The bartender pours Jenever into a small tulip glass directly in front of me with a healthy meniscus. As advised by my trusted guide I lean over the table to take the first sip of the clear liquor, hands off the table to avoid accidentally shaking and spilling the Dutch nectar. The soft, sweet liquid promptly warms up my throat just before the heat of the alcohol follows, my face crunches in shock undoubtedly creating a new wrinkle as the quiet crowd breaks into a laughter. “Should’ve done a video too” comments one of our travel companions.
The tour was partially subsidized by Eating Europe. This blog post uses affiliate links denoted by ( * ) .
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Eating Europe, a passion project of Philadelphia-born Kenny Dunn, host walking food tours across Europe with a focus on unique neighbourhoods and cuisine. For this particular tour of Jordaan, our local guide has an unmatched passion for Amsterdam, a great deal of knowledge about the city, and the uniquely Dutch delicacies we are about to taste.
As we patiently wait for our hot beverages in the back of Café Papeneiland, Marjolein de Cleen, our guide, flips over to the map of Amsterdam, pointing out how Jordaan’s structure is significantly different from the rest of the city. Jordaan (pronounced “Yordan”) was built in the early 17th century as a neighbourhood for the pour working class and immigrants. Years later, in the late 20th century, a flock of artists, students, and young professionals moved in, reinforcing Jordaan’s community bonds deeply rooted in historic events and struggles of those who were here first.
Today Jordaan is one of the most famous neighbourhoods in Netherlands, a home to many new and historic cafes, cozy pubs, and boutique shops. Our meeting point, Café Papeneiland, is one of those historic spots: located between two notable canals (Browersgracht and Prinsengracht), the sheer architecture of which attracts tourists and painters alike. “It’s a kind of place we call browned” Marjolein shares pointing out the old wood frame, traditional decor, and nicotine-stained ceilings. This is the kind of place where in the old days locals set for hours sipping Jenever or cold beer from a nearby brewery.
Hot coffee and fresh mint tea in glass cups are being past around the table promptly followed by apple pie, “We have a few stops ahead of us” Marjolein comments, “so these are smaller pieces” I cant help but gasp looking at the generous portion with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on it. A Dutch apple pie has a thicker, more cake-like crust, filled with fresh apples seasoned with cinnamon. The apple stuffing is not as sweat as American pies so my objections to the rather large piece of it become promptly irrelevant as I scoop the last piece of the tasty goodness on the spoon before we head out.
As we walk along the canal turning into the narrow inner streets Marjolein fills the time with stories about Amsterdam, pointing out her favourite shops and the unique aspects of Dutch architecture. Due to the history of Jordaan some of the original buildings have been torn down and replaced with newer, more blocky structures merely pretending to match the history and resilience built into this neighbourhood over the years. The conversation naturally pivots to food as we approach our next stop: JWO Lekkernijen, a traditional deli owned by Ongkie and Jan-Willem. Our group, zipped up to the noses, perches up on the bench by the entrance waiting for our host to bring out the goods: young cheese made from raw milk (about 4 months old), old cheese (8 months or more), a flavoured cheese with anise, candied ginger and fig almond bread – something sweet to eat with particularly dry old farmer cheeses. To properly taste the cheeses our guide advices we put the candied ginger on the cheese and eat them together, just like the Dutch.
Having fulfilled our cheese curiosities we are back on the street, minding the bikers. “Bike!” Marjolein shouts and we all scatter against the wall giving way to a speeding cyclist yet another time. Over the bridge the street opens on another corner shop, a fish shaped logo spelling out “Catch” can be seen on the window and the hanging sign. “Is that where we’re going next?” I inquire in excitement. Marjolein nods with a smile.
As we enter the shop a display of fresh fish and mixed seafood greets us just before we walk up a few steps to the seating area. As usual our host touches base with the staff arranging our tasting while we try to warm up our hands after walking in the cool rain. To speed up the process the shop keeper brings us all a sampling of Jenever, traditional juniper liqueur, to go with our first tasting course: fermented haring (herring) served with fresh cut onions and pickles. A dish like this one is typically Dutch and an acquired taste. The look of the fish immediately reminds me of the Ukrainian version of the dish, called seledka, also pickled and a bit more salty. “Not for me” a woman sitting across the table pushes away her napkin, but her disdain of the fish is to my advantage – it’s one of my favourite things to eat! The next dish is much more palatable for the whole group: kibbling, lightlybattered, crispy golden chunks of white fish served with tartar sauce.
The next few streets take us into a local deli, Slagerij Louman-Jordaa, a tiny butcher shop serving “the taste of the Jordaan for over a hundred years,” their napkin proclaims, two blue crowned blue pigs holding up the sign. Standing in a circle over a round wooden board we proceed to taste the freshly prepared meats: grilled sausage, grilled beef and pork with spices, ham and dried sausage with fennel. The oddest and newest flavour, however, is the cold smoked ate osseworst. Traditionally this is an ox sausage but here it is made from pure beef with spices imported from the East Indies, at first glance it looks raw and on bite has a tartare-like texture but very light, battery taste that you could spread on crispy bread.
Running a little behind we make our way over to Tom’s Bread & More for fresh stroopwaffles, wafer thin cookies sandwiched with caramel syrup. Here at Tom’s the stroopwaffles are made in-house, served in a homey atmosphere along with sandwiches and warm paninis. I promptly stuff a box of cookies to take home into a bag and follow out on the street towards our last stop, Cafe ‘t Smalle, formerly a liqueur store by the same name this is a charming small bar on Egelantiersgracht.
Taking a narrow winding staircase to the second floor sitting area we spread out around the room on wooden chairs overlooking the bar. At ease with my jacket off and hands warm once again I sit back leaving room for the bar staff to set down a plate of tiny puffed pancakes called poffertjes. Generously dusted with powdered sugar these pancakes are a Dutch favourite, soft and chewy on the inside, perfectly shaped little saucers of sweet goodness. For a beverage pairing our hosts asks to chose a small beer or a glass of Jenever. One of our companions reaches out and pulls the small tulip glass towards him and we all gasp in shame as the top layer spills out of the glass on the table, but I make sure to drink mine proper, just like the Dutch.
How to get here
Jordaan is located in the heart of Amsterdam, you can walk there from Central Station, about 20 minutes, or take public transit. A variety of international airlines have frequent direct flights to Amsterdam and you can easily take a train from a neighboring country (booked ahead with Rail Europe*).
Where to stay
We stayed at The Hendrick’s Hotel*, located a few canals over from Jordaan. Hendrick’s is a lovely modern boutique hotel with incredibly accommodating staff.
Booking the tour
Eating Europe host tours in multiple cities across Europe. This tour in particular, Jordaan food tour, can be booked online here.