DO YOU WANT RICE WITH THAT?
Some of them are breeding couples sporting fine plumage, others represent small tribal units inconveniently blocking sidewalks.
Many are lost.
A few are appalled.
Really, they should have gone elsewhere. Someplace warm.
England or Holland would have been fine.
For a lovely combination of Old-World stuffiness, nice sunny weather, and exotic food, Amsterdam would have been a truly excellent choice. Especially in summer, when there are fewer Dutch around.
And where else will you hear perfect English spoken with a charming mixed accent of Netherlandish, Indonesian, and Chinese pronunciation?
RIJST TAFEL: AN ARRAY OF INDONESIAN FOOD
Yes, it's a colonialistic hangover, but in all honesty without the culinary influence of their former empire in the Far East, the Dutch kitchen would be quite as boring as Danish or Norwegian food. Happily, the Dutch are still as tempted by excess as they were during the late middle-ages.
The rijst tafel (rice table: a meal centered on rice with accompaniments) is, in fact, more traditionally Netherlandish than Indonesian, even if the featured cuisine is not. The great banquets of the past are now usually toned down to fit modern dinner party numbers and norms.
Crotchety social deviants such as myself will often end it with coffee and a cigar, which are both quintessentially Dutch, but the modern American or Englishman might not be so inclined, what with basically being an alcoholic non-smoking yutz.
RIJST TAFEL DISHES
A small sample of what you might find.
ATJAR KETIMUN: chunked cucumber and slivered carrot in a tangy dressing.
ATJAR TJAMPUR: turmeric-hued mixed pickles (including chilies).
AYAM BESENGEK: stewed chicken in a thick yellow coconut curry sauce.
AYAM GORENG: fried chicken.
AYAM PANGGANG: grilled chicken in a rubicund spicy sauce.
AYAM PEDAS: hot chili chicken.
BABAT GORENG ASAM PEDAS: chili and tamarind marinated tripe fried crispy.
BABI KETJAP: pork belly long-cooked in soy sauce.
EMPEK EMPEK: boiled fishcakes from Palembang with a spicy savoury sweet dip.
EMPING: belindjo nut crisps.
GADO GADO: a salad of blanched vegetables with some shrimp chips (krupuk) and often half a hardboiled egg, dressed with a mild peanut sauce.
GULAI SAYUR: curried greens.
GULAI KAMBING: spicy thick lamb curry from Sumatra.
IKAN ASAM: tamarind fish.
IKAN BALI: fish in a spicy sauce, Balinese style.
KLEPON: sweet rice paste balls with palm sugar filing, rolled in grated coconut.
KRUPUK: shrimp chips.
OPOR AYAM: chicken poached in a coconut gravy with lemon grass and djeruk purut.
PETJAK LELE: fried catfish with a spicy sambal.
PERKEDEL: potato mash fritters.
PINDANG IKAN: grilled fish with a spicy tamarind sauce.
PISANG GORENG: banana fritter.
RAWON: beef stew darkened and flavoured with kluwak (pangeum edule).
RENDANG: meat simmered in very spicy coconut milk till the sauce is almost dry.
RUDJAK: raw vegetables with a very hot dip.
SAMBAL BADJAK: a condiment of mashed chilies fried with onion and spices till thick and semi-dark.
SAMBAL DABU DABU: chopped tomatoes, onions, and chilies, with lime juice. Menadonese.
SAMBAL GORENG BUNTJIS: chili-sauced stirfried greenbeans.
SAMBAL GORENG TEMPEH: fried soybean compound often served with a sweet and spicy dark sauce.
SAMBAL GORENG TRASI: chili and fishpaste condiment fried dark, almost black.
SAMBAL GORENG UDANG: prawns stirfried with chili paste.
SAMBAL KETJAP: chopped chilies and tomatoes with soy sauce and lime juice.
SAMBAL TELUR: hardboiled eggs in a mild chili curry.
SAMBAL TERONG: thick chili and eggplant relish.
SAMBAL TJOLO TJOLO: a salsa of peppers, onions, and tomato, from Ambon. Good with grilled fish.
SAMBAL TOMAT: chilies and tomatoes; again, a condiment.
SAMBAL UDANG KERING: fried dry shrimp and chilipaste.
SAMBAL ULEK: mashed red chili paste, used condimentally.
SATE AYAM: small skewers of grilled chicken, spicy peanut sauce.
SATE KAMBING: small skewers of grilled lamb, sweet soy sauce.
SATE LILIT: minced fish grilled on a lemon grass stalk, served with a spicy sauce.
