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I was 13 when the European Union was formed in 1993. I remember it clearly. I went from unpatriotic, anti-nationalist Brit to ardent, die-hard Europhile pretty much overnight, waving my blue and yellow-starred flag with a pride I didn’t even understand. When my brother went off to work in France for a few months, or when he moved to Belgium to be with his now-wife who he met on a language course in Germany, or when my family took in a French exchange student for two weeks – I’ve known deep down and forever than I am a European.
For the next 36 hours, my citizenship hangs in the balance: if my Britishness means I’m no longer European, what will happen to my citizenship here in the Netherlands? How will I sponsor the residency of my long-term non-EU partner? I don’t know the answer to either of these questions (or even if they’re the right questions to be asking), but I know I’ll trade in my British nationality for Dutch nationality if I have to. It’s not that I’d mind – I love the Dutch, and I love this country that’s welcomed me for over a decade. But to change one’s nationality is a big deal, nonetheless.
I’m not going to try and rationalise the arguments for staying, because I don’t even understand them myself. I’m simply going to say that I believe Europe is a better place for being in this thing together. In the Netherlands, just like in the UK, the immigrant cultures (whether EU or non-EU) have brought with them a richness and variety of cuisine that I can’t imagine life without. The thought of what I’m going to eat for dinner is what wakes me get up in the morning. Last year, I ate my way around London – yes, I ate pub grub in an English gastropub. I also ate Spanish jamon, French cassoulet, and Levantine hummus. But since I don’t know enough about restaurants in the UK to write this post about them, here are 10 “European restaurants” in Amsterdam that epitomise everything I love about free movement in the EU.
1. British: Greenwoods
I’ve got to start with the British as they’re the ones who are threatening to leave (although I fear a domino effect if they do). Greenwoods is the quintessential English tearoom (I prefer the branch at Keizersgracht 465) but their food covers the whole of Britain. Think Irish soda bread, Devonshire clotted cream, and even a breakfast dish called the “Englishman Abroad”, which I love as a title. Pictured here are the Eggs Greenwoods: poached eggs with cottage cheese, smoked salmon (optional) and avocado on soda bread. Delish.
2. Dutch: Daalder
The Netherlands: my adoptive country for the last 10 years… Of course, there are hundreds of Dutch restaurants in Amsterdam, but I recently returned to one particular restaurant that blew me away with its modern Dutch cuisine back in 2013. When I took my parents and in-laws there a few days ago, it transpired that the original chef had left – but the food was no less accomplished. Standout dishes for me were the amuse of tomato sorbet and parmesan foam, as well as the duck breast with a delightful potje of potato, beetroot and horseradish that perked up the palate no end. Daalder may not be all bitterballen and gouda – but its ingredients are no less local for their international influences.
3. Belgian: Stadscafé van Mechelen
My brother has lived in Belgium since I was 11, so it’s like a second home for me. When I’m craving a little Flemish hospitality in Amsterdam, I head to Stadscafe van Mechelen for whatever’s on their specials board.
4. French: Wijnbar Boelen & Boelen
I first found Wijnbar Boelen & Boelen soon after I moved here, when de Pijp was the (only) place to go out at night. After a long absence, I recently rediscovered it as a lovely spot for a glass of wine and a plate of cheese or charcuterie after work on a Friday evening. If you’re feeling flush, they do good, classic main courses as well: steak, duck and the like.
5. Italian: Koevoet
While Koevoet’s décor screams Dutch eetcafe, one look at the menu will transport you straight to Sicily. Again, this was somewhere I discovered years ago but hadn’t been back to in a while simply because of all the new openings that I wanted to check out. But yesterday evening, on my in-laws’ last night in Amsterdam, I took them to Koevoet – and in doing so, transported myself back to a time when good Italian restaurants in Amsterdam were a lot harder to come by. Their carbonara is one of the best I’ve tasted outside Rome, and their ravioli had bite and poise and the requisite buttery-sage sauce.
6. Spanish: Madrid
I first discovered Madrid after leaving a cookery workshop hungry. Yup, you read that right. Desperate for real food after three hours of raw cacao nonsense, we found ourselves at Madrid, ordering our way through the entire tapas menu. Now, it’s my go-to Spanish spot every time I’m in Oud-West.
7. Greek: Trela Plein
I couldn’t make this list without mentioning my favourite neighbour: Alex. Not only has he helped me hoist my dining table through my top-floor window and lugged 50 kg of bamboo fence up my stairs. He also happens to make the best Greek bougatsa in town (flaky pastry filled with spinach and feta, for example, or minced beef). He is the ultimate schatje.
8. German: Troost
While Troost may be a local brewery, they serve up one excellent German snack: flammkuchen. Think mini-pizza, with very thin dough and toppings you’d more usually associate with the north of Europe than the south: bacon, onion and cheese, for instance, instead of tomato and mozzarella. Perfect beer food.
9. Polish: Pierogi Polish Dumplings Amsterdam
I met Sonia as a writer I commissioned for a blog I was managing for a client, but it quickly became apparent that her true passion lay in making her native Polish pierogi. You can now find her popping up at the Neighbourfood Market in Westerpark, on the menu at the Breakfast Club, and at various other places around town. Her potato and cheese pierogi are my favourite – and you can even order home delivery!
10. Portuguese: De Portugees
Ok, so my experiences of Portuguese food outside of Portugal haven’t been great (but if you’re headed to Lisbon, you’re in luck with my foodie guide!). However, there is a spot for fresh fish on the Zeedijk: de Portugees.