Ethnic Eats in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s diverse population is reflected in its dining scene. With restaurants offering everything from spicy Indonesian rijkstafel and Mediterranean cuisine to Argentijn barbecue, Ramen noodles and Dutch fusion, there’s something for everyone to eat in the Netherlands’ capital city.

190 Jan Pieter Heijestraat
It’s kitschy Africana at its best in Amsterdam’s non-touristy Oud-West. Named for the Ethiopian Empire that reigned from the 12th century until 1975, Abyssinia’s interior seems to represent an old African hut. Vibrant colors and flavors assault your senses in a culinary tradition influenced by Ethiopia’s proximity to Asia’s spice islands, featuring authentic African dishes once prepared by Ethiopian nobles. Bring friends and eat with your hands, sitting on rattan furnishings plump with cushions, surrounded by baskets woven with geometric designs. If you like your beverages sweet, order a mango, banana or coconut beer served in a calabash shell—good for washing down the piquant dishes. Or indulge in Abyssinia’s honey wine or dark Hakim Stout, the latter imported from Ethiopia. The restaurant also serves South African wines and a full selection of domestic and imported liquors, plus spiced teas and coffees. Your feast arrives on a silver platter, layered on a giant injera pancake. The sourdough yeast pancakes are light and spongy—the perfect complement for highly spiced dishes. There’s no cutlery, so yank a piece of injera from the basket served with your meal, envelope some meat or veggies and bring the morsel to your mouth. Savor Zegni, Ethiopia’s national dish made with beef or lamb, and Doro Wat, a chicken dish served at weddings and other festive occasions. The cozy restaurant seats 35–40 guests, so reservations are advised if you’re visiting on a weekend evening.
Zeedijk 111-113, 1012 AV Amsterdam, Netherlands
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.
Leidsekruisstraat 12-14, 1017 RH Amsterdam, Netherlands
Dutch restaurants are not renowned for their customer service. But at Yumi Sushi off Max Euweplein, you control when and what you’re served because you fetch your own selections from a rotating conveyor belt. Plates are color-coded according to price and the bill is calculated by counting plates. At €2.25‒6/plate, you can rack up quite a bill if you’re not careful. But the food is fresh and delicious (nothing stays on the belt for more than two hours), and you can be in and out quickly if time is an issue. The concept is not new, but it’s especially nice in Amsterdam, where hospitality personnel are paid more than servers in America, thus typically don’t exert themselves for tips. Here, you’re on your own at the bar, where fresh offerings come around immediately after they’re prepared by Dutch and Asian sushi chefs as you watch. The interactive component adds to the fun. The sleek, contemporary restaurant is adjacent to Leidseplein, so you have an overview of the people parade through big windows that keep the place bright. It’s not the most gezellig dining option in this bustling area, but it’s a great spot for a fast, no-frills (if somewhat pricey) meal. At tables, €12–40 menus come with miso soup, rice, dumplings, 12–40 pieces of sushi, and fried bananas with ice cream—a better deal than the rotating sushi if you don’t mind the chef’s selections. Hot dishes like chicken yakitori, breaded shrimp, gyoza dumplings and grilled asparagus also can be ordered at the bar.
Reguliersdwarsstraat 38, 1017 BM Amsterdam, Netherlands
Since 1982, Rose’s Cantina has been drawing locals for Latin American flavors on a street known for its plethora of dining options. On a busy night, don’t expect intimacy or romance, as the Reguliersdwarsstraat establishment is big, boisterous and noisy. But if it’s a fiesta you’re after, this is the spot for killer nachos and Pan American favorites like chili con carne, enchiladas and flaky empanada pastries. For more adventurous eaters, braised octopus and duck breast with pineapple-raisin salsa are on the menu. Enormous burgers are topped with jalapeños, melted cheddar, bacon and guacamole. At €18, they’re pricey, but will easily feed two, especially if you order appetizers like classic ceviche, chicharrones or quesadillas. Finish off with chocolate mousse splashed with tequila, Dulce De Leche and crunchy sea salt. Rose’s also is known for its fine cocktails and tequila library. Choose from tiramisu, pomegranate or frozen fruit margaritas or order a Jalapeno Margarita spiced with subtle agave. Mojitos are great, made with Bacardi Superior Rum, mint and lime. Rose’s is the brainchild of restaurateur Casper Reinders of Jimmy Woo, Bocinq, Lion Noir and Chicago Social Club fame. Like his other Amsterdam establishments, this one is unique―furnished with leather couches, Chesterfield chairs and exposed beams. The turquoise-green paint is an original recipe, fabricated to recreate a Mexican cantina. With a group of 50, host your private fiesta in the heart of Amsterdam.