SAYUR LODEH: soft-cooked vegetables in a spicy coconut cream.
SEMUR AYAM: chicken stewed in soy sauce.
SEMUR LAPIS: sliced beef in dark soy gravy.
SERUNDENG: crispy toasted coconut, peanut, and spices. Sprinkled over almost anything for a crunchy coconutty effect.
SINGGANG AYAM: soupy chicken cooked with coconut milk, tamarind, and lemon grass.
SOTO AYAM: a lovely chicken coconut soup flavoured with yellow curry, crispy fried shallots added on top.
SOTO MADURA: beef chunks in a mild coconut soup.
TAUHU GORENG: deepfried tofu served with sliced cucumber and a hot sour spicy peanut sauce.
TELOR BESENGEK: hard boiled eggs in a yellow coconut curry.
RIJST TAFEL RESTAURANTS
Short list of favourites (Amsterdam).
Lange Leidse Dwars Straat 37-41.
One of the oldest and deservedly best known places.
Pieter Cornelisz Hooft Straat 27.
An ancient classic, with extremely high standards.
Busy, bustling, and some truly splendid food.
Utrechtse Straat 75.
Utrechtse Straat 73.
Reviews of all of these can be found online, as well as directions.
The natives of Den Haag will often claim that their Indonesian food is better, but Den Haag is much too close to the lower depth that is Rotterdam for comfort, and impossibly stuffy besides. Amsterdam stuffiness is about the limit one can bear.
Remember to end the evening with a stroll, accompanied by a cigar.
Twilight in Amsterdam is glorious.
Much of the marvelous quality of Dutch-Indo cooking derives from the flavourings commonly used. Up until the eighties, these were usually found under their mellifluous Indonesian appellations rather than any Dutch nomenclature, but nowadays they are available at supermarkets in the spice department, labelled with perfectly pedestrian Germanic handles.
If shopping at the toko, however, it is better to know by what names they are really called.
Adas, adas pedas: fennel seeds. Adas manis: anise seeds. Akar manis: licorice root; mostly used medicinally. Asam, air asam: tamarind, tamarind water. Asam gelugur: dried garcinia fruit, used as a souring agent. Bawang hidjau: scallions. Bawang merah, Rambang: shallots.
Bawang putih: garlic. Bidji ketumbar: coriander seed.
Bidji sawi: mustard seed. Bunga lawang: star anise. Note that the term 'lawang' in the Subcontinent means clove, to which it is but a distant relative. Daun ketumbar: cilantro, coriander leaf.
Daun salam: Indonesian laurel (Eugenia polyantha, now called Syzygium polyanthum), almost essential for the authentic taste of many dishes. Often combined with lemon grass and galangal. Djahe: ginger root. Djeruk nipis (limau kasturi): kalamunten; kalamansi lime, squeezed over food or into drinks. Aromatic and very sour. Djeruk purut: kaffir lime.
Djintan, bidji djintan: cumin, cumin seed. Also often used for caraway.
Gula Melaka, Gula Djawa: palm sugar.
Kayu manis, kulit kayu manis: cinnamon. Kelapa: coconut. Kenari: pili nuts, used for pastries and brickle in the Moluccas.
Kemiri: candlenut (Aleurites moluccana), used to thicken sauces.
Ketjap asin: dark soy sauce. Ketjap manis: sweet soy sauce.
Kluwak: pangium edule seeds, which are first boiled, then fermented for six or seven weeks till dark and greasy, which renders them safe. In a fresh state they contain hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid) and are highly poisonous. They are ground smooth after soaking in boiling water, and added to certain stews and sambals. Kunyit, kunir: turmeric, which if the powdered form is used should be less than half the quantity of ground coriander. Lada, Meritja, Sahang: black pepper.
Laos, lengkuas: galangal. Lombok: formerly called 'Spaansche peper', this is similar to Thai peppers as well as Mirasol, Cayenne, and Tabasco.
Pala, buah pala: nutmeg. Petis: not the clear amber fishsauce which Filippinos and Thais use, but rather a thick stroppy goo which is also made from seafood ferments, much used in Javanese cuisine.
Santan: coconut milk, expressed from the meat. Selasi, Tulasi (Tulsi); daun selasi, daun tulsi: basil leaf. Serai, sereh: lemon grass.
Temu kuntji: finger root, Chinese keys (Boesenbergia rotunda), which has a bitter almost medicinal taste; it is used in small quantities.
Tjabe rawit: birdseye chili. Tjengkeh: cloves. Trasi: fermented shrimp paste, an odoriferous flavouring that combines well with pork.
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