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Dutch treats, spicy and sweet

Amsterdam’s open-air markets embrace a global array of flavors

At Amsterdam’s Dappermarkt, fried cod from Jan Drum en Zonen is coated in a spice mixture. At Amsterdam’s Dappermarkt, fried cod from Jan Drum en Zonen is coated in a spice mixture. (Luke Pyenson for The Boston Globe)
By Luke Pyenson
Globe Correspondent / May 11, 2011

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AMSTERDAM — There is more to this capital city than potatoes and Gouda. Much of the best food here arrived via former Dutch colonies in Suriname, the Antilles, and Indonesia (as in rijsttafel, the multicourse feast). But really good Dutch food is sold on the street, too, everything from barely pickled herrings to the dreamiest sweet waffle sandwiches you can imagine.

You’ll find them at the popular Albert Cuypmarkt and lesser-known Dappermarkt. Eating your way through these open-air markets is worth the risk of getting rained on. Albert Cuypmarkt, located in the neighborhood known as De Pijp (pronounced “pipe’’), has been humming along the same half-mile or so stretch of Albert Cuypstraat since the early 20th century. The market and street are named for Aelbert Cuyp, the 17th-century artist. Albert Cuypmarkt sees a lot of tourists, and Dappermarkt feels more like it caters to locals.

Cuypmarkt isn’t just food stalls. You can find anything from vintage clothing to old Dutch comics among the bustle. One thing that stands out is the purple Bob’s Vlaamse Frituur truck, which sells addictive Flemish-style French fries. Locals top a small cone of fries with rich oorlog sauce (literally, war sauce), which is half mayonnaise and half spicy peanut sauce. You could also just get ketchup.

Another highlight is the sticky stroopwafel (pronounced “strope-vaffel’’), available hot from a stall a few minutes’ stroll into the market. Dutch for syrup waffle, stroopwafel is more like a sandwich cookie than a waffle. Balls of cinnamon-laced dough are transformed into wafer-thin circles on a special press, not unlike Italian pizzelle. The soft and still-pliable cookie is covered in a caramel-y, dark amber sugar syrup, and another circle sandwiches the top. Watch this minute-and-a-half process and you’ll be mesmerized; the subsequent sloppy consumption is fun, too.

Most locals get around on bikes. Any type of exertion after oorlog fries and stroopwafel is tough, though, so indulge in the 10-minute tram ride on the 14 to the Dappermarkt, located in Amsterdam’s sleepy, residential East End. This neighborhood is home to a large cross-section of Amsterdam’s immigrant population — mainly Surinamese, Turks, Moroccans, Indonesians, and Antilleans — and as a result, many of the produce stalls carry exotic items. A vibrant pink-skinned, black-and-white speckled dragonfruit on display sure does look out of place in the bleak Amsterdam drizzle.

Near the entrance to Dappermarkt, a Turkish stall sells delicious doner kebab and Turkish pizza (kebab meat, caramelized onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and sauces). Before you indulge, start with the Dutch food. Jan Drum en Zonen, one of two fishmongers at the market, sells fresh seafood from the North Sea: raw, lightly cured, and fried.

Herring is a Dutch institution, so you have to try it. Nieuwe haring (literally, new herring) isn’t quite raw, but it’s definitely not cooked; it’s barely pickled. A lot of places sell it whole, and you are instructed to tilt your head back and eat every bit. At Jan Drum en Zonen, you are given a filleted version, topped with chopped raw onion and a tiny Netherlands flag on a toothpick, which makes it look cute. The fried cod at this stall is outstanding, served in golden chunks alongside a light, mayonnaise-based dipping sauce. The cod is coated in a spice mixture akin to Old Bay seasoning, and breaks apart into perfect white flakes with each bite.

About midway down the market street, which is considerably smaller than Albert Cuypmarkt, is the first of the market’s two bakeries. The thing to get here is speculaas. Though sometimes enjoyed in a thin and hard iteration, the variety here is cakey like a New England hermit, and an almond on top hints at the marzipan filling.

Spices in speculaas can include any combination of ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and mace. These are an aromatic testament to the former Dutch East India Company, which had a strong presence in the international spice trade.

And they will knock that raw herring taste back into the sea.

Albert Cuypmarkt, Albert Cuypstraat 217, Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, 011-31-20-678-1678 Dappermarkt, Dapperstraat 279, 1093 BS Amsterdam, 011-31-20-694-7495

Luke Pyenson can be reached at luke.pyenson@tufts.edu.