Triple Detox-a wellness wisdom fusion
Het Massagehuys, which means The Massage Home, is located on a neighborhood-y commercial strip in the Baarsjes in Amsterdam West. Close enough to walk from the trendy tourist areas, but far enough that I was the only tourist in sight. Het Massagehuys offers traditional oriental massages, in an architecturally sleek Dutch setting.
As the plane descended for an early morning landing, a maze of canals reflected the sun. Amsterdam.
My first stop was strategically planned for a weary traveler - a massage house.
Shelf upon shelf of massage oils are displayed in the entry against a mirrored wall. Throwing off pale green, ochre and pink tints, the artisanal blended oils complement the various massages on the menu: Tiger power Oil for the Strong Muscle; and, a Fresh Mint in fusion oil enhances the Everyday Energy massage.
The “Authentic Asian” massage was tempting, because I am always keen to tap into the ancient wisdom about wellness. But, after flying from Afghanistan to Kenya to the Netherlands, I needed the “Deep Detox”.
Long, slow massage strokes sweep toxins along to the lymph nodes. Detox oil stimulates the liver and kidneys to hasten the toxins’ journey out of your system.
At the end of the massage, I was offered a pot of nettle tea to further help flush out the toxins. My Serb friends swear by nettle tea’s cleansing property.
Thus revived, I was ready to explore Amsterdam.
Lunch hour at Amsterdam’s Foodhallen
I arrived in Amsterdam's new food court, Foodhallen, a few minutes before the lunch crowd, enjoying the quiet-before- the-storm, watching the food purveyors prepare the mid-day fare. Skewering meat and vegetables destined for an open fire grill. Arranging Petit gateau in an irresistible rainbow of colors. Stuffing rustic country bread with what appears to be a kilo of shredded cheese per sandwich, soon to be flattened into a molten goo in the Tosti press.
As the lunch crowd began to drift in, Jabugo, which calls itself a bar Iberico, assumed the lead as the popular favorite. A long queue was forming. Was it the gorgeous cured hams and sausages, freshly sliced and artfully arranged on wooden boards with cheeses, olives and slices of bread drizzled with vivid green olive oil? Or was it the convenient location Jabugo enjoys by the main entrance?
The second longest queue was forming at Caulils Kaas. Tostis (aka grilled cheese) may not have been invented by the Dutch, but they have been embraced with fervor, as much a part now of the “Dutch” cuisine as Babi Ketjap, the Dutch-Indo pork dish braised in a thick, sweet soy sauce from Indonesia.
International fare, including Shirkhan’s Indian street food, Korean Fried Chicken (and donuts!), Viet View and Mediterranean delicacies from Maza, were all attracting queues of hungry patrons.
A central bar offered beverages to complement any of the meals: coffee, tea, fresh juice, mixed drinks, and beer. We shared a flight of three draught beers: a Weissbier, a blonde beer, and a Pilsner.
Local Goods Store is artisans’ central
In the same reclaimed industrial space as the Foodhallen is the not-for- profit Local Goods Store, which sells products made by Amsterdam designers, from bikes to books. It was a welcome one-stop- shop in my quest for authentic Dutch products.
Here was the tea that I imagined I would find, one made from the spices made popular hundreds of years ago by the Dutch East India Company. “Amsterdam Blend” is composed of the “five most important spices of the Golden Age: cinnamon, sweet vanilla, crushed cardamom, ginger and pink peppercorns”. It was beautifully packaged by Citea, established in 2013.
I was delighted to find Brandt & Levie artisanal sausages among the offerings. I’d been drooling over the worstmakers’ Instagram photos, @Brandtenlevie, in the days leading up to my trip. Even more delightful was the display of little palm- sized pig-pink packages. What could be in them? My mind rushes in a flutter of excitement to an image of tiny blocks of pate. The box says Zeep, which would have been a clue had I been a Dutch-speaker. Instead, I continue my investigation by taking a deep whiff. Yum! Juniper and marjoram. Another box, another whiff. Yum yum! Clove and something else…(Bergamot and coriander, as it turns out). Surely these little boxes contain something delicious. I slide one open.
