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Dutch Chocolate

The Dutch are famous for their chocolate, but are often overshadowed by their Belgian neighbors. The Spanish discovered this ancient Aztec & Mayan treat in the 16th century. But the Dutch figured a way to make a milder tasting powder, with a lower fat content, that disolves in water and could be used to make solid chocolate. This Dutch processed cocoa is what we use today for hot chocolate, a delicious treat available in almost every Dutch cafe, restaurant or coffeeshop. Tip! Don't miss an opportunity to try Dutch Cocoa, "met slagroom" - with whipped cream! What makes Dutch, Belgian and Swiss chocolate so good is that they only use real cocoa butter as the fat in their chocolates while other countries can use all sorts of oils like palm, coconut, whatever. Cocoa butter doesn't detract from the chocolate taste and adds a silky creaminess and that is what makes the really good chocolates melt so wonderfully in your mouth. So when you buy Dutch chocolate, you're buying pure chocolate with whatever flavorings the chocolatier chooses to add. The best Dutch chocolate, is made very fresh, and has a limited shelf life of a week or two unless refrigerated. Thereafter it loses it's fresh flavor. All over Amsterdam and Holland there are stores that specialize in bonbons, some are actually from Belgium like Leonidas, but others are homegrown like Puccini. Some shops are strict chocolatiers others are bakeries like Rene's that also happen to sell chocolate delicacies. Tip! We highly recommend Puccini as the best chocolatier in town. For excellent chocolate, at an excellent price, visit any Albert Hein supermarket, and check out their "AH" brand chocolate. They have all sorts of bars, bonbons, truffles, even organic chocolate. Not only is it some of the best chocolate anywhere, (Albert Hein's been making their own chocolate treats since 1895), but it's REAL cheap! You can even get chocolate bonbons laced with THC! Chocolata on the Spuistraat is the best known place with a nice selection of chocolate candies with hashish or marijuana added for that extra effect. On the right is a German-made hemp chocolate bar that I found in Amsterdam. It's made with roasted hemp seeds and cornflakes, and boy is it yummy! It's crispy like a Nestle crunch bar, but it won't get you high, other than the caffeine from both the chocolate and the coffee flavor. Tip! When you have space cake (or cannabis candy), it is difficult to know how much cannabis you are eating. It always tastes so good you want to eat more! Before you know it, you will have consumed too much. So start with a small piece. It can take anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half before you feel anything. Wait for it to take effect before you have another piece, otherwise you are sure to overdo it. This is very important, as an overdose will leave you nearly unconscious for 24 hours or more.

Posted by on Wednesday, November 07 @ 06:36:27 UTC (18807 reads)
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Where to Find Restaurants in Amsterdam

The largest concentration of restaurants in Amsterdam is around the Leidseplein.  In the summer, almost all have outdoor seating.  This is most enjoyable since you get to people watch, musicians come around to serenade you, and you can more easily avoid smokers (often a problem as few Dutch restaurants have non-smoking sections).  Here there are streets leading away from the square with one restaurant after another.  The competition is intense, and after you've spent ten minutes trying to decide which one to eat at, they all start looking the same.  It's a good idea to decide what type of food you want which will make choosing somewhat easier.  You might want to decide based upon ambiance, but if you're eating outdoors, they're all equal. The Leidseplein area has a number of well known restaurants including 't Swarte Schaep (The Black Sheep) with great food in a cozy 300 year old building (expensive). We found several very good, reliable Italian restaurants in the area, and some not so good Indian restaurants.  The best clue as to how good the food is, is how long the line is!  The Rembrandtplein is another laid back people watching area. On nice days and summer evenings the area is packed.  Have a beer in one of the large cafes looking onto the park and if you wait, entertainment of some sort usually appears.  Many restaurants line the square and several popular clubs are in the area.  A very good but pricey Indonesian restaurant is on one corner. Other areas with a good number of restaurants is Chinatown in the Red Light District, where you can get real chinese food, not the Indonesian version. Try the area around the Nieuwmarkt and down the Zeedijk for the best selection of Asian food in town. Along Utrechtstraat is a very interesting collection of restaurants, in what is now being called Amsterdam's "Golden Kilometer" including a vegetarian one (The Golden Temple). The Jordaan has many small trendy restaurants and bars serving food throughout the district.  Unless you have time to walk around and discover these gems don't expect to find the perfect place quickly.  If you get stuck you can always check out Pathum Thai Restaurant at Willemstraat 16. The Spui area has a number of popular restaurants including the famous D'Vijff Vliegen (The Five Flies), which is 350 years old and has served traditional Dutch as well as more modern dishes to the likes of Elvis Presley and others! Restaurants with views: Since the city is so compact, few places in Amsterdam have good views.  De jaren, a popular hangout near the university has a great view along the Amstel river.  You can sit outside on either of two patios and enjoy a small but tasty menu.  Many people come to meet friends and drink.  The large noisy interior is OK for sitting back and catching up on the news offered in free newspapers and magazines. The Sea Palace Restaurant might not have the best Chinese food in town, but the view of Amsterdam from this floating restaurant (Hong Kong style) is excellent.

