As all Amsterdammers know but many visitors don’t, Indonesian food is widely eaten in the Netherlands due to the two countries’ colonial history (too complicated to go into here, but Google it). So when in the Dutch capital, checking out one of the Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam is a must.
For a long time, Blauw was my favourite Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam. I liked its split-level interior and bold décor that eschews the kitschiness that often goes along with Asian restaurants. I liked the fact that it’s a bit of a trek – down at the bottom of the Vondelpark on the Amstelveenseweg – which meant it wasn’t full of tourists. I also loved its rijsttafel, which comprised a huge selection of boat-shaped dishes ranging from mild to super-spicy. But the last time I went it had gone down a notch in my estimation – the dishes still tasted good, but were lacking in heat. In both senses of the word. I heard on the Amsterdam restaurant grapevine that several of Blauw’s original chefs defected to Ron Gastrobar Indonesia (more on that below) when it opened. Who knows? Blauw’s still definitely worth a visit, but it’s not what it used to be.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4/5
- Cost: €30-33.50
- Website: restaurantblauw.nl
More central (it’s on the Utrechtsestraat) is Tempo Doeloe, where the dishes come on three different trays – starting with the mildest and ending with the hottest. I’ve been to Tempo Doeloe several times (although admittedly the last time was a while ago) and it’s the one restaurant that’s still preparing the odd dish that’ll make steam come out of your ears. The final two dishes are nuclear – you have been warned. Also worth a warning is the service: don’t expect to be seated quickly (even if you have a reservation); don’t expect a lot of smiles (at least, not genuine ones); and don’t expect free tap water. The food here is great, but the overall experience leaves a little to be desired.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4/5
- Cost: €29.50-37.50
- Website: tempodoeloerestaurant.nl
The rijsttafel at Indonesian Kitchen may be on the pricey side compared to other restaurants in Amsterdam, but then again it is slap bang in the middle of the Canal Belt – and besides, you do get quite a lot of bang for your buck. After a trio of starters, a spicy fish soup, and some chicken and goat satay skewers, you’ll move onto the rijsttafel proper: a collection of eight small, spicy dishes to share. There are classics like beef rendang, gado-gado, and a spicy chicken curry, which are nothing special. But there are also some less obvious dishes that steal the show: shell-on king prawns came with a tasty sambal that lent a welcome hit of chilli, for example. Meanwhile, lamb cutlets were still pink in the middle and served with a sweet soy sauce much like the goat satay earlier. A good pick for tasty Indonesian food in the heart of the Canal Belt area – if you can handle all the tourists.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4/5
- Cost: €39.50
- Website: facebook.com/pages/Indonesian-Kitchen
Ron Gastrobar Indonesia
Chef Ron Blaauw already has a series of restaurants in Amsterdam showcasing everything from French cuisine to Oriental specialities. But it’s worth taking a trip to Oudekerk aan de Amstel (around a 40-minute cycle ride from the south of the city centre) to try the rijsttafel at Ron Gastrobar Indonesia. And here, Java-born Chef Agus is in charge. His satay is to die for – the chicken and goat meat perfectly moist yet charred on the outside, and the sauces spicy yet sweet. Both the eggs and the fried shrimps have the perfect level of chilli heat. And all the curries are succulent and distinctly different in flavour. The wine list and service are what you’d expect from a fine dining restaurant, but the prices are surprisingly modest. My only criticism is that I’d have liked it if a few more of the dishes were on the spicy end of the spectrum.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4.5/5
- Cost: €29-35
- Website: rongastrobarindonesia.nl
In contrast, old-timer Sampurna is right in the centre of Amsterdam, just off the bustling flower market on the Singel canal. Yes, it may be full of tourists, but the food is still good and reasonable value given the location. It’s been in business for over 25 years – so they must be doing something right!