“We are always working to see how we can best use the whole pig,” the company explains in their blog. Indeed, the fat remaining after the pig meat has all been eaten or cured, has historically been used for homemade soaps.
Trendy tea for 374 years and counting
Continuing on my quest for what would be considered a traditional Dutch tea, I visited 't Zonnetje on the charming shopping street, Haarlemmerdijk. I had read that this tea and coffee shop dated back to the 17th century. So they should know!
The shop was a quirky mix of the old and the new. As if nothing is ever removed, but new things are layered on top of the old. Dented tin canisters of loose tea were tucked away on the highest shelf, or along the baseboards, freeing the accessible eye-level shelves for colorful boxes of contemporary teabags. The selection of tea pots, French presses, coffee grinders and tea cups of every shape and size was surprisingly vast for what felt like a tiny space.
The shopkeeper confirmed that Sterrenmunt, which mixes licorice root, with fennel, anise seed and mint, is a traditional Dutch favorite.
As he measured out the tea from one of the dented tins on the floor he gently pointed out that, in the Netherlands, hot cocoa is a respectable alternative to coffee or tea. He nodded towards a counter that held an assortment of Dutch cocoa powders. American cocoa powder has a slightly acidic tang, but “Dutch processed” brands such as Droste and Van Houten, make a smoother cup of cocoa thanks to an early 19 th century Dutch discovery on how to chemically neutralize the acidity of cocoa.
I waffled for a minute between the Van Houten Cocoa in a practical tin sporting Delft blue tones and the vintage red box featuring a Mona Lisa-esque nun in a white wimple. I bought them both
A merry makeover for traditional Dutch Whites
Centuries ago the Dutch capitalized on the craze for Asian ceramics by incorporating the motifs into locally made products. Think Delft blue ceramics. Amsterdam artist Marga van Oers brings a delightful modern eye to traditional ceramic tiles, Friese witjes, or Dutch Whites. Her original StoryTiles collection superimposes graphic contemporary figures on Old Dutch Tiles, breathing life and narrative into what was once static.
Her collaborations with the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum extend her lighthearted aesthetic to a broader audience, as her modern heroes ride swans from the Golden Age Masters or scale Van Gogh’s sunflowers.
I dragged my friends about five miles off the beaten path to an industrial area when van Oers has her production facility and warehouse, hoping it would be a quick quest and not too tedious for my friends’ teenaged son and daughter. The production team was hospitable, if perplexed, that we had journeyed beyond the museum gift shops and Haarlemmerdijk shops that sell the StoryTiles.
Instead of being bored, my friends were charmed by the StoryTiles. Ben, a free runner, honed in a tile called “Muscleman” in which a figure is scaling a wall. His sister fawned over the lush flowers in the Asian Treasures series.
Bed and Breakfast – above and beyond
Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighborhood has loads of great restaurants and watering holes. I met some friends at a pub where the bartender persuaded us to try a local artisanal gin.
Ordering a Hendrick’s to serve as the control, we conducted the taste test. Hendrick’s won, three-zip.
We chose a restaurant a couple of blocks off the main canal. It would be easy to miss Cafe Restaurant De Reiger, with its tiny entrance on the corner of Nieuwe Leliestraat and Eerste Leliedwarsstraat. Once inside, the space opened up with high ceilings and well-seasoned wood. The menu included fresh oysters, duck, several fish dishes and gorgeous fresh salads and vegetables.
Well fed and sleepy after a satisfyingly full day in Amsterdam, I collapsed into an Uber and went back to my AirBNB, a two-room suite on the top floor of a town house in the Vondelpark neighborhood. The living room beckoned with leather reading chairs in front of a fireplace laid with wood and awaiting a match. A wanton bunch of pink tulips embellished the mantle. A small fridge was stocked with soft drinks and cold beer. I made myself a cup of Starrenmunt tea before the bed beckoned me to slide under the duvet.
Strolling the colorful Albert Cuyp open air market
In the morning, before my onward flight to the US, I visited the open air Albert Cuyp Market. The market has everything from handmade ceramics to street vendors making the little Dutch pancakes, poffertjes. There's a flower market that stretches almost a whole city block. Beyond the flowers is the green market, which is almost a riotous in colors as the flower market, and which faces an amazing fish market.