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.
Blauw has been going strong for decades – and I’ve been a fan ever since I first visited in 2009. I like its split-level interior and bold décor that eschews the kitschiness that often goes along with Asian restaurants. I like the fact that it’s a bit of a trek – down at the bottom of the Vondelpark on the Amstelveenseweg – which means it isn’t full of tourists. I also like its rijsttafel, which comprises a huge selection of boat-shaped dishes ranging from mild to super-spicy. Blauw went through a rough patch for a couple of years when a few of its original chefs defected to Ron Gastrobar Indonesia (more on that below). But when I last visited, it was back to its former glories with a new team in place who seem to know what they’re doing. The rijsttafel comprised classics like beef rendang and various forms of satay (chicken, goat and shrimp) but also more interesting dishes like fish mousse with a spicy yet fresh green sauce. If you have room, don’t miss the starter of Aneka Laut Lilit – fragrant crab and shrimp cakes bound with cornmeal and served on a lemongrass skewer. For those with a sweet tooth, Blauw’s “grand dessert” doesn’t disappoint with favourites like spekkoek and mango ice cream, as well as more adventurous flavours like durian parfait and chocolate fudge laced with cayenne pepper.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4.5/5
- Cost: €31-37.50 (or try the three-course chef’s menu for €39)
- Website: restaurantblauw.nl
More central (it’s on the Utrechtsestraat) is Tujuh Maret – a family-run restaurant that’s not much to look at but absolutely delivers. When we first looked at the menu, we weren’t sure they served alcohol (shock horror!) but when we asked they were happy to keep carafes of house wine flowing. The “Minahasa” rijsttafel costs €29.75, which is cheaper than many on this list, but is just as extensive. And (wait for the best bit) several of the dishes are actually properly spicy. Not uncomfortably so, but I’d have a few friends whose eyes might water a little. And that’s a good thing because it’s been regrettably hard to come by in the gathering of this list. It’s hard to pick out favourite dishes because I enjoyed them all – even the tempeh, which usually I can’t stand.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4.5/5
- Cost: €24.75-29.75
- Website: tujuhmaret.nl
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: €31.50-37.50
- 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: €21.90-22.90
- Website: restaurantkartika.com
Similarly speedy was the rijsttafel at Dèsa in De Pijp, which is good value at only €19.90 for the regular rijsttafel. It includes some good chicken dishes: I particularly liked the spicy ayam rica-rica and the chicken in coconut milk and saffron. I was less impressed by the beef rendang, which could’ve been stewed for longer to make the meat more tender. But overall, Dèsa is a solid contender, especially at that price point. The service was also top notch: we had one small complaint that was immediately rectified and we were offered a free round of drinks. A rare occurrence in Amsterdam!
- Rijsttafel Rating: 3.5/5
- Cost: €18.90-19.90
- Website: restaurantdesa.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 were 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 left 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: €39
- 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.
Blue Pepper is essentially serving a fine-dining-meets-rijsttafel version of Indonesian food. Which could be ideal if you have a client you need to impress, or it’s your dad’s birthday – but know that you’re looking at a €90+ price tag for the full monty including wine. That’s not to say that the atmosphere is stuffy or pretentious, but the service is a cut above your regular Amsterdam restaurant, the presentation of the food is a notch fancier, and you can order paired wines with everything. Plus, Blue Pepper has opted to serve their rijsttafel in courses (so you can savour each item individually), rather than plonking everything on the table at once.
Our first course was a delicate scallop dish with orange, macadamia nuts and samphire. The second course comprised three mini-dishes in one: a pulled-goose fried spring roll with a sauce fragrant from cloves and cinnamon; a palate-cleansing fruit combo of pineapple, mango and cucumber with a sweet sauce; and a spicy guinea-fowl curry that was pleasantly hot on the tongue. With the satay course, we were back in more familiar territory: chicken satay came with the requisite peanut sauce, while lamb satay came with a soy-based sauce. Next came a traditional selection of four rijsttafel dishes: spicy prawns, beef rendang, gado-gado and pickled vegetables. This may be regular rijsttafel fare, but the quality is still impressive. For dessert, we were instructed to eat what looked like a tiny yellow flower. Five seconds later, I felt like my mouth had been woken up by a lightning bolt. It made the combination of orange-blossom sorbet, mango panna cotta and forest berries all the fruitier. I’ve seen restaurants try to posh-up rijsttafel before, and the flavour suffered as a consequence. But at Blue Pepper, you’ll still find the punchy flavours and chilli kicks you’d expect from the best Indonesian food but in an upscale atmosphere.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4.5/5
- Cost: €48-75
- Website: restaurantbluepepper.com
Editor’s note: I was invited to eat at Blue Pepper by the general manager, so I didn’t pay for my meal.
De Vrouw met de Baard
The website of De Vrouw met de Baard (The Bearded Lady) claims that the restaurant serves “soul food from Brooklyn to Bali”. But I’ve decided to include it in my roundup of Indonesian restaurants because many of the menu items certainly qualify. Plus, if you order enough of them to share, you’ve basically created a custom-selected rijsttafel. Tadah!
We tried five dishes between two of us, which was just about right for a couple of moderately hungry people, but on other days (when I hadn’t drunk quite so much Zatte before arriving) I might’ve ordered six. Veggie highlights were the cauliflower tempura with a creamy coconut and turmeric sauce, and the Jerusalem artichoke (known as topinamboer) that had been roasted and served with an Asian-fusion-style sauce. On the fish front, we tried smoked mackerel, steamed in a banana leaf with plenty of spicy tomato-based paste – an umami explosion. And for the meat eaters, a beef rendang that was mild and coconut-y.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 4/5
- Cost: €39.50-49.50
- Website: devrouwmetdebaard.com
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 with 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 was very friendly.
- Rijsttafel Rating: 3/5
- Cost: €29.50-32
- 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: €34
- 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 €7-12
- 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…