Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rijsttafel Feasts in Amsterdam

Rijsttafel today consists of 12–30 dishes; in the 1920s the Hotel des Indes in Batavia (now northern Jakarta) served 60 different dishes

Vast riches have flowed between Asia and Holland for hundreds of years, from the 17th-century heyday of the Dutch East India Company to 20th-century plantation wealth. As well as funding the canal-threaded elegance of cities like Amsterdam, this historic link has left a delicious edible legacy, rijsttafel – an assemblage of classic dishes inspired by traditional Indonesian feasts.

Holland is home to over 170 nationalities, but the most intriguing food influence is Indonesian. The Dutch dominated this vast Asian archipelago – home to evocative locations like Java, Bali, and Sumatra – from the early 17th century, taking full political control of the “Dutch East Indies” from 1800 until its independence in 1945. Politics and palates were intimately linked, however, and Holland was forced to joust with rival nations for commercial control of spice treasures such as nutmeg and cloves.
Colonial leaders met – and ate – amid the ornate courtyards of opulent venues such as the long-gone Hotel des Indes in Batavia (now Jakarta). It was in places such as these that a new type of feast gained popularity in the early 20th century, bringing together favorite local dishes in a dazzling showcase of Indonesia’s exotic flavors. Christened rijsttafel (“rice table”), it took inspiration from traditional Indonesian feasts such as tumpeng, where a mound of rice was flanked by dishes forming a taste symphony of spicy, sweet, sour, and salty. Classics included in the Dutch feast were teri kacang (tiny dried fish fried with peanuts), telur pindang (marbled boiled eggs), sweet dry-fried tempeh (a fermented soy product), and sambal goreng ati (liver in chili pepper sauce). The dishes were Indonesian but the combination was Dutch, and today’s rijsttafel – consisting of 12 to 30 little dishes – is found mainly in Amsterdam and The Hague. Restaurants offering this delicious feast range from small, unadorned backstreet hangouts to upmarket foodie shrines that still nod to the ambitions of the old Indonesian chefs, who were renowned for trying to outdo one another with the quality and inventiveness of their dishes.
Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum is a fascinating place to visit for a colorful overview of Indonesia’s influence on Holland over the past 350 years. Nearby, the Eastern Docklands showcase the city’s contemporary style – old, run-down quays have been transformed with 21st-century modernism to provide a striking contrast to the cobbled lanes and historic facades of the more traditional old downtown. The old docks also offer another island called Java, though this one is home to modern design shops and cutting-edge architecture rather than exotic food and valuable spices.

Best Places to Eat Rijsttafel
Blue Pepper
Amsterdam’s Blue Pepper adds haute modern touches to the abundance of rijsttafel. Executive chef Sonja Pereira’s interpretation of classic rijsttafel keeps the number of dishes down while adding flavors to maintain diversity of taste.
Zesty additions to the traditional array include salads such as salada asinan segar (crab, mango, and pineapple with tamarind) and salada bebek (roasted duck with green turmeric leaves), while clever reinventions include grilled fish pâté in place of dried fish, or lime and soy replacing peanuts in a lamb satay sauce. Dutch shrimp adds a local presence to spicy green beans.
A more contemporary influence permeates the alternative Indonesian menu overseen by Pereira’s colleague Tani Morabe. Shaped by modern Indonesia’s vibrant culinary interactions with its Southeastern Asian neighbors, spicy chicken soup mingles with glass noodles and floating quail eggs, while grated coconut gives an East Indies tinge to wok-fried vegetables.
“Indonesian cooking at its summit,” raved one Dutch critic, and many would agree.
Nassaukade 366, Amsterdam; open 6–10 PM Wed–Mon;
Also in Amsterdam
In the Eastern Canal district, restaurants line Utrechtsestraat, including the Tempo Doeloe (; moderate), a well-regarded eatery that offers an air of restrained privacy along with attention to detail.
It serves three different sizes of rijsttafel, from 15 to 25 dishes. Those on a budget should head for Bojo (; inexpensive) on Lange Leidsedwarsstraat, where huge portions don’t mean compromising on quality, and the late hours make it a boon for night owls.
Also in the Netherlands
In The Hague, two places stand out: Garoeda (; moderate), which was opened by Indonesians resettling after independence in 1949; and Raffles (www.; expensive), which sits amid Archipel’s beautiful streets and boasts an interior based on the Javan house of the owner’s grandparents.
Around the World
The opulent Oasis Restaurant (www.oasisrestaurant.; expensive) in Jakarta is one of the few places in Indonesia that now serves rijsttafel. This two-story mansion was built in 1928 as the private home of Dutch millionaire F. Brandenburg van Oltsende – who, in true colonial style, made his fortune from plantations of tea, rubber, and cinchona (a quinine-rich tree).
Enjoy your “rice feast” here in grand style, served by up to 15 wait staff.
Three Days in and around Amsterdam
Short distances and fast trains make it easy to discover how much more there is to Holland beyond Amsterdam’s atmospheric canal-laced beauty.
DAY ONE : In Amsterdam, reflect on artistic genius at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, which houses works by Rembrandt. You can then visit his former home, the Rembrandt House Museum, or that of another much-loved Amsterdam inhabitant, Anne Frank. Then dive into the galleries, boutiques, and bars of the charming Jordaan area, or its neighbor, the multicultural De Pijp.
DAY TWO : Combine culture and coast in Holland’s capital, The Hague, where you can see Old Masters at the 17th-century Mauritshuis, discover Mondrian at the Gemeentemuseum, then sniff sea air amid the dunes at Scheveningen or hop on tram 1 for a 20-minute ride to lovely Delft for an afternoon on its historic tiles.
DAY THREE : Visit Utrecht to climb Domtoren, Holland’s tallest and oldest church tower, and see De Haar, a restored medieval castle. The city also has Europe’s only Aboriginal Art Museum and is home to the iconic Rietveld–Schröder House, a modernist home designed by Gerhardt Rietveld and Truus Schröder in the 1920s.
Getting to Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s large international airport, Schipol, is 15 minutes by train from central Amsterdam.
There are also shuttle buses from the airport to around 100 of the city’s hotels.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
Citizen M (inexpensive) is an exciting modern hotel with great facilities at an affordable price.
The Convent Hotel (moderate) is a central, 4-star hotel carved from two medieval monasteries.
Hotel Pulitzer (expensive) offers canalside luxury in a row of 17th- and 18th-century houses in the Old Quarter.
What Else to Eat
Cheese is Dutch gold. Edam, a low-fat delight, is named after a beautiful 12th-century town on the shores of the Ijsselmeer inland sea. Another charming medieval town gave its name to Holland’s other famous cheese – Gouda – which is still sold in giant wheels on the cobbled main square; choose between sweeter jong (“young”) or more pungent oud (“old”). Salty raw herring is a unique Dutch classic. Try it on its own (dangle by the tail and slip it into your mouth) or stuffed with onions in a roll. The perfect way to wash down the herring is with genever, a Dutch predecessor to gin. Also good on its own, you can enjoy a lip-smacking blast of this Netherlands gem in one of Amsterdam’s cozy vintage genever bars, such as De Drie Fleschjes on Gravenstraat or Oloofspoort on Nieuwebrugsteeg.

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