Note: Find out where the best selection of Amsterdam's restaurants are hiding. Whatever your taste, there's a place to satisfy your hunger.

Posted by on Friday, June 15 @ 10:16:10 UTC (27395 reads)
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Amsterdam's Restaurant Scene

Dining in Amsterdam can range from fast food to world class cuisine. Dutch food tends to be very hardy but heavy and unimaginitive, relying upon meats, fish, foul and starches for main courses.  Ethnic cuisine is much more varied, and centuries of immigrants have added their flavors to the available palate.  Foremost among these is Indonesian Food, with the rice table a most elegant affair (photo). There are countless Indonesian restaurants in town serving up Gado Gado, satay, spicy sambals, crispy krupek, nasi goreng, etc.  This is a real treat since only Indonesia has more authentic restaurants.  You'll find lots of Chinese restaurants in town, but be wary.  If you're used to real Chinese food or even Americanized Chinese, you might be disappointed because this is Chinese food, Indonesian style.  Many people of Chinese decent have emigrated from Indonesia to Holland bringing their style of cooking.  Fortunately there are a few real Chinese restaurants in Amsterdam.  These are clustered in the Red Light District in Amsterdam's Chinatown.  You can spot these restaurants since they have cooked ducks hanging in the windows. Our favorite Chinese/Indonesian restaurant is the Oriental City (see photo), a two story restaurant with good views on the Oudezijdsvoorburgwal. Other European, South American, and Asian cuisine are well represented in Holland.  Most popular of course is Italian food.  Thanks to the Dutch fondness for cheese, Italian food is extra tasty in Holland.  Rich lasagna, a endless variety of pizzas, and all the other specialties are available and relatively inexpensive compared with other cuisines in Holland. There are some very good Thai restaurants in Amsterdam.  We found one excellent one in the Jordaan which serves very authentic Thai dishes for very reasonable prices. It's Pathum Thai at Willemstraat 16.  Other Thai restaurants seem more expensive.  Another very interesting Thai restaurant in the Red Light District is the Bangkok just off the Damstraat at Oudezijdesacherburghwal, which has good food (see photo), and a very lively bar scene.  The waitresses and bartenders are all Thai men in drag!  You'll also see a lot of Argentinean, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Moroccan restaurants.  The quality of these establishments vary, and it's good to ask around to find the better ones. A good place to sample some creative French/European cuisine at a reasonable price is the Cafe Roux on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal.  They offer a three course menu that's a good value.  Reserve in advance as the Dutch have already discovered this gem. There is a renaissance of sorts brewing as young Dutch chefs explore a range of new tastes as trendy restaurants sprout up in Amsterdam.  These restaurants often have some cute or funny name in Dutch, and the chefs try to expand the range of the relatively bland food that has been associated with Dutch cuisine.  The best way to find out about these places is to ask around, as we have yet to find a thorough, quality dining guide to Amsterdam (in English, anyway). If you're an American and you find yourself in Amsterdam for Thanksgiving (which the Dutch don't celebrate, of course), you can find Turkey and all the other great holiday food at the American Hotel (where else?).  This hotel has a splendid Art Deco restaurant (photo) that serves up tasty American style fare all year round.  It's worth a visit just to view the interior.  It's not cheap, but the quality is very good and the ambiance is tops.  Just remember to make reservations way in advance for a holiday meal!  Lastly, after a good meal don't forget to tell your hosts that you thought it was lekker! (tasty)