- Rijsttafel Rating: 3/5
- Cost: €27.50-34.50
- Website: sampurna.com
The first time I went to Kartika, we were forced to order our food before we’d even sat down, and were hustled out the door less than an hour later. But because the food was actually pretty good, I ended up going back. The manager there called me out on what I’d written the first time (he actually remembered me, amazingly), which was awkward but at least we both got to say our piece. Suffice to say that the second time the service was much more leisurely, and the food was just as good. Beef rendang had excellent warm spices and a rich sauce; gado-gado was fresh and fragrant, not cloying with peanut butter as is often the case. Two chicken dishes were good and distinctly different from each other: a hotter version in a thin, chilli-based broth; and a milder version in a sweet, soy-based sauce with plenty of aromatic anise. And Kartika also serves one of the cheapest rijsttafels in Amsterdam, which is good to know for those on a budget. No reservations nor free water, however.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 3.5/5
- Cost: €18-27.50
- Website: restaurantkartika.com
What distinguishes Mama Makan from almost everywhere else on this list is its atmosphere. Its fresh botanical interior, its extensive wine-list, its rijsttafel served in traditional “courses”: this is an Indonesian restaurant you want to take your parents to. The food arrives in five rounds, which gives the meal a nice leisurely pace that’s often lacking when eating a rijsttafel. When it comes to the dishes themselves, a couple are excellent: the chicken satay was one of the best I’ve tried, and the spicy shrimps and seabass with shallots were big hits. The dessert was also a tropical revelation of fruit flavours and creamy coconut. However, much of the rest of the food leaves a lot to be desired – in general, I got the impression the kitchen was playing it very safe for its cruise-ship clientele. This is Indonesian cuisine for people who don’t like spicy food. There’s nothing wrong with that (and it’s a question I’m often asked) but it’s not for the chilli addicts.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 2.5/5
- Cost: €34.50
- Website: mamamakan.com
Editor’s note: I was invited to eat at Mama Makan by their PR agency, so I didn’t pay for my meal.
The first time I went to Jun I didn’t order the rijsttafel, which in hindsight was perhaps a good thing. I went back a couple of years later to try it, and was disappointed to discover how few dishes are actually included compared to other Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam. Those that came were lacking in spice (I was told the Dutch clientele generally ask for the dishes to be milder) and a bit of variety – there was a predominance of chicken. However, I did enjoy Jun’s soto ayam – a chicken-laden broth that’s aromatic with lemongrass, ginger and turmeric. And the service is very friendly.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 3/5
- Cost: €26-36
- Website: restaurantjun.nl
Sama Sebo is 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 plates before the next busload arrived. The dishes were variations on bland, cold, dry, and whatever the opposite of spicy is. I get that restaurants dumb down the spice levels for the western palate, but seriously – this was so dumbed down it was fake news. The pork satay was (reliably) about the best thing on the menu, but the other meat dishes lacked much of the flavour of warm spices that you’d expect from that part of the world. The gado-gado and green beans were limp, sorry shadows of their former selves, and the side dishes lacked anything to pep up the main event. The sambal with shrimp crackers was the only thing that didn’t disappoint.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 1/5
- Cost: €31.50
- Website: samasebo.nl
I have a confession to make about Café AMOI: I’ve only actually tried three of the dishes there (I ate them as part of a food tour with Eating Europe), but I liked them so much that I wanted to include the restaurant here. Namely, AMOI served possibly the best gado-gado I’ve ever eaten in Amsterdam: the vegetables freshly cooked to al dente perfection and the peanut sauce sweetly savoury. I also tried the corn fritters, peppered with kaffir lime leaves and dipped in a spicy sauce, as well as the traditional Indonesian spekkoek (spiced layer cake). It was enough to make me want to go back and order a lot more next time.
- Rijsttafel Rating: not yet rated
- Cost: dishes sold separately for €5.50-13.50
- Website: cafeamoi.nl
A general observation: When I first started visiting Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam around a decade ago, the chilli could blow your head off. I’m not sure whether my taste buds have been assaulted with so much capsaicin by this point in my late 30s that it now takes a lot more to make me sweat, or whether the spice levels in the dishes have been taken down a few notches. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. But either way, if your chilli tolerance is low then don’t worry – there’s plenty on a rice table that you’ll be able to eat comfortably. And if you’re a chilli fiend, I can only sympathise. I miss the burn too…