Leidsekruisstraat 28, 1017 RJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam isn’t exactly known for its stellar food, so finding delicious Dutch food on a busy tourist street at an affordable price on my latest trip was a big surprise. A few friends and I wanted to try Dutch food on our last night in Amsterdam, so we decided to try a place we had passed earlier on Leidsekruisstraat, a street near the popular Leidseplein that’s lined with tourist restaurants. Between the three of us, we had eaten dozens of meals in the Netherlands. Very few of them were memorable, so we weren’t getting our hopes up. But inside De Blauwe Hollander, we discovered the magic that is hotchpotch. Hotchpotch is a traditional Dutch dish made of potatoes mashed with vegetables and garnished with meat or with cheese croquettes, pictured above. I tried the vegetarian hotchpotch with carrots, but kale, sauerkraut, sausage, bacon and liver are common ingredients. It may just be the best meal I’ve had in Amsterdam, and for under 20 Euro each including a shared bottle of wine and dessert, it may be also be one of the better dining deals in Western Europe.
Singel, 1013 GA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Eating raw herring is a right of passage for many who visit Amsterdam. Order yours from the friendly Dutch matrons in blue and white-striped aprons at Stubbe’s Haaring, a herring stand with a view on the bridge over Singel Canal, just off Haarlemerstraat. For decades, this local institution has satisfied the fish cravings of Dutchies and visitors with lightly brined herring, smoked eel and other delicacies from the North Sea. Unless you want bragging rights, there’s no need to eat your buttery snack Dutch style, grabbing it by the tail, throwing your head back and lowering the fish whole into your gaping mouth. Most locals eat it in a less flashy way: cut up into small pieces, covered with onions and sweet pickles, topped with a Dutch flag. It’s served on a waxed paper plate, sans bread or cutlery. Use the flag-festooned toothpick to stab the soft, mild-flavored morsels and bring them to your mouth. For a more filling meal, order a broodje haring (herring sandwich) on a soft, white bun, filled with fish, pickles and onions. Eet smakelijk!
Eerste Anjeliersdwarsstraat 4, 1015 NR Amsterdam, Netherlands
If you tire or eating Dutch food in Amsterdam, why not head for the best Mexican food in the city (possibly even in all of Europe). Los Pilones is run by two brothers from Mexico and their food is the real deal. The menu is short but features enchiladas and tacos, as well as a variety of tasty starters. The free home-made chips and salsa are a great indication of the incredible meal you’ll have. Wash down your meal with their authentic margaritas, Mexican beer, or head straight for their collection of top-shelf tequila. Los Pilones is so popular with locals, there are now three different restaurants. My favourite is on a quite side-street of the trendy Jordaan neighbourhood.
Van Woustraat 3, 1074 AA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Don’t shoot, I’m vegetarian! No problem even in a meat-centric city like Amsterdam when there are places like the White Elephant. We found this hideout in the neighborhood we were staying in during one of our morning walks and thought we’d wander back later for dinner. Shock and surprise as we entered this cozy cafe: packed with patrons. The place was hoping, the food flying and not a table in sight. We made reservations for the next night and wandered off into the Netherlands’ night in search of substitutes, knowing the next time we walked into the Elephant, it would be something special. And it was. Traditional Thai dishes prepared with a freshness we would only expect in SE Asia. Wonderful vegetarian options with levels of spiciness from mild to wild. A few Thai beers to wash things down and we knew we had a winner. It was a great find and one we returned to based on the food and value. We’ve managed to find pretty good Thai food all over the planet in our travels, but the White Elephant was a gift that made Amsterdam all the more internationally renowned in the cuisine category.
125 Brouwersgracht
It may not look like much and there’s certainly no need to dress up. But despite its humble appearance on the posh Brouwersgracht, Swieti Sranang serves up some of the best—and most affordable—Indonesian and Surinamese food in town. Owned by Henk van de Weerd and Juliet Chang, the tiny hole-in-the-wall reflects Amsterdam‘s immigrant influences with Indonesian and Surinamese-inspired sandwiches, snacks, rice, roti and bami/nasi specialties. Swieti Sranang is the perfect source for casual lunch or dinner fixings. Pick up a few Indonesian sandwiches, a bag of banana or cassava chips, a few loempia and kip sate sticks, and you have the perfect ingredients for a canal-side picnic. All dishes are lovingly prepared by Chef Juliet, who was born in Indonesia and raised in Suriname. Most sandwiches and snacks are priced under €3, while main meals are €9 or less, making it easy for two to fill up for about €20. You can sample a few selections from the menu on the new Jordaan Food Tour, (http://www.eatingamsterdamtours.com/jordaan-food-tour/), offered Tuesday through Saturday, beginning at 11am.
