For our quick trip to Amsterdam in early January, we wanted to make sure to fit in our top travel highlights, which are always culture, scenery, and food. I love touring renowned museums and snapping photos of beautiful architecture when I go abroad, but my absolute #1 favourite way of combining all three of my travel musts is to take a food tour. A guided tour with a passionate and friendly foodie who can show you all the best well-known (and not so well-known) eateries around town while learning about local history and culture – what’s not to love?
I was delighted to discover Hungry Birds, a small company of dedicated food enthusiasts whose goal is to introduce visitors to the heart of Amsterdam through its street food culture and daily life in an open and creative way. Tourism graduates and friends Zosia and Esther-Hanna founded Hungry Birds four years ago after being inspired by their travels abroad, particularly in Asia, and their discovery of the authentic and bustling street food scene. They decided to combine their love of Amsterdam, tourism, and street food by starting their own food tour business, Hungry Birds. Now joined by their colleague Rachael, these self-proclaimed ‘mother birds’ are eager to feed travellers from all over the world (aka the ‘hungry birds’!) who want to explore Amsterdam’s best cuisine.
After debating between signing up for their City Birds tour or their Market Birds tour, I was thrilled to discover that they were starting a new Hungry Birds Experience, a combination of the best parts of their former city and market tours. S, my friend Ashish, and I joined 5 other visitors on the inaugural Hungry Birds Experience, a 4.5 hour tour travelling through the multicultural area of De Pijp, the Albert Cuyp Market, Utrechtsestraat, and the city centre.
At our designated meeting spot just off of the market, we met our guide Zosia. Originally from Poland, Zosia moved to Amsterdam and fell in love with the city, Dutch culture, and especially Dutch food. She greeted us all warmly as we introduced ourselves and suggested that we share our names and favourite food memories as a way to get to know one another. Talking about food with fellow food lovers is a surefire way to bond in a jiff!
We kicked off our tour at Toko Ramee, a shop featuring Asian ingredients and Indonesian takeaway dishes. We learned that Indonesia was a former Dutch colony, which is the reason for the strong Indonesian influence in Dutch cuisine today. In fact, Zosia told us that some of the best food in the Netherlands is Indonesian food. After having my first few bites of Indonesian food, I have to say that I 100% understand why. We sampled pasteis, small fried pastries filled with either meat or vegetables. I tried a veggie pastei with house-made spicy sambal, a sauce made with chili peppers, but we could also sample a sweet sambal. I couldn’t believe how flavourful the little pastry was; it was the perfect spicy kick in the morning to wake up my palate.
To cool the spice, we snacked on spekkoek, a rich and spicy Indonesian layer cake. The name translates to ‘bacon cake’ because it looks like the layers in bacon. Nothing salty about it, spekkoek is sweet and tender, like a soft gingerbread. Make sure to count the layers – there should be at least 10 (some say there should be at least 18!) to be considered a ‘good’ spekkoek.
Truth be told, I wanted to stay behind and eat everything in the shop, but alas, the tour was just getting started! We made our way to Tjin’s, an international food shop run by Chinese-Surinamese owners who immigrated to the Netherlands. Suriname, a small country in the northern part of South America, was also once a Dutch colony. Much like Indonesian cuisine, Surinamese food has also made its mark on Dutch food culture. Here we tried a broodje pom, a traditional Surinamese chicken dish served inside a house-made bread roll. Much like the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich, broodje pom captures the perfect blend of light and crispy bread, savoury meat filling, and pop of freshness from the condiments–in this case, a fiery mango sauce. My sandwich was gone in a flash – wish I could get some broodje pom here in Germany!
After only a few more steps, we were entering the Albert Cuyp market, the busiest market in all of the Netherlands and the largest daytime market in Europe. Over 300 stalls line both sides of Albert Cuyp street in the De Pijp neighbourhood selling everything from fruit and vegetables to clothes, cosmetics and bedding. After stopping to admire some tulips and waxed rounds of cheese, we stopped outside Vishandel Albert Cuyp, a prominent fish shop in the market. The shop consists of two parts, a stall out front that sells all kinds of fresh fish, and an inner shop where they turn out order after order of Dutch fish dishes.
I had read about the famous Hollandse Nieuwe (‘new Dutch herring’) before travelling to Amsterdam and wondered if I’d have the nerve to try it. To be called Hollandse Nieuwe, the herring must be caught between May and July, have at least 16% body fat, and be prepared in the traditional Dutch way. The usual way to enjoy Dutch herring is to grab the fish by the tail, dip it in chopped white onions and take a bite. We got the more gentle introduction to this local culinary treat by being served the herring cut into small pieces (sans tail) with onions and pickles on the side (the so-called ‘Amsterdam’ way). With a whispered pep talk to myself to pretend it was sushi, I took my little Dutch flag, picked up a silver piece of herring, rolled it in onions, pierced a pickle, and popped the whole lot into my skeptical mouth. But guess what? It was delicious! Sitting next to my vegetarian friend, I luckily ended up with a whole tray to myself.
On to our next fish course – kibbeling, battered and deep fried fish chunks served with three kinds of sauce (garlic, remoulade, and cocktail). The piping hot kibbeling was fresh and flaky and perfectly complimented by the creamy sauces. It’s easy to see why this market stand is a popular spot among locals looking for their seafood fix.
