By Kay Bozich Owens
Shelter, transportation, and food: these are the major expenses of life, whether at home or on holiday. Budget conscious travellers are accustomed to staying in hostels, flying Easyjet, and even busing it on Eurolines, but finding cheap, healthy, and tasty eats away from one's hometown is often more elusive.
"Tourist Menus" promise good food and good value but rarely deliver either. When you arrive in Amsterdam, you'll soon notice the many herring stands found throughout the city, but 99% of visitors can't seem to stomach this acquired taste. And as if you needed me to tell you, stay away from Febo Snackbars (those coin automated machines dispensing scary fried meat and cheese products). Luckily, Amsterdam's cheap eats options don't end here: the city has many low cost dining options that offer both healthy and flavorsome food (and even a little ambience) for your hard earned euros.
of the more unique features of the Amsterdam cheap eats scene are squat restaurants.
Squats are residential and community centers that have been established in abandoned
buildings. They are started by the politically minded, who favor a cooperative
way of living and oppose corporate greed.
Squat restaurants are really inexpensive (often a 3 course meal is around 5 euros), most serve beer and wine, and are run by volunteers. The food is appetizing, the menus are thoughtfully planned, and the crowds are cool and laidback. It's an experience I highly recommend, once you've learned these simple rules:
Phone the restaurant in the early afternoon on the day you want to eat. Just give
your name and how many people will be joining you-this way, you'll have a seat
and they will know how much food to make.
2. There is no menu. For some, this may seem like culinary tyranny, and I suppose it is. The diner eats what is brought to the table. But giving up a little control does have its rewards. For one, it keeps the operating costs low. It's also low stress….no more poring over expansive menus. The cooks fix what they know, to the diners benefit. Think of it as shopping at the corner grocery rather than a huge conglomerate chain- you give up a little choice, but you gain more local culture and charm. The menus generally consist of soup, bread, salad/or side dish, entrée, and a dessert (which costs extra).
3. It's vegetarian. Whether this is your chosen lifestyle or not, it's healthy and the entrees are hearty enough that you won't miss the meat. All the meals I had were spicy and wonderfully rich in flavor. I've had Asian salads pairing dark sesame seed oil with lo mein, as well as pasta with wild mushrooms and mozzarella, along with a hearty lentil soup. Rounding off all meals are homemade bread and the optional dessert.
4. Meals are served on certain nights only-so plan ahead. It's possible to eat at a squat restaurant every night of the week, but not necessarily the restaurant you want on the night you want. Plan ahead…if you wait until 18:00 at night to figure out where you want to eat, more than likely, you'll be out of luck. Pick up the Shark, a biweekly magazine, with restaurant listings and other happenings when you get into town. (Available at clubs, restaurants, and the AUB Uitboro on Leidesplein 26.)
So, where can these squat restaurants be found? All are easy to get to by walking, biking, or public transportation. The following is a list of the most popular ones, along with other non-squat cheap dining options in Amsterdam. Eat well, and save your cash for shopping, clubs, brown cafes, and the coffeeshops. Eet Smakelijk!
Plantage Doklaan 8 Wednesday 16-21:00
Once a week, this squat serves fantastic pizza and bread. Great idea for a picnic, or as an alternative to Domino's, and this is no small feat, as good pizza is hard to find in Amsterdam. They have a few tables if you want to eat in and enjoy some tea or organic elderberry wine.
Overtoom 301, 779-4912 open Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday 18-23:00 (brunch is served on Sunday mornings as well)
Located just a 10-minute walk from Leidesplein, this squat restaurant is considered to be the best in town, so make sure you call early for reservations. The soups here are great, the atmosphere is lively, and the bar stays open late. If you're lucky, a band might play after dinner.
Einde van de Wereld
Jarakade, KNSM Island (take bus 32 from Central Station eastbound to the Azartplein stop) Open Wednesday and Friday from 18:00
You don't need reservations for this one, but show up early, as it gets crowded. This restaurant is on a boat, which makes it a little more fun. Drinks are cheap, the food portions huge, and you can choose from a meat or vegetarian entrée. Worth the trek out to this island.
Frederick Hendrikstraat 111, 684-6437 open Wednesday and Thursday from 18:30
This is probably my favorite restaurant in the city. DJs play an interesting mix of music, while the cooks make exotic flavors: the true essence of a squat restaurant. The bar stays open late if you aren't quite ready to end your evening.
De Wittenstraat 100, 688-0127 open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 18-20:00
After entering the building, the restaurant is located to the right, past the bar. The volunteers here have been doing this for along time, and it shows. The food is always spot on, with a creative flair. Wednesdays offer vegan fare. Closed in July and August.
Of course, it's just not true that you need to eat in a squatted restaurant to experience flavorful cuisine at rock bottom prices. Amsterdam's a big city…there are a lot of dining options. So, if you want a little more choice and can't be bothered with reservations,
The best of the rest:
De Wittenkade 94-6 take Tram 10 open 16:00-midnight
Not a restaurant, but a night market , (essentially a grocery store that's open late.) The best one in town, as most have a poor selection with outrageous prices. Great spareribs and other tasty prepared hot foods. Also has all the staples (bread, veggies, meats, cheeses, beer and wine) to make your own dinner.
Ferdinand Bolstraat 126 open 7 days a week
Located near the Albert Cuyp market, this is a fun, laid back place. Famous for it's 15-17:00 Happy Hour (where you can gorge yourself on all you can eat falafel balls), they have a great salad and sauce bar where you get to play chef and dress your own falafel. I usually go for a shoarma, which is every bit as tasty as the falafels. Round out your meal with fresh juice or a beer.
Gebed Zonder End 5 open 7 days a week
Essentially a café/bar that also has live music some nights. This makes my list because they serve the best asparagus soup (or soep van der seizen in Dutch) in the city. Seriously good! Outside dining available.
Located in a major shopping area, this place is convenience food at its finest. Pop in for fresh bread, huge slices of freshly baked pizza (you can watch them make it), chocolate chip cookies (hard to find in Amsterdam), and sandwich style croissants. Your best bet in this expensive area.