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Like many Amsterdammers, I rarely leave the capital except to go to the airport. But two years ago I promised my other half that I’d take him to Rotterdam and we’d eat and drink our way around the Netherlands’ second city. At the time, we’d just moved house and he was traveling every other week for work, so it got postponed. But finally last weekend, I made good on my promise and we spent a day doing an impromptu food tour of Rotterdam’s restaurants, bars and markets. Rotterdam is not a large city, but it is a little spread out. So if you’re only taking a day trip from Amsterdam (or even a weekend trip), I’d suggest hiring a bike so you can cover more ground more easily. If you live in the Netherlands, you probably own an OV Card, in which case I’d highly recommend signing up for the OV Fiets service. The ubiquitous blue and yellow bikes are available from all the main train stations (and other handy locations), checking out a bike takes literally 30 seconds, and a day’s bike hire is a ridiculously cheap €3.35 (per 24 hours). Plus, you get the added bonus of working off a few calories while you hop between restaurants in Rotterdam!
Breakfast in Rotterdam: Bertmans
If you’re in Rotterdam for the day, you’re going to want to start with breakfast. Our wonderful tour guide (not actually a professional guide but my friend and hula hoop teacher Robin) introduced us to Bertmans, a vegetarian brunch café on the north side of the city. The interior is the very definition of gezellig, and they have a tasty range of sweet and savoury brunch options. I tried the quinoa, spinach and pumpkin patties, served lightly fried with a poached egg, chutney, avocado and a green salad. If you like to try a little of everything, order the brunch platter (pictured below); the polenta fries are a good bet, too.
For more information, visit Bertmans’ website.
Rotterdam’s Markets: De Markthal and Fenix Food Factory
We didn’t get time to wander around Rotterdam’s long-standing outdoor markets, but we couldn’t let the opportunity pass to visit the city’s newer covered markets. De Markthal is right in the centre of town in a truly megalithic building (if Amsterdammers are obsessed with history, Rotterdammers live in the future), with views of the famous Cubic Houses and “The Pencil” skyscraper. Inside the Markthal you’ll find not only prepared dishes (like you would at Amsterdam’s Foodhallen) but also fresh ingredients – think spices, nuts, exotic fruit, and so on. But make sure you visit during the day – the market shuts down by 8 pm, although the restaurants and bars around the edges stay open in the evening.
On the south side of Rotterdam’s iconic bridge, you’ll discover the Fenix Food Factory – an unapologetically hipster hangout in a suitably rundown industrial space. Unsurprisingly, craft beers are on the menu (Kaapse Brouwers have dozens on tap to choose from) and there are plenty of snacks to soak up the beer. We tried the cheese platter from Booij Kaasmakers – for €4 per person you get a selection of five different cheeses, all of which are deliciously unpasteurised and stinky. Wash down with apple cider for optimum effect.
Afternoon coffee or borrel: Aloha
By this point, you might be looking for a little afternoon pick-me-up, in which case, why not visit a swimming pool? Yes, I kid you not. Tropicana, once a family fun pool full of river rapids and hot tubs, has been converted into Aloha: a unique bar/restaurant with a tropical feel and plenty of outdoor as well as indoor space. You’ve gotta love the way the Dutch upcycle everything. We stopped by for a coffee (the flat white was very good) but you can also order drinks, snacks and some more substantial food, which our Rotterdam guide assures me is pretty decent.
For more information, visit Aloha’s website.
Indonesian and Surinamese Food in Rotterdam
The humble toko is a familiar sight on many a Dutch city’s streets, so it’s no surprise that there are dozens of them in Rotterdam. They’re usually cheap and cheerful, selling no alcohol but some of the best Indonesian and Surinamese food around. While in Rotterdam, I tried two: Toko Toorop is in the somewhat quieter, more residential Blijdorp district; while the location is small, they also offer group catering and their rijsttafel is as big as that at any full Indonesian restaurant. The flavours pack a hot ‘n spicy punch, there are plenty of vege as well as meat options, and for less than €15 per person you can get a huge meal with a drink.
Meanwhile, in the multi-cultural Middelland district, you’ll find the best saoto (Surinamese soup) at Warung Melatie. Again, it’s an unassuming little place with a diverse clientele and insanely affordable prices. A bowl of their famous saoto soup with chicken, beansprouts, boiled egg, string potatoes/vermicelli, spring onions and sides of rice and scotch bonnet salsa will set you back just €5.
Bar Hopping on the Witte de Withstraat
As the sun sets in Rotterdam, many locals and visitors alike head to the Witte de Withstraat, on one side of what is actually described on Google Maps as the “Cool district”. And who am I to argue? You can dip in and out of any of the bars and restaurants along the street – although reservations may be needed on weekends. We checked out Ballroom for their excellent selection of gin & tonics, plus a little calamari snack. The atmosphere was suitably Saturday night: lively, but not too loud to talk, and a good warm-up for clubbing later (not that I actually got that far).
We also stopped by NRC (not, in fact, anything to do with the newspaper/media company but rather an acronym for Nieuw Rotterdams Café). The Rioja by the glass was very drinkable, and the bieterballen (a beetroot-filled version of bitterballen), patatas bravas and various snacks on sticks were certainly a cut above the usual deep-fried Dutch borrelhapjes.
If you’ve made it this far then, like me, you will have probably slipped into a food coma by now! If not, however, then I’m reliably informed there are a variety of clubs (not the mention the post-drinking fast food that inevitably follows) in the Witte de Withstraat area to round off your 24 hours in Rotterdam…