Note: Amsterdam is a gourmet's delight where you can enjoy specialties from six continents. Some good suggestions for further exploration.

Posted by on Friday, June 15 @ 10:13:29 UTC (62430 reads)
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Fast Food

Just like the old Horn and Hardart automats in New York, at the Febo, food is placed in little self-serve compartments.  Good for fresh patat frites (french fries), but you're taking your chances with anything else.  Another popular fast food chain in Amsterdam is New York City Pizza.  With a variety of toppings they're OK for a fast snack, but be wary in off hours, sometimes the pizza can sit around for hours, and they have to reheat it which hardly adds to the flavor.  If you have the time, it's far better to get a really good pizza at an Italian restaurant for around $5-$7.  The most popular fast food is pomme frites, or what we call french fries.  This is the cheapest, freshest, fast food around and it's usually excellent.  They offer a variety of sauces to put on it, including mayonaise, curry and ketchup.  However the best are the Belgian type which are usually bigger with even more sauces available.  These shops are few and usually have long lines.  Another good inexpensive meal is at any of the Sworma or Falafel places.  Vegetarians can fill up on Falafel, salads, hummous and more while the meat eaters pig out on lamb.  The Dutch will often snack on broodjes, sandwiches on rolls with cheese, meat, fish or salad.  They don't quite measure up to american sandwiches (we put lots more stuff on ours), but they're good in a pinch.

Note: Hungry and in a hurry? Here's some suggestions of where you might find some choice edibles, and places to avoid!

Posted by on Friday, June 15 @ 10:08:22 UTC (16289 reads)
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Dutch Specialties

Besides the frites (french fried potatoes), there are other delicious foods the Dutch are famous for. These include the endless variety of cheeses. There's far more than plain Gouda and Edam (they come in dozens of flavors) and while you're in Holland you should sample as many as possible. Cheese stores are everywhere and you can taste anything you like. We love the Oude Amsterdam aged goat cheese. It's sorta like parmesan but with an even richer flavor.

Another tempting Dutch treat is chocolate. The Spanish introduced Europe to chocolate hundreds of years ago, but the Dutch developed the process to make it into a lowfat, less bitter, soluable powder. Dutch cocoa is still considered the best, and you can enjoy a hot chocolate drink with or without whipped cream in just about any bar or restaurant. There are also chocolate shops around town that rival the more famous Belgian chocolates (some of them are Belgian). Also tasty are the Dutch cookies which are an intimate part of Dutch culture. Dutch Apple Pie is also very traditional and delicious.

The most famous Dutch beverage is of course beer, with Heineken, Grolsh and Amstel being Amsterdam's most famous exports. There are many more local beers that deserve a try. You'll be amazed at how little beer you get in Holland. Six ounces is typical for €1.50 (about $1.35). Ask for a larger glass and you'll get almost a pint for $3.50! Just remember that in Holland and most of Europe you are paying a cover charge with your drink, whether it's a beer, coffee or a soda. This allows you to sit at your table indefinitely. You don't jump and run after you're done. For Americans this takes some getting used to. The pace of cafe life is slow and relaxing. For the tourist doing Europe in a week, this is a difficult thing to master. You can also sample some of the famous Belgian beers, as most bars carry some. The Dutch gin, jenever, is popular among locals, but it takes some getting used to.

