A Whole Different World
I promised I would tell you all about my trip to Amsterdam, even before I went. So lucky for me, there is certainly a whole lot to tell.
But the question is, where do I begin?
For one thing, it was all fantastically spontaneous. It’s one thing to go to Europe for the first time, and it’s another to go with two day’s notice. Aside from the fact that I was a complete mess for the two days prior – the less anticipation and anxiety, the better. It was such an oddly gratifying feeling to just get on the plane and go…to Amsterdam, and then Bruges and Antwerp (both cities in Belgium).
Now, I could go through each restaurant I went to, recount every food I ate, or every beer I drank (seriously, I took pictures of everything), but I’m afraid you all might tire of my week-long consumption itinerary; I know I would.
So then, how best do I capture my unforgettable experience in a mere few blog posts?
I’ve decided to start with the bigger picture, comparing the foodways I’m so used to here in America to the very different, intriguing nuances of restaurant service I encountered during my first visit to Europe (I say first, because I definitely plan to return). I’ll make the disclaimer now that I’m really not sure if the following observations are indicative of Europe as a whole, or simply the three Dutch-speaking cities I visited (Amsterdam, Antwerp and Bruges if you’ve already forgotten).
1. There are designated glasses for almost every drink on the menu. No joke. If you order a Bruges Stella Hendrik beer as pictured below, everyone knows it because it’s plastered all over your glass. The same goes for Coke or Sprite, or even…hot chocolate! So hey, I guess there’s no more wondering what the guy across the bar is drinking.
2. Instead of large mugs or pilsner glasses, beer is served in large stemmed glasses like the glasses you see above and below. It definitely gave drinking beer a classier feel.
3. Every cup of coffee is almost always accompanied by something sweet…whether it’s a mini chocolate bar, a crunchy waffle biscuit, or a cookie, no one knows what to expect! Every place had something different, but it was always a surprise because it came wrapped.
4. They have entire restaurants dedicated to snacks. From what I gather, lunch isn’t a big thing in Europe, so they have snack restaurants to satisfy you until the one big meal of the day: dinner. When we got to Bruges, we were famished for lunch. We went to Miramar, not realizing it was small portions and ordered vegetable soup (that turned out to be clear broth with small pieces of vegetables) and split an order of cheese croquettes. Needless to say, there were two tiny cheese croquettes on the plate and my starvation was not nearly satisfied. They were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but I was hungggry.
5. Soup seems to be a pretty big thing there. Every restaurant we went to seemed to have the options of tomatoensoep, erwtensoep, or grotensoep (tomato, pea, and vegetable soup) among others. And in glancing at other customers choices, it was often ordered. I had the erwtensoep my first night in Amsterdam, and aside from the meat, it was one of my favorite things there – hearty, thick and delicious!
6. Frites (fries) are served with just about EVERYthing. At first, I was excited to see what frites tasted like in Europe…but after about meal three of indirectly ordering frites with my meal, I grew a bit sick of them. I wouldn’t have assumed that my “duck with cherries” or fancy filet mignon would have been served with fries, but oh boy I guess I should have. Not to mention, they’d often give you fries and a salad on the same plate together. I just found it odd.
(This was the most normal placement of frites, it just happened to be the only picture of them I had.)
7. While Amsterdam seems to steal Belgium’s waffles, they also have their own popular breakfast fare: pannenkoeken (pancakes). And no, unfortunately, I did not get to cruise on The Pannenkoekenboot. But, everywhere you look, there’s a “pancake bakery” or a “pancake corner” – restaurants where you can get pancakes with just about any topping you could think of. My choice was red currants and raspberries:
8. When you visit the Netherlands and Belgium over the holidays, you’ll find a whole slew of people OBSESSED with Gluhwein (mulled wine). We have some recipes for mulled wine on the site, but this was my first time trying it – I had a taste in Amsterdam, and a whole glass at the grotemarket (Great Market) in Antwerp, topped off with some Amaretto. There is nothing like a steamy glass of wine, but there is definitely a time and a place.
8. You have to pay for water. In all the great things I have to say about my time in Europe, this is NOT one of them. Europe is expensive before quenching my constant thirst, let alone having to pay approximately 3 euro everytime I take a sip of water. It really forced me to monitor my water consumption – but I wasn’t thankful. Here is a picture of the smallest bottle of water I’ve ever paid for:
The water always came with lemon and a plastic contraption to squeeze the lemon juice into your water.
9. They allow pets in restaurants. In America, I really don’t think you could get away with a cat sleeping soundly on the same booth your patrons are eating at. Pictured below is said cat next to my friend who most definitely did not bring her cat along to eat with us:
Many other restaurants had stray cats or dogs roaming through.
There were countless observations I noticed while abroad, but I’ll wrap this post up with my favorite of them all:
10. Chain restaurants were the minority – the smaller family-run restaurants rule the roost in Europe, or at least Belgium and the Netherlands. Aside from the fast food chains like MAOZ and FEBO, I never once saw a restaurant duplicated. In addition to Dutch cuisine, Amsterdam was a culmination of Argentinean steakhouses, Indonesian buffets, and Middle Eastern eateries. In the way of food, Amsterdam was such a melting pot. But Belgium had a different feel. In Belgium, or at least the Northern parts, they seemed more focused on the offerings of the Flemish (those who come from Flanders, a Northern region of Belgium) – hotchpotch, mussels, rabbit stew, you name it, there was a restaurant that specialized in it. My selection: duck with cherries.
More accounts to come.