When you say you’re going to Amsterdam, a lot of people raise their eyebrows, smile knowingly, and say “oh Amsterdam huh?” It’s a city known for its legal prostitution, “coffee shops” selling more popular plants than just coffee beans (marijuana, for those who need it spelled out), and its wild nightlife. With an annual tourist population larger than its actual population, Amsterdam can be subject to misrepresentation by the weekend-trip frat bros, the nearly adulterous bachelorette parties, and the “I’ve never done it, but it’s Amsterdam!” crowd. Amongst the madness, though, is a city with much more real character than first meets the eye. In culture, practicality and efficiency meet relaxed social attitudes and an unmatched ability for leisure and fun. Scenic canals flanked by narrow buildings and a constant stream of bikes make up the cityscape. Cafés, tons of electronic music festivals, and a surprising number of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants join the ranks of the “coffee shops” as gathering places. World-renowned art museums are tucked next to shops selling Dutch snacks out of cubbies in the wall, like frikandel and kroketten (find these at the Febo chain). Amsterdam is perhaps best described by the non-translatable Dutch word which describes something cozy and easy to relax into, a warm feeling, a nice day with friends or a date gone well: It’s gezellig.
For some reason, when we think “Northern Europe,” we don’t think “awesome food.” It’s telling that in the vast world of Amsterdam restaurants, not too many of them actually serve Dutch cuisine. (Here’s a quick run-down of what that looks like: pancakes, cheese, herring, and various meat-and-potatoes combinations.) Luckily, Amsterdam’s large immigrant populations have brought Indonesian, Surinamese, Ethiopian, Algerian, Thai, and Chinese food to the banks of the canals. Finally, Amsterdam has this thing with sandwiches—they’re everywhere, and they tend to be really, really good.
De Pijp, Jordaan, and the Nine Streets in Canal Ring West boast the highest concentration of quality eats, and De Pijp is the cheapest of the three. If you really want to conserve your cash, the supermarket chain Albert Heijn is a gift from the budget gods (find the nearest location at www.ah.nl). Keep in mind that most supermarkets close around 8pm. If you need groceries late at night (we can only guess why), try De Avondmarkt near Westerpark.