Dutch coffee is made espresso style, strong, black and served in tiny cups. They do not serve "regular" American coffee. The closest you can come is cafe verkeerd, which means coffee "wrong way", or with milk. If you like your coffee black but not so strong you'll have to explain your dilemma and hope they have a solution (like a larger cup and more hot water) or visit one of the several American style cafes that serves a good ol' cuppa. Gary's Muffins and the Coffee Connection are two that do.

Last but not least, the Dutch like their fish. Raw. It's not exactly sushi, but if you want to try some haring (herring) with onions, there are usually fish stalls around for those who just can't get enough.. Another Dutch favorite is eel. Yummy! Zalm, (salmon) is very tasty and comes in a variety of forms.

Note: Discover the joys of Dutch cuisine, including cheese, chocolate, beer and the wonders of raw herring.

Posted by on Friday, June 15 @ 10:03:54 UTC (12252 reads)
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: Where to Shop for Food

Amsterdam has a fine selection of wine, since they import it from all over Europe including France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Hungary, etc.  House wines in restaurants are usually good accompaniment to the cuisine, and much cheaper than a vintage.  There are many wine shops in Holland and the selection and prices are very good.  If you're used to paying high prices for French wine, you're in for a treat.  Thanks to the E.U. there's no import duties added, so a fine Bordeaux can be had for under €5!  We find the Gall and Gall shops to have a decent selection, but their wines are somewhat overpriced, and recommend you look elsewhere for your alcohol needs.  I prefer to take a trip to France and stock up there where the selection and prices are unbeatable!

For general food shopping the Albert Heijn chain of supermarkets has an excellent selection, including many organic (biologisch) produce and vegetarian foods.  They're a bit more expensive than the other markets in town, like Dirk van den Broek.  The A&P supermarkets have a better selection of products that Americans and English might be missing in Holland.For health food there's a chain of stores called De Natuurwinkel with shops around town.  Organic produce can also be found in small markets, like the one on the Jodenbreestraat.

For personal care products like shampoos, vitamins, and non-prescription items, try Etos or Kruidvat (good prices).

The Albert CuypmarktThe Albert Cuypmarkt is the best place to shop for fresh produce, cheese, nuts, fish and much more.  It's a four block stretch of stalls that have the best deals in town on food and toiletries.  It's open from 9am to 5pm Monday thru Saturday.  There are several other local outdoor markets around town including an the Borenmarkt, an organic food market on Saturday around the Noorderkerk in the Jordaan (9am-5pm).

When we first came to Amsterdam it was nearly impossible to find a decent bagel.  Fortunately the bagel craze that swept across American finally reached Amsterdam, and today there are many bagel shops offering sandwiches.  The best deal on bagels is at Bagels and Beans on the Ferdinand Bolstraat near the Albert Cuypmarkt.  You can buy them for a little more than a guilder apiece.  That's half what other places charge, and they're a decent size and you can ask for unbaked ones, and bake them yourself!  However the bagels offered by Gary's Muffins are bigger, tastier and cost just a bit more.

For pastries we recommend Rene's Croissanterie on the Damstraat just east of the Dam Square.  They have donuts, apple turnovers (appelflap), brownies, cookies and cakes, and everything is very fresh.  DeWaal Bakery on the Damrak specializes in breads from around the world.

Now if you can find someone with a Makro card you can shop in their huge wholesale warehouse (like Costco).  You'll get great deals on bulk food items and they have an entire department store too.  Like Costco, most of their stock is of higher quality than other chain stores.

If you have a car you can also venture further east to the A&P megastore (formerly Maxis), where you can likewise get discounted bulk items, but there's no membership requirement.In the evening when the day markets have closed, you can still buy food and drink at neighborhood grocery stores called avondwinkels (night stores).  They stock the necessities and usually a few gourmet items, sort of like a 7-11.  