Hannie Dankbaarpassage 47, 1053 RT Amsterdam, Netherlands
Inspired by the likes of Copenhagen‘s Torvehallerne, Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel and London’s Borough Market, Amsterdam‘s Food Hallen has been a hit since its debut in October 2014. On weekends, the indoor food court is packed with locals and tourists looking for a choice of ethnic flavors and foods in a gezellig (if noisy) environment. In the maze of stalls, vendors proffer everything from Vietnamese street food to gourmet hot dogs, pizza, burgers and fresh-baked bakery items. Familiar names like The Butcher, Caulils, Wild Moa Pies, Bbrood, Pink Flamingo and Petit Gateau are represented alongside more foreign newcomers like Bulls and Dogs and Viet View. There’s something for everyone in the mix, at prices just above what a fast food meal will run you in Amsterdam. The food court is within De Hallen, a transformed tram depot now housing cafés, upscale restaurants, a public library, movie halls, eclectic businesses and a hotel. The €37.5 million multi-use project has given new life to an Oud-West landmark that had fallen into disrepair, while also contributing to gentrification of a multicultural pocket on the edge of Amsterdam’s historic canal ring. Eet smakelijk!
32 Amstelstraat
Before Salsa Shop opened in 2014, searching for a good taco in Amsterdam could be a doomed, Quixote-like quest. Despite ruling the spice trade in the 17th century, Dutchies apparently never developed a taste for fare with a bite, as traditional Dutch dishes are typically bland, with none of the piquant flavors found in Mexican favorites. That may change with Amsterdam’s Salsa Shop off Rembrandtplein, where Mexican street food is served in surroundings no more glamorous than a neighborhood stall in Guadalajara. Borrowing Subway’s build-it-yourself concept, customers select their dish (taco, burrito, burrito bowl, tacos or salad), then choose what meats, veggies and toppings to stuff into it. Carnivores can opt for Barbacoa or Carnitas (spicy shredded beef or pork), or grilled, marinated chicken or steak. Top it off with corn, grated cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, and/or creamy guacamole. Salsas range from mild cucumber and yogurt to fresh peach habanero and zingy salsa verde. For more adventurous palates, the smoky pineapple chipotle salsa has heat, while those with a real tolerance will savor the aptly named fiery yellow habanero. Wash it all down with beer or a slushy margarita. Whatever you order, it’s a good feed for under €9, but don’t expect more than zingy fare made with fresh ingredients and naturally-raised meats, served in a bright, fast food-style joint—great for a late-night snack after catching a flick at the nearby Art Deco Tuschinski Theater.
Rozengracht 106, 1016 NH Amsterdam, Netherlands
An instant Amsterdam hotspot when it opened on Rozengracht in spring 2015, Salmuera blends flavors from many Latin countries, fusing Mexican and South American favorites as its predecessor did with Asian fare. Set in the historic building that was the original Bols Distillery, most recently occupied by Chow, the lively bistro offers lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, all featuring grilled meats and seafood, ceviches, empanadas and other specialties of Mexico, Argentina and Peru. Named after the tangy brine that flavors and tenderizes meats in Argentina, Salmuera boasts a rustic charcoal asado grill, open kitchen, and upper and lower level dining areas. Whole suckling pigs roasting over an open charcoal fire, lots of dark wood, a bar with counter seating, and flickering candles add a gezellig vibe. When the weather cooperates, the restaurant’s vine-laced terrace is a great spot for al fresco dining and watching the passing scene on Rozengracht in the trendy Jordaan. Come for a romantic dinner or cocktails and “bites” like delectable Latin cheese fingers stuffed with melted Tres Leches cheese made with cow, goat and sheep’s milk; meat empanadas; Argentinean charcuterie and a street food platter featuring spicy chicken wings marinated in coffee and chipotle, Argentinean sausage roll, Peruvian potato tart, guacamole and an array of dipping sauces.
158HS Bilderdijkstraat
Although it’s in Amsterdam‘s Oud-West, you’ll feel like you’ve landed somewhere in the Far East when you dive into the Asian-inspired street fare at HappyHappyJoyJoy. The latest brainchild of Chef Julius Jaspers of TV’s Top Chef fame, as well as the inspiration behind such popular Amsterdam hotspots as Julius Bar & Grill, Supperclub and Nomads, features a fusion of Asian flavors in starter-size dishes with Thai, Malay, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Chinese and Korean influences. Bring a few friends and order two to four dishes each for an evening of tapas-style sharing. Choose from typical dim sum specialties like steamed dumplings and spring rolls. Or opt for bao buns, curry and noodle dishes, salads, soups and sweets, all spiced according to your taste. A selection of Asian sodas, teas and beers rounds out HappyHappyJoyJoy’s drink menu. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, for dining in as well as take-out. But why would you want to eat at home when you can dine in buzzing surroundings in an upcoming Amsterdam neighborhood, with a view of sizzling woks and hissing steamers, under a ceiling of bright red umbrellas?
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