Three Types of Food in Amsterdam You’ve Never Tried: Surinamese, Hawaiian, Sichuan

Ok, so you might have tried them. But have you tried them in Amsterdam?

On a conference call with a guy in London the other day (we’re working on a website that involves an Amsterdam travel guide), he asked: “So what type of restaurants are there in Amsterdam? Dutch? French? Indian?” It was a fair enough question, but one that presumes we don’t enjoy the diversity here that London does. And yet I’d argue that we do – just in microcosm. Since I’ve lived here, the different types of cuisine you can eat in Amsterdam restaurants have multiplied. Ten-fold. We’ve got everything from Indonesian food (hell, Amsterdam is pretty much the European capital of Indonesian food) to Mexican food and lots in between.

Even for us Amsterdammers, however, there are still a few world cuisines that you’d never expected to find here. The city may be well known for its Surinamese population, but the number of comments and views my Beginner’s Guide to Surinamese Food in Amsterdam gets suggests that many people have still never tried it. Meanwhile, we’ve all had “Chinese” food (whatever that means when you’re talking about a country that’s as big as the whole of Europe put together) – but who’s tasted Sichuanese food unless they’ve travelled in the region? And Hawaiian food – who knew what that even included until the sudden trendiness of poké bowls?

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Sichuanese food in Amsterdam: China Sichuan Restaurant

I travelled around China for two months when I was 21, and always regretted the fact that I didn’t make it to Sichuan. As a self-confessed chilli-addict, this seemed like a huge omission. Hotpots, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies – what’s not to like?

So when I heard that there was a decent Sichuanese restaurant in Amsterdam, it was first on my list to try. The name might not be too creative, but China Sichuan Restaurant does what it says on the tin. Or rather, it does what it says on the 50-page menu. Not wanting to be outdone by the chef and his ten thousand dishes, the copywriter absolutely went to town: “A bite of Sichuan,” reads one dish, “so Sichuan that your very existence in Amsterdam becomes an illusion.” Christ, it’s almost poetry!

Sichuan dumplings – you can’t go wrong with that much chilli!

We kicked off our epic Sichuanese feast with some classic dumplings that were filled with pork and served with a rich oil that was full of spicy Sichuan peppercorns. Things were off to a good start (I was with the creator of Pinch – Amsterdam’s Queen of Dumplings – and even she was impressed).

We then shared four dishes between us – all of which were fabulous in and of themselves, but with hindsight we should’ve been a bit smarter when choosing what to order as they were all high on oiliness and salt. Usually in such situations, I’d ask the waiter/ress to make a suggestion; but in this case that wasn’t an option. Something about freckles and blonde(ish) hair makes people think you’re a chilli newbie and they tend to dumb down the spice levels. Looks can be deceiving, people – just sayin’.

Silken cubes of tofu in the Mapo Tofu

So we tried the fabulously named “Ants on Trees” – a spicy combination of minced pork, glass noodles, spring onions and what I think was seaweed. “Mapo Tofu” was silky and hot from the dried chillies – I liked it more than I thought I would, given that I’m not generally a tofu fan. “Sichuan special hot mixed vegetables” looked like a soup on the menu, but turned out to be a sort of hotpot full of veges (cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, mushrooms, pak choi and more) in a chilli and pepper-infused oil. Slightly less oily (but still fried) was the Mongolian beef – a dry dish comprising battered, fried beef, peppers, spring onions and (of course) chillies.

Next time I visit Sichuan, I’ll order a couple of the steamed dishes instead and hope to avoid the enormous food crash that happened 30 minutes after consuming my own body weight in oil. But for now, I’ll just leave you with another gem of copy from the menu: “It is said that green onion is the girlfriend, ginger is the brother, garlic the soul mate, and chili the lover; these four natural ingredients make the Chinese cuisine.” I literally want to ask these people for a job.