Note: Amsterdam has a great selection of markets specializing in fresh produce and ingredients from around the world. Check out our tips on where to go to find things like organic food and the best bagels in town!

Posted by on Friday, June 15 @ 10:01:09 UTC (12863 reads)
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The natives of Barcelona are Catalan, meaning they live in the Catalunya region of Spain. Like the Basques they feel they are not Spanish and don't really want to be a part of Spain. This is because Spain has not been kind to the Catalan people, conquering and dominating them for hundreds of years. Until the death of Franco in 1975, the flag, language and Catalan identity were illegal. This has bred resentment, and the discontent with Spanish rule still lingers below the surface. There might not be a visible separatist movement like with ETA and the Basque people, but the feeling is there. They now proudly fly the Catalan flag in Catalunya. The language of the region is also called Catalan and it is very different from Spanish, not just a dialect. It's widely spoken by over six million people in the Catalunya region, and street signs, store windows, billboards, everywhere are in Catalan, and sometimes Spanish. It is a bit difficult for those who speak Spanish to understand the written and spoken Catalan. But don't be dismayed as all Catalans also speak and understand Spanish. Catalan culture is unique and has created a wealth of folklore, art, literature, music, food and more. No trip to Barcelona would be complete without sampling some of the Catalan traditions, either in museums or public performances or just dining in a Catalan restaurant.

Posted by on Friday, January 17 @ 07:18:29 UTC (3553 reads)
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Dutch Cheese

The dutch have a great fondness for cheese and milk products.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Holland is the world's largest exporter of dairy products!  Every shopping street in Amsterdam has one or more cheese shops where you can sample the wares of this industry.  Huge wheels of Gouda line shelves in the store.  Pieces large and small are cut on demand, and free tastes are always given (how unusual for the Dutch to give something away!).  Other dairy products like fresh yogurt and quark (sour cream) are excellent. Most of these shops also sell breads and make sandwiches for lunch.  Some of the more popular cheeses are Boerenkaas (farmer's cheese) which is classified according to it's age, young, medium, ripe (belegen), extra ripe (aged).  Variations include herbs or cumin seeds scattered in the cheese.  We really enjoyed the Geitenkaas (goat cheese), which is white and flavorful.  Aged cheese like Oude Amsterdam (black wheel) is exceptional!  Cheese is usually consumed with bread in sandwiches (broodjes), or with the light crispy Dutch crackers.  Like most European countries, the Dutch are very proud of their cheese industry, and no visit would be complete without a visit to a cheese store to sample the wares. There are picturesque cheese markets in Alkmaar and Purmerend for the tourists and some towns like Gouda still have a real cheese market. Alkmaar also has a Cheese museum.

Note: If you like cheese, Holland is the closest thing to curd heaven as ever you'll find...

Posted by on Wednesday, June 13 @ 05:53:25 UTC (18647 reads)
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Too Much for One, Not Enough for Two

