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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Amsterdam Food Trends

With the Summer tourist season now in full flow, that means more culinary tours, which means that I am walking through Amsterdam pretty regularly, taking my clients to tastings in my favourite shops and markets. With all this strolling around, I can't help but notice the in store, in restaurant trends. Actually, it's my job to notice these, and tell my clients about them. Some trends I am more keen on than others, it has to be said. Without mentioning any names one of my least favourite was an eaterie which specialized in sushi, coffee and cake. There is something about that combination which is hard to stomach, even for me. And of course, there is a trend, sadly not exclusive to any city or even many countries at this time, which is the trend of so many stores and restaurants closing.

On a cheerier note, I have compiled some of my favourite current Amsterdam foodie trends.

Coffee with Everything

If you know Amsterdam, even a little, you will know that the Amsterdammer loves their coffee. No business or social meeting, no discussion, no task can begin without a "bakkie" (cup of coffee). They can be quite particular about it, which was surprising to me, as I had always associated the coffee culture with more southern European countries.

Now though, "en bakkie doen" (having a cup of coffee) has been taken to a whole new level. Coffee in book stores has been around for while, nowadays you can scarcely shop for clothes, shoes, antiques or furniture without being tempted by the fizzing and frothing of the stores latest installation, the almost ubiquitous Italian style, full force, industrial coffee and cappuccino maker. There is something I like about it though. Often these stores are in really nice locations and have beautiful interiors, so why not offer coffee for your customers? There must be a commercial benefit to the business. Other than the few Euros it costs for a coffee, they must have seen the benefits to their turnover. I say this, for two reasons. The Dutch in general seem to be born with a bit of a commercial gene. They are brought up to believe that they are a country of Entrepreneurs. You can argue the truth of this, but talk to any Dutch person about what it means to be Dutch and you will hear these words. My second reason is that here in Amsterdam, space is at a premium, so no self respecting business person would give over those precious square meters to anything unless is was making money for them. That being said, as a customer, I enjoy it. My most favourite being Concerto. Here the combination is coffee and music. Concerto is an institution and if you like music, it is the ideal place to while away a rainy afternoon, actually, it's the perfect place to while away any kind of afternoon. Now they have a new reason to hang out there - their coffee bar.

The Italian Style Café

I suppose, when I say "Italian Style Café", I mean my memory of this which is cafés run by Italians who settled in the UK, and more specifically in the west coast of Scotland. The ultimate treat as a child was to be taken for an ice cream float at your local café - the ultimate in sophistication for my 6 year old self.

These cafés offered a range of ice-creams, toasted sandwiches, fresh sandwiches, cakes, coffees and teas. Some may even go as far as to offer a 70's style spag Bol or fish and chips. It may be a stretch of the imagination to say that this style of café is having a revival in Amsterdam, but think about the menu I have just listed - ringing any bells?

OK, the ice-creams are now hand-made, organic and artisanal, the toasted sandwiches are Panini, the ice-cream floats and milkshakes are juices and smoothies, but essentially the format is the same. I have to say, I really enjoy these kind of cafés, for an informal lunch or an afternoon treat. One of my haunts at the moment is Pasticceria on the Van Wou straat, their ice-cream alone is worth a taste.

The Flip Flop Shop

No, they don't sell flip flops! What these stores do is that they change their product mix to suit the season. "Ijscuypje" Was the first of these stores that I noticed, in the summer time they sell ice cream and in winter they swap this for stampot style dishes and the store name also changes to "stampotje". In case you are not familiar with stampot, it is a very traditional Dutch meal. A couple of the most popular are "hutspot" made with mix of potatoes, carrots and sometimes other root vegetables made into a mash with stock and served with a smoked sausage. The other popular dish which follows this style of cooking is "Boerenkool". This time the mash is made from the familiar potato base but with kale mixed through. Although these dishes are not the most sophisticated (Dutch readers please forgive), they are very comforting and satisfying on a cold winter's day.

As a complete contrast to this kind of "flip flop", there is also a frozen yogurt store that flips into a noodle bar in the winter!

Mint Tea

No self respecting bar, café or restaurant can get away without offering Mint Tea these days. This trend started about 3 or 4 years ago, I have no idea what sparked it off, I kind of assume that it came from the large amount of Turkish and Moroccan people and shops selling lots of great fresh mint. A really simple and refreshing drink - hot water and fresh mint leaves. As much as I do like the mint tea, I have a little gripe about it. That is, where is the tea people? It is always served with hot water, mint leaves, and you get some honey on the side, but, haven't we forgotten something? Yes, the tea!

Cup Cakes

Walking through town, I sometimes feel like I'm tripping over cup cake stores. Always fancy frilly and fun. There is something about a cup cake that brings a smile to your face. A simple sponge cake decorated with (hopefully) butter icing - and loads of it please, creative flavour combinations and colourful decorations, love it. There are a couple of other reasons why I love the cup cake trend. One is, I am always in flavour of anything that gets people to cook or bake for themselves. There are so many food trends, do's and don'ts, so many chefs and experts telling us what techniques, equipment or skills we should have before we even dare to step into our own kitchen. Let alone be allowed to turn on the oven! This has resulted in so many people feeling intimidated by a basic human activity which can give so much pleasure. The cup cake, for me symbolizes the ultimate in simplicity and has provided a non-threatening jumping off point for people to get into their kitchens and bake.

The other reason is purely selfish. I realized, quite soon after arriving in the Netherlands, that nobody seemed to bake at home. Every time I was invited to a Dutch friend's home, and offered a sweet treat, it had always been bought. Not that I expected everyone to get baking just because I was coming to visit, but it was everyone, every age every walk of life. It seemed that it just wasn't part of the food culture. The rise in popularity of making your own little cup cake has meant that stores are now selling baking goods! Gone are the days of ordering fondant icing over the internet, I can get all I need at practically any food store.

High Tea

High brow, low brow, quirky or classic. There seems to be a High Tea for every taste. Before I go any further though, I just have to correct something that's a bit of a pet peeve. I should really be talking about Afternoon Tea, not High Tea. Afternoon tea is the scones, finger sandwiches and patisserie, eaten around 4pm, that has become so popular. High Tea, is a full meal that is eaten earlier than dinner. It was traditionally a more working class meal which would be eaten around 5/5.30pm. The reason I have called this food trend High Tea, is that (as with so many English phrases and words) the Dutch have got hold of, slightly, the wrong end of the stick, but like any terrier, they are not letting go! That aside, Afternoon tea is a favourite trend of mine because it is one of my missions in life to find the perfect scone. So, with all this choice around, I have every excuse, woops, I mean reason, in fact it is an obligation to keep eating them till I find the perfect one, and of course an afternoon tea is not an afternoon tea without THE perfect scone.

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