Ontbijtkoek is a traditional Dutch spice cake, and it’s a wonderful treat when served with a hot cup of coffee!
Sometimes things surprise you in a good way. That’s what happened to us with Amsterdam. Laura and I took a trip to Belgium a couple of years ago, and we decided to visit another country while we were there. Brussels is one of the hubs of the European rail system, so we literally had our pick of places to go. After much debate, we chose Amsterdam. We figured we’d make dedicated trips to Paris and London at some point in the future. The travel time to some of the bigger German cities like Munich and Berlin was a bit too long. So we looked at a map and landed on Amsterdam. We figured Amsterdam would be a fun city to visit, and we also figured it’s not a city that we’d visit again on it’s own. Turns out we were wrong.
We were completely taken aback by Amsterdam. It reminded us of Venice in that canals wind their way throughout the entire city. Turns out there are almost 1,300 bridges in Amsterdam. Crazy, huh? But wait. What about the whole legalized marijuana and red light district thing? Sure, that was there, but it was nothing like what we expected. Once we settled into our hotel, we pulled out a street map to see where the red light district was located. Sure enough, our hotel was in the red light district. But we couldn’t even tell! We found that part of Amsterdam to be so different than what you might expect in America. And the rest of the city was so charming that we decided to visit again this past summer!
Well, to be fair, we returned to Amsterdam as it was the departure point for our Viking River Cruise down the Rhine. But we purposefully arrived a couple of days early (1) so we wouldn’t have any fear of missing the boat if our plane was delayed and (2) because Amsterdam is amazing. We actually stayed at the same hotel again as it was clean and within walking distance of Amsterdam’s main train station as well as the port.
Have you ever visited Amsterdam? Tulip vendors and cheese shops are literally everywhere. On our first visit, Laura and I took a day trip out to the Keukenhof Gardens. Spread over 80 acres, the gardens are home to over 7 million tulips, daffodils and other beautiful flowers. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about visiting a garden for an entire day, but it was amazing! It made me want to come home and plant tulips all over our yard. (In fact, we did plant a bunch, and when they come up every Spring, they remind me of our trip…err, trips…to Amsterdam.) The Keukenhof is only open for about 2 months a year, and sadly it was closed during our trip back this past summer. If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, I highly recommend going when the Keukenhof is open!
Our other favorite thing about Amsterdam? Cheese. Dutch cheese, more specifically Old Gouda and hard goat cheese, is literally a thing of beauty. There are cheese shops everywhere, and you better believe we went in every.single.one that we passed. We might have returned home with 8+ pounds of cheese. (Most of the cheeses are vacuum-sealed and able to stay at room temperature for several weeks before needing to be refrigerated.) On our return trip, my mother and sister discovered a love for Old Gouda as well, and they totally packed a bunch of cheese in their suitcases as well.
The day before our Viking cruise departed, we returned to one of our favorite restaurants followed by a visit to one of our favorite pubs. If you ever make it to Amsterdam, definitely put Casa di David on the list. It’s an Italian restaurant that’s about a 15-minute walk from the main square. You’ll likely need to swing by earlier in the day to make reservations, but trust me when I say the time is well worth it! And if you’re into pubs and delicious beers, Gollem Bar is an absolute must-stop. It’s small (very small) and it features 22 taps and over 180 different bottles of beer. These are classic European beers that you likely won’t find anywhere in the States. We stumbled into Gollem on our first trip thanks to a recommendation from our waiter at Casa di David. And then we made our way back to both places when we returned to Amsterdam a couple of years later. Funny how that works!
And while we were sitting in Gollem this past summer, we totally overheard the conversation of several folks sitting below us at the bar. They were having a friendly debate over the nuances and skills of various dragons, aka Game of Thrones style. If that wasn’t the perfect conversation for a tiny, dark European pub, then I don’t know what is!
But enough of my rambling about how awesome Amsterdam is. Just take my word for it. It’s worth a visit! One of our favorite activities when we travel outside of the U.S. is actually visiting local grocery stores. Both of us like food (no surprise there!), and we find it fascinating to wander the aisles of foreign grocery stores. They have so many different products…some of which I have no clue what they are. That’s how we discovered Ontbijtkoek. Ontbijtkoek is literally translated as ‘breakfast cake,’ and it is quite similar to American gingerbread. But it’s not American gingerbread. Ontbijtkoek is chewier with a more noticeable spice. In many ways, it’s similar to the French Pain d’Epices, although Pain d’Epices often has a bit of fruity essence thanks to the addition of orange zest.
Ontbijtkoek is probably best described as a chewy spice cake. And it’s quite delicious! On our first trip to Amsterdam, Laura and I asked our hotel clerk about traditional Dutch breakfast foods, and he recommended that we pick up a loaf of Ontbijtkoek. We did just that at the grocery store down the street, and we proceeded to eat this cake/bread on the train back to Brussels. Funny story: we didn’t have a knife to slice the loaf of bread, so we just tore off hunks of Ontbijtkoek and washed it down with a delicious cup of coffee. On our 2nd visit this past summer, we totally grabbed another loaf of Ontbijtkoek. We brought this one back and enjoyed it here at home. (Ontbijtkoek actually holds quite well. It is traditionally eaten the day after it’s baked.)
If you ever make it to Amsterdam, make sure to take a canal tour. (Tip: Pay a bit more for the smaller boat tours. It’s well worth the increase in cost over the larger boats.) Stop in every Dutch cheese shop you can find. Visit the Keukenhof Gardens (if they’re open). And grab some Ontbijtkoek to bring home. In the meantime, just bake a loaf of Ontbijtkoek and enjoy it during the holiday season with a cup of strong coffee. Cheers, friends!
This post was inspired by our Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River. Click below for other posts inspired by this trip!