“Too much for one and not enough for two,” can be said about magnums of wine in France, and about half-liters of Vodka in Poland. Drinking in Poland is more than the national pastime; it’s part of the way of life here, and a rebellion from life itself. So don’t ever buy a half-liter of vodka in Poland. It is best to buy at least two liters. Unbelievably, you can thank eighth-century Moroccans for alcohol; it was first distilled there. In the eleventh-century a vodka-like spirit was being created from wine in Italy, to the Italians it was known as aqua vitae or "water of life." At first alchemists kept the secret of distillation, and pharmacists came into existence to supply the masses with this elixir of health. It truly was a health aid in those days, killing bacteria in one’s drinking water was a necessity until modern times. In fact the physicians and pharmacists of the day all agreed that getting drunk once or twice a month fortified the stomach and alcohol was often prescribed as a curative. As late as the nineteenth century two Polish physicians (a father and son) stated that: "to be healthy in Poland, pharmacies and doctors should not be used, but rather twice a year one should get properly drunk. Once in May instead with a mineral water cure, and the second time in October to avoid catarrh, pneumonia and phlogistic (inflammatory) diseases." Distilled spirits reached Poland from Italy or Germany in the 1600's, and some of the distilleries operating in Poland today are direct descendants of these ancient businesses. Popular spirits consumed in Poland these days include Absinthe, Beer, Wine, and Vodka, with the Polish drinking substantially more wine than the average American. And as drinking is allowed at age 16 in Poland, it seems to be an integral part of the society, and may or may not be somewhat of a problem. Paradoxically it seems the Polish have a reputation for being drunks, but only get drunk on special occasions. But any excuse seems to be enough to crack open that bottle of Vodka. What the Polish drink varies by economic class greatly. The comparatively rich city-dwellers import wines, liqueurs, and spirits of quality from abroad; and the working classes drink beer, cheap vodka and black-market spirits of dubious quality. Drinking in Poland increased dramatically during the Communist era, when life was so grim, getting drunk was the only thing to look forward to. These days the Polish may drink less, but with a long tradition of being regarded as a healthful substance, it is still socially accepted. In fact there seems to be some scorn expressed by the average Pole for someone who doesn’t drink occasionally. So when in Poland get out there and hoist a few, if you want to be accepted. It’s traditional!

Posted by on Tuesday, January 11 @ 13:37:39 UTC (3024 reads)
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Beware of Pickpockets!

This is a serious warning to all visitors to Paris that during your visit you will no doubt be scanned by pickpockets, whose deft hands will reach into your bag or pockets, determine if you have anything worth stealing, and make their getaway without you having a clue that you've been robbed. It happens everyday, usually, but not always in crowded places like the metro, or in tourist attractions like museums, where you might think you're safe. The pickpockets range from gypsy kids to well-dressed middle aged, professional men and women. On our last trip to Paris we experienced no fewer than six incidents (that we noticed) of people reaching into our daypacks and pockets searching for money or valuables. Confronted, one thief dropped the wallet in his hand, to avoid being caught. Another time in the Musee d'Orsay, a well dressed woman was caught with her hand in the pocket, and was brought to security with her hand held firmly in the pocket. We figure they probably just escorted her out of the building. So no matter where you are, keep your valuables in a money belt, or in an inside jacket pocket. Cameras should probably be kept close, around your neck, in front of you. Pickpockets are rarely if ever violent, and try to do their deeds unnoticed. But reports of muggings where violence or threats of violence were used are becoming more numerous. Be careful in certain areas late at night. If you use the metro, you're most at risk. Pickpockets will come up behind you when you're buying a ticket, or going through the turnstile or entering or leaving a train car, or just walking through a passage. We recommend you don't travel alone, and keep your eye on each other and those strangers around you. It's a shame to have to be so paranoid, but if you carry valuables that you don't want to lose, it's essential! If you can, leave your valuables behind, and take just as much as you need. Use traveler's checks and ATM cards for purchases. Credit card information should be kept separate in case you need to report them stolen. You're supposed to have personal identification with you at all times in France, so most tourists carry their passports. These are very valuable, worth thousands of Euros, and a prime target for pickpockets. Keep these as safe as possible! The French laisse-faire attitude towards theft and those who commit such acts is probably a result of the more fortunate pitying the less fortunate (think Les Miserables). This has reinforced a subculture where pickpockets thrive on unsuspecting tourists. The general feeling is that if you're stupid enough to let someone steal your valuables then you probably deserve to have them stolen. Unless you catch the person in the act, and can find a gendarme, or escort them to some security person, there's not much you can do. Several times I saw female tourists crying who had just realized they'd been the victim of a pickpocket. Don't let a pickpocket spoil your trip!

Note: Don't let pickpockets ruin your trip! Here's some tips about how to avoid them.

Posted by on Sunday, March 17 @ 05:08:50 UTC (5861 reads)
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