by Kylina Matteoli
I can’t decide what’s the most romantic thing about Amsterdam. Perhaps the cobblestone alleys, the endless river canals, the myriad of bicycles, or perhaps the tall Dutch houses? Or maybe the tinkling sounds of the tram and bicycle bells, the floral smell of tulips sprouting everywhere, or the cute country picnics that pop at every garden? For a city dubbed “The Venice of the North,” it sure doesn’t lack any of the romance you’d imagine to be found tucked away in a small Italian city. But this isn’t Italy, it’s the Netherlands – where you hear the soft-spoken Dutch language mixed with English, where contemporary architecture blends in with 17th century architecture, where the ambience of the entire country seems to be welcoming to foreigners. As you walk across the little canal bridges and take in the breathtaking views this charming city has to offer, I’m sure another thing you’ll fall in love with is the food, especially the vegan eats.
For breakfast, my favorite spot is Bagels & Beans. If you are staying close to downtown, then with just a quick tram ride or a little walk you can eat breakfast in this local eatery. Since most Dutch breakfasts include dairy (eggs, yogurt, milk and cheese) finding a vegan alternative on menus can be a little difficult. However, this bagel shop has options for everyone – meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. I enjoyed a bagel sandwich with fresh vegetables and hummus. They also have meatless chicken and sausage you can add to your bagel sandwich. You can order to go if you’re in a hurry or you can dine in. I highly recommend dining in. It is such a quaint café and if you order a pot of tea or a cup of coffee, you can sit by the window which faces the beautiful 18th century town hall building across the street and enjoy the view.
While you are in the neighborhood, just two blocks down the street is the Anne Frank Museum. You get to tour the actual house Anne Frank and her family hid in during WWII. It might be a little sad to learn the history of the Frank family, however it is such a unique experience because the museum is optimistically focused on future generations having more opportunities and more freedoms. Visiting the museum is like a semi-religious experience, whether you’re religious or not, in that it spiritually awakes you and inspires you to make the best of the life you have. Afterwards, if you are like me, you can take a walk along the canal and see more of the beautiful Dutch houses and begin to see life with a fresh perspective.
For lunch and/or dinner, a little restaurant called TerraZen Centre is the best kept secret of Amsterdam. This Jamaican-Japanese fusion restaurant serves only one thing – Vegan. This place is pocketed behind two alleys and an old boat house, near Dam Square. As you walk in the alley you see two girls jumping rope on the cobblestone with their father, a Jamaican with a chef’s apron on and a large, colorful turban on his head acting as a chef’s hat, sitting at a café table outside watching his girls play. As you come closer, he waves you over and says in a Jamaican accent, “Come, come inside. You came just in time for dinner. Come, come.” His daughters race inside, giggling as they go and you follow. When you first enter you immediately step into a Zen garden with grass and pebbles at your feet and a small water fountain to your right. In the center of the room is a large dining table that seats twelve. You sit down next to the chef’s daughters as his wife and son bring out dinner – the Jerk Chicken Katsu, a meatless soy-based chicken with Jamaican spices but lightly breaded and fried topped with a traditional katsu sauce and served with seasonal vegetables and seasoned rice. And with one bite, you’re in love with the food and with the company.
For the rest of the evening you practice English with the chef’s daughters as he strums his guitar while dessert (a vegan chocolate cake with raspberry sauce) is being prepared. To only talk about the food at this place would be such a huge disservice, because this restaurant isn’t just about the food – it’s about family. It’s an experience for every weary traveler wanting a home cooked meal, or it’s a place to experience what the vegan community is all about – food at the center of the table, and conversation, sharing, and kindness at the heart of the meal. I never experienced anything like this in my life, and as other customers came in they were encouraged to sit down at the table and order what they’d like (vegan burgers, sushi, udon, or chicken katsu) or share whatever was already at the table as if they were your relatives coming over to dinner. You can stay as long as you want, retire to the zen garden, sit down on the couch and listen to some more guitar playing, or join the conversation and talk to whoever is travelling like you are and share stories. If this place wasn’t already great, this place is also super affordable. I love this restaurant so much that I went back two more times for the good food and amazing company. But if you are interested in this type of dining experience there is another restaurant, Marits Eetkamer, also offers this living room dining setting and a vegan menu.
Before or after you eat at TerraZen Centre, I recommend going to Art Square where you can visit the infamous I AMSTERDAM sign, to see the booming tulip garden and European art masterpieces at Rijksmuseum, or go to the Van Gogh Museum across the street.
Since Amsterdam is so small, you can easily see the whole city in two days, if you are still wanting a little more adventure you can take an hour train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Apeldoorn and visit Apenheul Monkey Park where it is a free roaming zoo for monkeys. And yes, little tiny monkeys will come up to you and climb on your shoulder.
Places to Eat:
- Bagels & Beans, Raadhuisstraat 18, 1016 DE Amsterdam, Netherlands
- TeeraZen Centre, Sint Jacobsstraat 19 hs, 1012 NC Amsterdam, Netherlands
Places to Visit:
- Anne Frank House Museum, Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Van Gogh Museum, Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Art Square, I AMSTERDAM sign, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Apenheul Monkey Park, J.C. Wilslaan 21, 7313 HK Apeldoorn, Netherlands
Photos Curtesy of Kylina Matteoli and HappyCow