Phew. So the Dutch national election came and went, and Geert Wilders won far fewer seats than all us Amsterdammers feared. I like to think I played a role in this by writing about how bereft Dutch food would be without culinary influences from Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. But, realistically, the readers of DutchNews.nl are probably all expats like me who don’t get a vote anyway. Still, it matters not – the result was a good one and “doe normaal” service has resumed.
International budget restaurants de Pijp
Balti House – Indian
Balti House had been on my to-eat list for literally years, and I finally made it there on a recent rainy Monday night. I wasn’t disappointed. It seemed rude not to order the balti, given the name of the place, and our chicken balti was rich with warm spices yet fresh with red peppers and onions. The prawn madras was properly hot ‘n spicy, which was excellent for a chilli fiend like me. Plus, the naan bread was cloud-fluffy and made an ideal sauce-dipping tool. With a couple of Cobra beers each, our meal came to €50 for two.
Couscous Club – North African
Ever since a friend of mine invited me over for a disastrous meal of “student couscous” (which resulted in us abandoning ship and getting Thai takeout from Rakang instead), I’ve associated couscous with a student budget. And with good reason: it’s cheap, hearty and very versatile. At the Ceintuurbaan’s Couscous Club, chef Wouter serves up three types of this North African grain: couscous with vegetables and lentil sauce; couscous with merguez sausages; or “royal” couscous with one merguez sausage, one lamb kebab and beef stew (my couscous of choice). The generous, one-pot dishes cost between €9 and €15, while a bottle of house wine costs €18. If you’re feeling flash, he’ll even mix you a (rather sweet) Mojito for €7.
Taco Cartel – Mexican
Disclaimer alert: I was invited to Taco Cartel by a PR agency, but it looked like the food we were eating was the same as the normal menu so I think I can make a relatively objective assessment of it. Also because I’ve eaten a lot of tacos. In fact, this will officially be the eighth taco bar in Amsterdam that has come under my scrutiny, so I’m starting to get pretty picky. Taco Cartel offers seven different types of taco – mostly meaty, with a couple of veggie versions and one fish option. My favourites were the crispy-fried chicken with mango salsa and corn, and the baja skifabay – battered fish, guacamole, pico de gallo and more of that yummy mango salsa. I’m not sure how authentically Mexican they were (but what is?), though they get top marks for flavour. The vegetarian (sweet potato, asparagus and black bean) and al pastor (spicy pork and pineapple) were pretty decent too, but I was less impressed with the meat that required slow-cooking. Beef chipotle was disappointingly lacking in that crucial chipotle, while lime chicken stew was just a bit… meh. Still, for €8 for two decidedly large tacos or €9 for a huge burrito, you can’t really complain. And they keep the Coronas coming, too…
Maydanoz – Turkish
I’m not sure whether Maydanoz really falls into the budget category, but if you stick to the extensive mezze selection and the house wine then you can probably get away without spending too much. On the mezze menu the night I was there: cacik (yoghurt with cucumber and dill), hummus and baba ganoush (both of which were very accomplished versions of themselves), cheese “cigars”, fried meaty “torpedoes”, and my favourite: ispanak, braised spinach with pepper, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins. If you have a bit more to spend, their grilled meats are good too: perfectly cooked and with a tasty BBQ char from the grill.
Also in the category of cheap eats/budget restaurants in de Pijp…
- Spaghetteria – Now with three locations in Amsterdam plus a cookbook, Spaghetteria serves up deceptively simple but delicious Italian pasta dishes for very reasonable prices. Their wines are good, too. Read my full review of Spahetteria.
- Pho 91 – Often with queues out the door, Pho 91 serves predominantly (you’ve guessed it) pho: fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup, generally with beef in various forms. Read my full review of Pho 91.
- Warung Spang Makandra – On the plus side, Spang Makandra serves excellent Surinamese roti and almost everything on the menu costs less than €10. On the down side, they don’t take reservations, nor do they serve alcohol. Read my full review of Warung Spang Makandra.
- Azmarino – Serving up enormous platters of Ethiopian/Eritrean fare on those giant, slightly sour injera pancakes, Azmarino has been doing its thing for yonks. The food here is cheap but colourful: darkly marinated chicken drumsticks, green spinach, pastes of pulses and yellow spices, bright flecks of salad… Read my full review of Azmarino.
- De Japanner – The first Japanese, late-night, street-food joint in Amsterdam, de Japanner serves great small plates to share. Think chicken katsu, gyoza, California rolls and salmon tataki. Read my full review of de Japanner.
- Omelegg – It’s one of my biggest pet peeves, not being able to get a decent omelette in Amsterdam. And Omelegg is one of the rare exceptions: whether you’re hungover or just hungry, a huge mound of eggs stuffed with everything from sausage to cheese to veggies is sure to set you right. And they now have a second location in the centre of town, too. Read my full review of Omelegg.