Amsterdam is known for its Surinamese cuisine… apparently. I don’t know about you, but in my experience Surinamese and Indonesian food often get lumped in together, and even when you think you’ve ordered the former it turns out to be the latter. It’s not helped by the fact that Surinamese cuisine has been influenced and infiltrated by the cuisines of China, Indonesia, Africa, South America (and probably more besides!) so it’s hard to know what we even mean when we talk about Surinamese food. Plus, while there are plenty of higher-end sit-down Indonesian restaurants, most Surinamese “restaurants” are in fact takeaways.
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A tiny takeaway tucked into the south side of the Waterlooplein, De Tokoman serves excellent Surinamese sandwiches. The first time I went there, I ordered the broodje pom (a spicy, citrusy mixture of chicken and a root called pomtajer) but I noticed everyone else was ordering the bakkeljauw (salt cod). So the next time, I tried that instead. Nope – still preferred the pom.
- Best for: takeaway sandwiches at lunchtime
- What to order: broodje pom
Swieti Sranang has a couple of branches these days, both in the Jordaan. Much like de Tokoman, they’re small takeaway joints with a range of hot dishes plus some sandwiches as well (although not as many as de Tokoman, as far as I recall). It was at Swieti Sranang that I was introduced to the concept of bakabana – slices of plantain that have been coated in batter, deep-fried and served with satay sauce. It sounds odd, but it’s very moreish!
- Best for: takeaway warm dishes
- What to order: bakabana
Warung Spang Makandra
This place qualifies as a restaurant, albeit a pretty small one (but this is Amsterdam!). It’s great if you’re on a budget, as almost all the items on the menu are less than €10. But they don’t take reservations and they don’t serve alcohol, so get there early and head out for dinks afterwards. There are plenty of Javanese-Indonesian options on the menu, but for something more authentically Surinamese (whatever I mean by that!), try the roti. At Warung Spang Makandra, they present you with the constituent parts (in my case: chicken on the bone, stewed lamb, a boiled egg, green beans, potatoes) and you roll it up yourself in the fluffy, spiced, nutty roti wrap that comes with it. Héerlijk!
- Best for: a cheap dinner with friends
- What to order: roti roll
Better known as one of the biggest beer gardens in Amsterdam, and great for watching the boats go by on the Singelgracht, Waterkant is deluged by crowds every time the sun comes out. With its iconic “carpark chic” vibe, you can’t miss it. And you can drink there, too – hurrah! Surinamese beer, no less. Not everything on the menu is Surinamese (bitterballen and nachos make great beer snacks too, as we know) but there is plenty from that corner of the world to choose from. Bara filled with chicken, salt cod or tempeh are on offer, as are roti rolls (see Spang Makandra above) in both chicken and vege versions, as well as various other things I’ve never heard of. (On my list for next time is the baka batjauw, which sounds awesome!)
- Best for: sunny evenings on the terrace
- What to order: a Parbo beer and some spicy snacks
Also eaten in the course of this research…
I tried the moksi meti at Albina in de Pijp (it was the most Surinamese dish on an otherwise heavily Chinese menu) and was pretty disappointed. It was a scrawny, bony bit of chicken in a loosely hoisin-esque sauce served with plain boiled white rice. As I’m sure is clear by now, I’m no expert on this type of cuisine and I’m only offering a very personal opinion. But with that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend it.
I also biked over to Lalla Rookh near the Oosterpark – they have both a restaurant area and a takeaway area, but the restaurant was a) closed when I arrived, and b) more expensive than the takeaway, so I cut my losses and grabbed a to-go box. The roti was not as good as Spang Makandra’s, and was pretty much impossible to eat without a table and chair, plate or bowl, and knife and fork. My plans to head to the Oosterpark for a Surinamese picnic were quickly scrapped when I realised I was going to need more than a couple of napkins to eat the thing.