaan district's independent cafés. For a more upscale approach to Dutch cooking with an emphasis on locally sourced seafood, there's the Michelin-starred Rijks, adjacent to the famed Rijksmuseum.
    Photo courtesy of Moeders
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    Traditional Street Eats
    Traditional Street Eats
    Snacks in central Amsterdam can look like those in any other major city at first glance. But if you know where to look or ask a local, you’ll discover that some of the most delicious options come from the city's street stalls. The Albert Cuyp Market has a fantastic selection of street food in one place; head to the stalls with the longest lines. Start with bitterballen (a fried meatball-shaped snack served with hot mustard), krokets (croquettes), or patat (fries) with special mayonnaise sauce, and follow with a dessert of warm stroopwafel (syrup-filled waffles) or poffertjes (small pancakes dusted with powdered sugar).
    Photo by Round the World Arnette
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    Say Cheese
    Say Cheese
    Amsterdam is a top destination for cheese aficionados. Specialty shops and delicatessens sell countless varieties, many of which you’ve probably never heard of. Nettle, cumin, mustard seed, and just about any other herb and spice are often added to take wheels and blocks of cheese to the next level. With several locations around the city, Henri Willig Kaas is a great place to pick up traditional Goudas, as well as uniquely flavored cheeses like lavender and coconut.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Cocktail Hour
    Cocktail Hour
    Though considered more of a beer city, Amsterdam is also home to great cocktail bars. On weekdays they fill up with the after-work crowd, and on weekends they’re open into the wee hours. The Jordaan district overflows with chic, upscale watering holes; a standout is Pulitzer's Bar, which serves up well-crafted classic cocktails in an elegant space that recalls a gentlemen’s club. For a unique experience, try the ultra-hip, speakeasy-style Bar Oldenhof. Purposefully hard to find, the bar’s attentive staff and inventive cocktails make it worth the effort to search it out.
    Photo courtesy of Vesper