A Special Dinner
When our recent river cruise was completed, Jenni and I elected to spend three more days on our own in Amsterdam. After being pampered for 8 days with scrumptious meals provided 3x per day it was a bit stressful to return to the ‘hunting and gathering’ lifestyle to find our own sustenance.
The first evening we walked a half block from the hotel to a pizza joint. The hostess asked if we had reservations. Of course we didn’t. She was able to seat us inside, we ate our pizza, and the place never filled to capacity. When we got back to our room and did more research, we learned that reservations were expected at most restaurants in the city. The front desk clerk of the hotel confirmed that custom.
The next evening we researched an Italian restaurant that sounded good, tried to reserve the location nearest us online, but could not get it to work. It was about two blocks away so we walked. After four blocks we assumed we had missed it, so we turned around. When Google Maps said we were standing in front of it, there was the realization that it had changed names. The chalkboard sign out front promised traditional Italian food but the menus the waiter handed us were totally different. We’ve only done this a couple times in our lives, but we said no thank you and walked out. Plan B was a busy square a few blocks away that had a variety of “fast food” restaurants. The creperie was out of ham AND cheese. At another, the shawarma on the pit looked raw and they were slicing it and then putting it under a broiler to finish cooking so we quickly walked out of there as well. We skipped the store that was like a giant vending machine with walls of glass boxes where you inserted your credit card and got an ‘entrée’ that you then took to a counter where they would heat it. Finally we found a “Wok and Walk” and had a wonderful Asian dish of Udon noodles and chicken.
Our last night, we were ready for something special.
While the Dutch are not known for their cuisine, we had a desire to eat a traditional meal. Only 1-1/2 blocks from the hotel was a place called Hap-hmm. No one answered the phone. They opened at 5pm so we decided to walk in.
It was like walking into someone’s house (it was located in the middle of a residential block). I doubt it was more than 15 ft wide. We calculated they could hold maybe 35 customers if all the tables were full. There were about two tables available when we got there and the man motioned for us to take the one that could have seated 5 people. He handed us English menus. The Dutch menus were written on the chalkboards but we quickly realized that half the patrons didn’t require a menu.
This was a place the locals loved. But not just ‘any’ local—it seemed to be a haven for elderly widowers or old bachelors. At least a third of the restaurant was taken up by old men. One appeared to be a germaphobe and even retracted when the waitress approached. (He was seated several minutes after us and yet was finished and gone long before we had eaten our meal.) Some were sitting solo, reading the evening newspaper. There was a pair that only communicated through sign language. And then there was a table behind us that seemed to be more of the raucous crowd. The scene honestly spoke to our hearts and made us feel so privileged to be a part of this ‘community’ if only for a short time.
Soon, a few young Instagrammers found tables for themselves. We saw ourselves as the bridge between the past and future. Okay, we DID take a few photos ourselves but it was to supplement the story already developing in our minds.
Jenni and I each ordered a meal that had “Grandma” in the name: mine was a beef stew and hers was a chicken stewed in a dark beer. A bowl of each was put in front of us in a few minutes and I thought to myself this could be a protein-only meal. But in a minute the waitress returned with several bowls of vegetables. There were boiled potatoes (as well as the fried ones Jenni requested that came with mayonnaise for dipping), peas and carrots, and long, narrow rectangles with a yellowish/gold tint. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to mix it all together like a stew or eat it individually, so I did a little of each. The yellowish rectangles were my favorite vegetable. When I could not possibly eat another bite (except for the pistachio ice cream sundae I was planning to order), I asked the waitress what the rectangles were. Turnips! She said nowadays the Dutch called them the “forgotten vegetable” because the young people didn’t know how to cook or eat them any longer. They had been delicious. And she shared the chicken-in-beer recipe with Jenni.
Throughout our meal, we enjoyed people watching. A young Asian couple, who we had seen videoing outside the restaurant, were now seated and busy scrolling their phones, pausing only for photos of their food. One solo widower had been replaced by another but I wondered if he was actually local because he seemed to spend time studying photos on the wall more than the other locals. Throughout all this activity, customers were coming in to inquire about the wait-time. Once the place was full, they were being told an hour, then two. Finally the two servers (perhaps husband & wife) were telling people not tonight, come back tomorrow. Despite knowing there was a crowd waiting on the street, they never rushed anyone. We felt like we were all that mattered at the moment. We chuckled that some of the older gentlemen might be there for the whole night!
The meals were reasonably priced (like a third of what we had seen the previous day at the Italian restaurant) and prepared the way grandma would have done it—just basic seasonings and a dash of love. We made our way out to the street to discover quite a large crowd gathered, awaiting their turn.
The previous week had brought us meals of Ahi tuna, Halibut, and Chateaubriand tenderloin but this one was more special because of the environment in which it was served.
Hap-hmm for the win!