A veritable chilli-fest: Sichuan vegetable hotpot

Surinamese Food in Amsterdam: Riaz

After my quest to find the best Surinamese food in Amsterdam, I ended up with more recommendations than I did when I was researching the article. One came from Jessica Lipowski, author of Flavors of Life, who had interviewed the owners of Surinamese restaurant Riaz for her book about the immigrant stories of restaurateurs in Amsterdam from across the world.

I was in search of a Surinamese restaurant in which it’s possible to actually sit down (as opposed to just takeaway), and Riaz seemed like it might fit the bill. On arrival, it was a little simpler and more spartan than I’d anticipated (and didn’t serve alcohol) which is useful to know if you’re after a gezellig night out. That being said, although many of our fellow customers were there for takeaway, the tables did start to fill up as the evening wore on.

“Doks” – spicy duck roti at Surinamese restaurant Riaz

We snacked on a vegetarian samosa to start – the flavour was good but the pastry casing a little greasy. I prefer the samosa at Swieti Sranang. We also tried the telo: fried cassava chips with crunchy morsels of bakkeljauw (salt cod) on the side. Again, the flavours were fine but this time the dish was on the dry side.

My main was called “Doks” – essentially a roti dish but with duck. The sauce was good and spicy, the long beans fresh, and the roti bread a perfect scooping tool. The only downside was that the duck had been so badly butchered that you got a mouthful of splintered bones with every bite. My dinner buddy ordered the “Her Herie”, which was new to us both: potato, sweet potato and banana came with spicy salt cod that almost served as a dressing. The flavour was different but in a good way, although I prefer dishes with more sauce to bind the component parts together.

Still, for only €20 each, I can’t complain. I may well be back for a takeaway roti; I just won’t be ordering the dawet drink. Sweeter than a McDonald’s milkshake – bleurgh.

Hawaiian food in Amsterdam: Poké Perfect

Presumably because of their lack of dairy or gluten or something, Hawaiian poké bowls seem to have become the favoured dish of healthy-foodie-Instagrammers. Which is not me. But forgive me for wanting to find out what all the fuss was about.

From what I can make out, a poké bowl is essentially a bed of rice (or, in the case of Poké Perfect on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht, quinoa or mixed salad leaves) topped with all manner of fresh veges and raw fish. Poké Perfect offers six “specialities” (their own suggestions for combinations of ingredients) but you can also assemble your own. I tried the “Sriracha Spicy Tuna” (a large bowl costs €13.70, while a regular is a couple of euros cheaper) comprising ahi tuna, avocado, carrots, edamame beans, crunchy bits of tempura batter and their so-called “Sriracha Mayo” sauce. The sticky rice tasted weirdly fishy (and not from the tuna); the edamame beans didn’t sing freshness; and the Sriracha Mayo just tasted like mayo – I didn’t get any spiciness at all and ended up drowning the whole bowl in Sriracha and soy sauce. So far, somewhat disappointing.

The painfully on-trend poké bowl from Poké Perfect

But, not wanting to judge a new (to me) food concept on the first attempt, I went back for second helpings. This time around, I tried the “build your own” option with quinoa as the base and toppings of raw salmon, sweet potato, radish, pineapple and toasted almonds. It didn’t look as pretty as the first version (hence I’m not bothering to include a picture) but it tasted five times better. I also got Poké Perfect’s signature “Ponzu Sauce” – I didn’t get a lot of ponzu flavour but there was plenty of dried chilli (which, as you might have guessed by now, is always a plus for me). And a regular sized bowl, which is plenty big enough at lunchtime, only costs €9.80 if you stick to the regular priced toppings. All in all, a much more positive experience.

So Amsterdam, what’s next? Florentine lampredotto? Icelandic fermented shark? Or perhaps an insect-hapjes bar? Come on, surprise me!

all the info

Poke Perfect (American)

Riaz (Surinamese)

Sichuan Restaurant (Chinese)


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