As I mentioned in a post a little while ago, I recently went on a very secretive trip for a week.  I didn’t want to tell anyone because I genuinely didn’t want to feel obligated to bring things back for people or see various things that people think are a “must see.”  Instead, as this was a bit of a gift, trip-wise (I had a bunch of vacation time at work that I had to use before I lost it), I wanted to just go somewhere and have a nice, relaxing trip all by myself and just do whatever came to my mind, whether that meant sitting in a cafe all day every day, or renting a car and travelling all over the country.  Well, I decided to go to Amsterdam.  I had been through their airport countless times, as it’s usually the airport through which I have to travel in order to get to other destinations in Europe.  And over the years, I have seen pretty much all that there is to see in the airport, form the kiosks to the snack shops to pretty much every single bathroom.  So, I figured that it was about time to just stop by and actually the city to which the airport was attached.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but if you are like me, then you probably go to a place with at least some preconceived notions about it.  That could be something as simple as assuming that people in Spanish might not speak English on a reliable basis, to something more intriguing, such as wondering whether people in China wear pants.  No seriously, someone once asked me that question once.  So it was with me and Amsterdam.  Now, admittedly, I came to have this particular assumption based on prior experiences with travelling to countries that surround the Netherlands, including Belgium, Germany and France.  I have been now to all of those countries – Germany, several times – and have enjoyed the abundant and flavorful food that each of these countries has to offer.  Now, I know that Germany does have a lot of “heavy” foods, like bratwurst and potato dumplings, but I am part German, so I was used to these foods and still really enjoy them, albeit on a rare occasion.  France, well, if you don’t know how good the food in France is, just go there.  You will melt just staring at the breads on offer at the local boulangerie.  That’s not even mentioning the cheese, the wine, the pastries, the charcuterie and all of the other things that they are known for.  And Belgium, although known for its chocolate and beer, does a lot of other things very well, too, and shouldn’t be overlooked for it’s savory tarts and sandwiches.

Now, will all of that background in my memory, I had high hopes for the food in Amsterdam.  So it is with those memories in mind that I ask this completely honest question:  How is it that a country with miles of coastline, surrounded by three food-loving countries puts out what can only be described as spackle?  No, really.  I think that rice cakes might actually taste better than the food that I had in Amsterdam.  And that isn’t the tourist row version of Dutch food, either.  I make it a point to shop and eat from the supermarkets whenever I travel abroad, and this was certainly no exception. I tried some of the street foods, as well as what was in the supermarkets and it was all basically the same.  The traditional Dutch foods were just so bland that I could barely stand them.  And I was hard-pressed to find any decent seafood anywhere.

So, back to the title of this post:  What to do?  Well, you focus on the few things that the Dutch do well.  And I want to emphasize this especially, since I have eaten over 50 types of cheese that the French make while staying in Paris a few years ago.  The Dutch to two things (okay, if you count Genever, then three) *very* well:  Cheese and beer.  And I cannot understate the amazing array of cheese and beer that this country produces, nor the knowledge that the local Dutch have of each.  When I asked people at the supermarket which cheeses to try, they asked me “Do you prefer old or new?”  What?  This is a question that you would never hear here in the US.  Americans have just no concept of decent cheese.  And I blame Kraft for that.  But I digress.  Each day I made it a point to try at least two or three of their cheeses and never once was I disappointed.  Some were firm and pungent, others soft and creamy and more like Swiss.  All of them delectable.  Not one cheese did I try that I would not happily eat to my dying day.

And the beer.  Well, this is coming from a person that barely drinks a glass of any alcohol more than once every six months.  I tried a real Heineken at their brewery on the very first day and amazingly, liked it!  And I am not normally much of a beer person.  And then, every night thereafter, I spent at a local (apparently, the third oldest) pub / bar in the Spui district that made their own micro beers.  And each one, from the blond, to the stout, was just superb.  Rich, flavorful, not filling like they would sit as a brick in your stomach, but light and aromatic.  And each one in their own glass, too.  I would just sit there, nursing one every night (again, I am a lightweight, so I had to limit myself to one, or I will be legless and likely not be able to make it back to my hotel).  I was just in awe.

So, the answer is:  For a week, anyone, especially me, can survive on good cheese and beer.  And do so quite happily. And frankly, looking back on it, even if their other food never really gets any better, I would happily live in Amsterdam for the rest of my life and eat nothing but cheese and drink a beer every night.  And I would die a happy person.  Amsterdam, you might want to just take some notes from your neighbors in Europe, but in the meantime, never stop making your cheese and beer!!!

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