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10 Years in Amsterdam: This Foodie’s Highlights

On 14th January 2006, a nervous 25-year old British woman sat nursing a cappuccino at Pret a Manger in Heathrow airport with a one-way ticket to Amsterdam. Precisely 10 years later, a slightly more self-assured (but no less caffeine-addicted) 35-year old sits in her Spaarndammerbuurt apartment-cum-office and never looks back. Contrary to my parents’ fears, I became neither a drug addict nor a prostitute, and nor did I wind up destitute – despite arriving with what in hindsight looked like a recklessly small bank account. And while those same parents were hoping for a prosperous and secure career in banking (sorry Dad), I did reach the dubious achievement of writing (mostly about food) for a living.

And so, Amsterdam, I just wanted to say: it’s been a joy to spend the last decade with you – learning your language, with its funny word order and endless de vs. het dilemmas; re-learning to ride a bike, preferably while carrying an umbrella and whatsapping at the same time; and watching your food scene develop into something that even the most avid foodie can be truly proud of. While boys have come and gone, my love for you – dearest Amsterdam – has been constant. My fights with your horizontal rain, your (lack of) customer service, your baffling bureaucracy – these have never shaken my faith in your understated beauty and your kindness to this (once) stranger.

amsterdam
Amsterdam, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

My 10-year anniversary seems like a good moment to look back on some of the foodie highlights (personal and otherwise) from the past decade in my beloved city…

2006: The Love Story Began

My first night in Amsterdam was spent with the only person I knew in this city (a friend from university) at Spanjer en van Twist. I don’t remember what I ate at all, but I recall looking out of the first-floor windows over the Leliegracht at the lights gleaming on the black water and falling in love with Amsterdam. Years later, I was walking past Spanjer en van Twist on a warm summer’s night and heard opera singing coming from the other side of the Prinsengracht. I sat outside the café by myself at midnight with a mint tea, listening to the music. By this point, I’d already fallen in love with the city a hundred times over, but every time is like an echo of the first.

2007: The Amsterdam Foodie Was Born!

Ok, technically I started writing about Amsterdam restaurants on MySpace in 2006… which quickly developed into an AOL blog (remember those days?). But that Christmas my brother gave me my own URL, and amsterdamfoodie.nl was born just a few months later. Ta-daa!

amsterdamfoodie website
The latest iteration of what has been a 9-year project!

2008: The Great Tapas Dating Year

I discovered tapas in Amsterdam the year I discovered speed-dating – and there’s a reason for this. The problem with speed-dating (much like online dating these days, I imagine) is that there’s a lot of fallout. Three minutes suddenly escalates into whole evenings of eating and drinking… Tapas is the only solution: things are going well? You stick around for 10 dishes and an extra jug of Sangria. The guy’s a weirdo? One glass of red and a plate of patatas bravas and you’re out of there.

There was the Irish reveller at Café Duende. There was the Bosnian Godfather at Pata Negra II. There was the Dutch guy who kissed like a washing machine at Catala. There was the British intellectual who went by the name of Derrida at A La Plancha. Ahhh… those were the days… Not.

PS. 2008 was also the first year of the Rollende Keukens food-truck festival. It took place over just two days; there were all of about 20 food trucks participating – and what felt like the same number of visitors. Contrast that with last year’s five-day Hemelvaarts weekend extravaganza featuring well over 100 “rolling kitchens” and you’ll see just what a long way Amsterdam’s food truck scene has come over the past seven years…

2009: Professional Food Writing Seemed Like a Viable Option

After three years of pottering along, writing about food on my blog, 2009 was the year I finally started to get paying gigs. By which I don’t mean restaurants giving me free dinners to write nice things about them (I don’t do that). I mean food journalism (that year, I wrote for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal ), travel guidebooks and corporate food writing. It was never going to make me a millionaire, but it started paying a few bills.

2010: Lastage Paved the Way

Before Lastage existed, I’d been to one other Michelin-starred restaurant in Amsterdam: La Rive. It was wonderful – but in that grand, stately and somehow pretentious way that many such establishments (especially hotel restaurants) often are. When I first went to Lastage, it didn’t have a Michelin star – but it wouldn’t be long before it did. In contrast to La Rive, Lastage was small, friendly and as casual as you can reasonably be at that price ticket. It paved the way for what would become the new high-end Dutch gastronomy.

2011: Pop-ups Took Off

Before 2011, Amsterdam had seen a few pop-ups: there was my own venture, Hidden Kitchen, which I ran from my living room for a year between 2009 and 2010. The Dikke Lepel ladies were running their infamous WinkWink dinners. And Jason Hartley had more pop-up locations for Lovefood than I’ve had boyfriends.

But 2011 was the year pop-ups became mainstream. Within just a few days, I’d be invited to MyTable (a regular slot at the Tommy Hilfiger canteen by the fabulous Claire Sullivan), caterer Madame Charlotte’s monthly pop-up in her own studio, Korean fabulousness brought to you by the Korean Taco Party, a cosmic chilli cook-off by the delicious Hilary Eats… the list goes on. Some of these names have disappeared without trace; others (I’m pleased to say) have evolved into permanent gigs. Everyone who’s started a pop-up since then: you have 2011 to thank.

worst wijncafe amsterdam
2012: I discovered Worst Wijncafe!

2012: The Worst (Wijncafe) Happened

Yes, it was 2012 that I discovered my go-to restaurant, come celebrations or commiserations, brunch or dinner… Worst, you should probably know that I recommend you in almost every interview I give.

2013: My First Cookbook Was Published

I can’t say Vicky Hampton’s Working Lunch was a huge success. In many ways, it was a complete disaster. But at least it taught me how not to publish a book. There’s nothing wrong with the book, by the way – the lunch recipes are good (I’ve been told), the photography is beautiful, and the design/styling brought me closer to my best friend (the one I mentioned at the beginning in Spanjer en van Twist – only we had no idea at the time where our friendship would lead us). It was the publisher that was the problem – or rather, their inability to do anything one might expect of a publisher.

Note added 17 August 2017: Four years later, my publisher went out of business and I finally got back the rights to my book! You can buy it online here – it’s a great way to support this blog, and get a little lunch inspiration at the same time…

2014: De Foodhallen Opened

Arguably, 2014 was the year when Amsterdam became a serious contender on Europe’s food scene. And it was all down to one sweep of tram-depot genius: de Foodhallen. Now home to Viet-View, Shirkhan and Pink Flamingo – not to mention some gorgeously gooey cheese from Caulils – de Foodhallen changed the face of Amsterdam dining. Because with weather like ours, the only sensible answer to food trucks is a covered food market.

2015: Temporary Restaurants Came (and Went)

If 2011 was the year of the pop-up, they paved the way for pop-ups 2.0: the “temporary” restaurant. Rather than popping up at someone else’s venue one night a month, temporary restaurants take over a space for several months or even an entire year. And then leave again. Why? I still haven’t quite figured it out, given the investments that these entrepreneurs must have to make to get the thing off the ground in the first place. In 2015, I visited Baut, Foyer and Gustafson, to name but a few temporary restaurants. I was pleased to discover that my favourite of the three (Foyer) has now found itself a permanent home in Choux.

Choux restaurant
Choux: dishes like oil paintings

So, that was the last 10 years for me. What were the highlights for you? And what lies around the corner in 2016?

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