To cleanse our palates, we headed a few stands away to Original Stroopwafels. If you’ve heard of one Dutch snack before, then it was probably stroopwafels. These thin, round waffle ‘sandwiches’ filled with caramel syrup are delicious cold, but imagine a freshly made warm one from the most prestigious stroopwafel shop in the Netherlands…totally divine. Lucky for us that they also sell pre-packaged stroopwafels made according to their original recipe – we made sure to buy a pack to enjoy once we were back home. Pro tip: Set your stroopwafel on top of a hot cup of coffee or tea to warm it up before you bite into it.
We exited the market and headed toward the busy street Utrechtsestraat. Pointing out houseboats bobbing on the canals and Amsterdam’s famous gable houses, Zosia gave us insight into the quirky and historic places where Amsterdamers reside.
To warm up from the cold, we stopped by Café Bouwman for a drink. A mainstay on Utrechtsestraat since 1940, this bruin café (aka ‘brown café’, so-called because of the dark and cozy wooden interior) is a local favourite. Here we got to sample jenever, a juniper-flavoured gin-like spirit, the national liquor of the Netherlands. We could sample oude (old) or jonge (young) jenever, the former tasting a bit malty and the latter having a neutral taste like vodka. S and Ashish tried those while I opted for the Coebergh Classic, a popular drink of choice for Dutch women. Its deep, red colour and fruity, rich flavour won me over – I understand why it’s so popular!
Just down the street, we sat down at Klaver 4, a sweet and humble lunch spot serving up tasty Dutch specialties. Little jars of freshly made cookies greet you at each table to instantly make you feel at home. Here we tried Dutch pea soup made the traditional way (ie. so thick that you can stand a spoon up in it). Talk about hearty!
A food tour in Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without sampling a kroket (croquette), quite likely the most popular Dutch snack. These breadcrumbed and fried cylinders can be made with everything ranging from meat, to vegetables, to seafood and are served on half a white bread roll. Our group tried both meat and vegetarian croquettes at Van Dobben, a white-tiled shop with efficient white-coated staff dealing out plates of croquettes like playing cards. Try your croquette with a dab of mustard like the locals do.
On our way toward the city centre, Zosia introduced us to the Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating market. Here you can pick up flower bulbs, clogs, and other Dutch memorabilia as souvenirs.
The next stop on our food tour was the one I was most excited about. I have a notorious sweet tooth and had heard about this amazing cookie shop in Amsterdam that sells just one, glorious chocolate cookie.
We simply followed the heavenly smell of chocolate toward the Van Stapele storefront. The shop is so tiny that our whole group couldn’t fit inside. I opted to oogle the cookies on display from the window. Their decadent chocolate cookie may seem unassuming at first glance, but take a bite and you’ll understand why this shop has a solid 5 star rating on Yelp. (Along with the pastei from Toko Ramee, this cookie is the thing I’ve longed for the most since returning to Germany. Run, don’t walk, to Van Stapele!)
Perhaps you’re wondering at this point: 1) Aren’t you full yet? and 2) Where’s the cheese? The answers are 1) No and 2) At our next stop!
A photo posted by Kaffee und Kuchen (@kaffeeundkuchenblog) on
We had all actually passed by Dutch Delicacy – De Mannen Van Kaas the day before on our walking tour. The beautifully-decorated (okay, cheese-filled) storefront caught my eye and I made a mental note to stop by if time allowed. Lucky us that this spot was on our food tour!
The shop carries only Dutch made products, so it’s the ideal spot to sample some local goods. We were spoiled with a cheese board containing young cheese, cumin cheese, aged cheese, goat cheese, old cheese, and truffle cheese. Each one was stronger and more flavourful than the last and perfectly complimented by our glass of red Syrah. The fig preserves and honey mustard sauce were also delicious paired with the cheeses.
Our last stop of the day was across the street at Café Hoppe, one of Amsterdam’s oldest brown cafés. With sand on the floors to soak up spills from boisterous beer clinkers and old wooden barrels lining the walls, Café Hoppe has been attracting locals and tourists alike for centuries. Here we enjoyed a cool pint of Amstel, one of the most popular Dutch beers hailing from Amsterdam. As we said goodbye to our fellow hungry birds on the tour, we sat back to reminisce about all the delicious bites we’d had that day.
Our food tour with Hungry Birds was definitely the highlight of our trip. Zosia was a superb guide – extremely friendly, approachable and well-versed in all things related to Dutch cuisine and culture. Throughout our tour, she pointed out several noteworthy landmarks and gave us the history of the people, neighbourhoods, and areas of the city that make it so unique. If you are heading to Amsterdam and want to eat and drink some of the most quintessential Dutch offerings in town, then I can definitely recommend taking a tour with Hungry Birds. (In addition to their new Hungry Birds Experience, they also offer a Thirsty Birds and Sunday Experience tour.)
Thank you so much to Hungry Birds for hosting me and special thanks to Zosia for a memorable day!
I was a guest of Hungry Birds on their Hungry Birds Experience food tour, priced at 79 Euros per person. As always, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.
Where are your favourite places to eat in Amsterdam? Please let me know in the comments below!