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.