Amsterdam is known for its Indonesian food, so it’s quite often that I end up in a conversation with someone about the best Indonesian restaurants in town. I generally vote for Blauw, with Tempo Doeloe in second place (the food is great but the service can be awful), but there was one place I couldn’t with any certainty tell people was good or bad, because I’d never been: Sama Sebo. It’s apparently one of the oldest Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands, having been serving customers from its kitsch brown-café location for over 35 years. So you’d think, after all that time, that they’d know when they’re doing.
You’d be wrong.
We’d no sooner got our wine than the dishes started arriving – suspiciously quickly. It felt like we were part of a production line of tourists being fed our requisite dozen or so dishes before the next busload arrived. Because that’s the thing: Sama Sebo is in every guidebook, which implies one of two things: either it’s so good that everyone goes there, or it’s so bad that only the tourists go there. We heard very few Dutch voices at other tables – ‘nuff said.
The rijsttafel itself cost us a hefty €31.50 each – presumably for the privilege of eating on the PC Hooftstraat in such a “historic” restaurant. With the wine (which was more or less the cheapest on the menu), we spent €55 per person. This in stark contrast to an experience I had few days earlier, when a group of 15 hungry hula hoopers descended on Toko Toorop in Rotterdam without a reservation. We inhaled as much rijsttafel as we could manage, plus a soft drink, for under €15 each. There was flavour; I was happy. I didn’t think it was possible to screw up a rijsttafel – at any price – until I ate at Sama Sebo. But one thing’s for sure: it won’t be appearing again in any guidebooks I write.